Kim Miller Q&A: Scarpa welcomes increased competition in AT

SNEWS sat down with Scarpa North America CEO Kim Miller, who said the Italian brand has been a driving force in helping to speed the growth of telemark and AT skiing.

Scarpa’s roots making mountaineering boots stretch back almost 75 years.

The Italian brand has been a driving force in helping to speed the growth of telemark and AT skiing, particularly with the development of the first plastic boot for telemark. Now, as more mainstream ski brands introduce AT products, Scarpa is faced with a bigger market — and more competitors.

We sat down with Scarpa North America CEO Kim Miller to talk about what opportunities, and obstacles, he sees in the category for the future.

It seems like AT boots have become the common denominator between the adventurous lift-served and “earn your turns” consumers. What’s happening in this market?
The adventure side of the sport is what’s happening — AT skiing, backcountry skiing, out-the-gate skiing. That’s where the buzz is, and that’s where the focus of the consumer is. People are looking for new opportunities in skiing, and this arena offers that. Plus, there’s more opportunity to do it than ever before. People feel like it’s more accessible than it’s ever been before. And the gear to do this kind of skiing is getting better as well, which has been part of why it’s taken off. Marker Dukes, AT boots with lugged soles and walk modes that are powerful like an alpine boot, plastic tele boots — these are things that are getting people interested in skiing again. It’s the ultimate versatility in equipment now. Innovations in product and equipment have been game changers. And there are some negative things, too. Some people think they’re safe when they’re just outside the resort gate, and they’re not. The backcountry is the backcountry, whether it’s miles into the backcountry or just on the other side of the rope. And we need to make sure that’s part of people’s awareness.

In the past, you were competing against brands such as Black Diamond, Dynafit and Garmont. But now you’ve also got Lange, Tecnica and Nordica building AT boots. How does that affect how you think about retailers and your product?
The ski business is nothing if not dynamic. Retailers, consumers and the competition are always evolving and changing. My first reaction, though, is having all those companies involved is a good thing, because it’s showing growth in participation, and because what’s going on represents something that’s bringing people back into snowsports. Some of these other brands can shout a lot louder than we can because they are larger and have larger marketing budgets, but I think everyone wins from that. This also means more people are thinking about the product, so we’re going to get better product. We’re going to get better access from ski areas. And more skiers are going to end up being educated about the backcountry. And again, that brings a new excitement to the sport. My attitude has always been if you sell the sport, then the business will follow. Simply put, this is about more people having more fun skiing.

How do you see this new kind of competition affecting retailers? And really, what is the difference now between an alpine ski shop and a backcountry ski shop?
First off, I’d say it’s more like the difference between an alpine ski shop and an outdoor shop. But, you’re right, the lines are getting blurred more and more, and I think those lines aren’t going to be appropriate for that much longer. The biggest difference is the protocol of how you work with boot-binding interfaces. And that’s changing a lot. What I mean by that is, an alpine shop is used to working with a much more standardized system. And outdoor shops are having to learn a lot more about that. Conversely, it’s been really hard for alpine shops to get their heads around selling a binding that isn’t DIN- or ISO-certified. And they’re also having to change their view on that. So the lines are getting more and more blurred, and I think it’s making shops better all the way around. I would also say that some of our best retailers already sell both. And they have for a number of years now. So this evolution has already been happening.

On another note, you brought in backcountry ski legend Chris Davenport to help with R&D and serve as an ambassador for Scarpa this past summer. How does that work to the brand’s benefit?
In multiple ways. First and foremost, we get to substantiate our products with one of the most prolific big mountain skiers in the world. We get his input on the front end. Because I think Dav epitomizes what skiing is all about right now. We’re not trying to build a boot for Dav, we’re trying to build a boot for the sport, but he has his fingers on the pulse of what’s gong on with the sport right now. From a marketing perspective, we also think Chris is great ambassador. Even though he’s a great athlete, he is also super-approachable, and that fits our brand really well. And, finally, he can also help us reach a consumer in the alpine world that may not be as familiar with Scarpa, which is especially important to us with the introduction of our new Freeride boot line.

–Peter Kray