Gord Bailey Q&A: A backcountry ski expert returns to the fold

The former Garmont North America president (2008-2011) Gord Bailey shares his views of the backcountry ski market, including the survival of telemark as a sport and why the lightweight trend is old news in AT. As for backcountry skis themselves, Bailey tells us the latest products should be ready for any condition, not just powder.

Industry veteran Gord Bailey returns to the backcountry ski scene this winter, joining Genuine Guide Gear (G3) as the company’s new vice president of sales and marketing.

The former Garmont North America president (2008-2011) shares his views of the backcountry ski market, including the survival of telemark as a sport and why the lightweight trend is old news in AT. As for backcountry skis themselves, Bailey tells us the latest products should be ready for any condition, not just powder.

Bailey also joins a chorus challenging the industry to move beyond just warning consumers about the dangers of the backcountry and start educating them.

What led to your decision to join G3? What are looking forward to accomplishing there?
I have known G3 and its owner Oliver Steffen for many years, and I was attracted to work with G3 partly through that positive personal relationship, but also because of G3’s innovative DNA. There are few brands with G3’s track record for innovation that are still independent and entrepreneurial, with a solid brand identity and continued opportunity for growth. This fall, three new G3 skis won five separate media awards from four different ski-founced publications. Over the past 18 years, Oliver has invested heavily in the research and development level at G3 and he remains truly excited about the products, the sport and the people. You see that reflected in G3’s strong customer base and business partners. The fact that G3 has so much blue sky as a brand really made this an appealing opportunity. One of my goals is to help realize some of the huge potential that G3 has as a brand in both existing and new product categories.

We informally counted only a handful of brand new telemark products debuting at this year’s show. Will AT completely take over? Is there still opportunity for innovation in telemark?
Tele is a sport, not just a product category. It has long-time participants that identify themselves as “tele” skiers, not simply “skiers.” The sport will continue. It’s evolving into an in-bounds/sidecountry/freeride sport with amazing boot/binding combinations that deliver energy to skis in a way that was only dreamed about a few years ago. Free pivoting touring bindings have eased backcountry access, but certainly AT set-ups are lighter and are the norm for specific touring set ups. So, we see the two sports separating a little more these past few years. The G3 Enzo binding is just the latest innovation in telemark, and clearly the market sees it the same way — our business and market share is very strong with that binding. You asked about continued opportunity for innovation in telemark, and I guess the answer is that tele skiers and our telemark binding engineers have big dreams, just like everyone else has. I’m sure you will see continued invention in telemark.

As for AT, where do you think the future innovation lies in that category? What are some of the top trends in the category today?
The old news is lightweight, that seems to be a given now. Ski-ability, predictable release, ease of entry to the binding and even better skiing performance from tech heels will all be addressed by one brand or another as we move forward. Alpine skiers are coming to AT and are expecting binding elasticity, with retention and predictable release. We currently have that with our Onyx binding and I expect other novel ideas will come to the market soon.

Winter safety is another hot topic at this year’s show. Plenty of new products there too … but do you think brands like G3 and your peer companies need to do a better job on the winter safety education side of the equation?
Consumers do need to be educated whenever a new product introduces them to new experiences. If that’s a tablet to read e-books or to surf the Internet from the couch it’s one thing, but when the new product introduces them to dangerous aspects of their recreational pursuits, it’s important for the supply base to have a role in making sure people are aware of the risks involved, and how to get educated around minimizing those risks. At some point, people do have to be responsible for educating themselves, but the industry as a whole should work to make sure people are aware of the need for backcountry training, and support programs and organizations that provide that kind of training. Our industry is delivering strong visual enticements that motivate skiers to head into the backcountry. So we also need to make sure that the education component is there too. Perhaps rather than just saying, “backcountry skiing can be dangerous,” in a disclaimer, it’s also time for all backcountry products to also come with information suggesting that people seek out proper training in avalanche awareness and backcountry travel.

With more people exploring the sidecountry and backcountry, how is that impacting the development of skis themselves? What are the current trends in skis?
Big, floaty and light are the obvious answers, but skiable in-bounds on those same big skis is the less obvious innovative quality that we are developing. Powder doesn’t always happen, so even in the backcountry, we end up skiing on hardpack and crud and granular and windswept and ice … skis that are so great in powder also need to hang in there in those conditions. Lightweight and ultra-lightweight are desirable qualities, but not if it means that you are losing control in tricky, or even hazardous conditions. Skiers are now asking for rando race lightness, but demanding that the ski performs like their traditional alpine skis.

–David Clucas