When we spoke to Ben Callahan and Joel Nashett a year ago, Avant Skis was a small company with big ideas and a line of handmade skis.
Recently, we caught up with Avant’s founders about the young company’s progress and challenges.
NYSkiBlog: When we spoke a year ago, Avant was making plans to develop a dealer network of both online sellers and local ski shops. How’s it coming?
Ben: Breaking into the ski industry is definitely challenging. There are relationships between shops, reps, and ski companies that go back 20 years or more. We’re trying to seek out ski shops that are progressive and willing to represent more than just the top European and Chinese-made skis.
As a designer/manufacturer of American-made premium skis, what obstacles do you face getting your skis in front of skiers?
Joel: Our biggest challenge as a handmade U.S. ski manufacturer is the de-valuation of skis and ski gear across the board. Many ski shops are stuck in a rut – buying inexpensive skis from big companies and marking them up just enough to make a few dollars.
That puts the whole industry in a bidding war with the consumer. Shops all have the same low-end skis and are willing or forced to undercut each other to prevent the consumer from going online and purchasing them from someone who will give them an even better deal. We understand that everyone wants a good price, but you get what you pay for, and many consumers have been enticed to buy lower-quality skis based purely on price.
Why has the ski market become all about price?
Ben: We believe that there has been little true innovation in ski design in the last two decades. Sure, there are integrated binding systems and camber adjustments, but the real material and composition of the majority of skis manufactured today haven’t changed much. You could argue that this is ok – stick with what works and don’t fix what isn’t broken. Unfortunately, a large percentage of skis that are bought and sold are inexpensive, less-than-advanced products, so the competition is on price alone. Many great ski models won’t be able to hit these low wholesale price points and therefore won’t make it to ski shop shelves.
How can a boutique ski maker like Avant succeed in an environment like this?
Ben: The first step is to create unique products that fit a skier’s individual ability, character, and style. Then, we need to show customers the value of purchasing skis from experts who believe in the product they are selling. Finally, we need to explain the value of American-made products and why it’s important to support these industries.
Have you had any success finding ski shops that fit this description and are willing to offer more than the usual suspects?
Joel: Absolutely. There’s a subset of business owners across the Northeast with a desire to keep things fresh and encourage innovation, so those are the people we’re targeting. In the Adirondack region, we’ve already begun developing relationships with The Gear Source in North Creek, High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid, and the Sports Page in Queensbury. These guys seem to really value the idea of U.S.-made products and a small business that’s committed to doing something different.
We’re glad to hear that you’ve connected with Gear Source. It’s a great resource for North Creek.
Ben: Last year, NYSB made the initial intros. Soon after, we set up a meeting with Jeff on the opening day of his new location on Ordway Lane. It’s a comfortable place that feels more like a cabin than a retail store. Because we’re based in the Adirondacks, we want to be well represented here and Jeff is perfect for that. Not only does he own the shop, he loves to ski, he’s on patrol at Gore, and he’s an instructor too. If anyone knows skis and their true characteristics, it’s a diehard skier like Jeff.
Which skis are you offering this season?
Ben: Avant’s “Aviator” line currently consists of a family of all-mountain skis and one powder ski model, including our new 126-waist Frost Fire, which was a Freeskier Magazine Editor’s Pic in their 2011/12 Buyers Guide. Avant’s current line-up is very much geared towards top-level skiers, but we’re planning to introduce a quick-turning ski that can be enjoyed by both intermediates and experts.
Where can skiers demo Avant Skis?
Joel: We’ll be announcing snow demo day information a little later in the season, but right now, you can demo our skis at the Gear Source in North Creek and in Lake Placid at High Peaks Cyclery.
12 comments on “Avant Forges Adirondack Ski Dealer Network”
Looking forward to trying these out. Seems like a good company.
Ben, thanks for doing this interview.
What do you see Avant doing something differently in terms of materials or shapes? Just curious because you mention the lack of innovation on the part of other manufacturers.
I saw on the website that you were born at Big Tupper, but most of the imagery looks like you guys are out west now. Do you test the skis in the east? Where are you based?
“Ben: We believe that there has been little true innovation in ski design in the last two decades.”
um…..what? Ben, you should go out there, especially on a powder day, and ski a 20 year old ski. Then tell me that skis haven’t advanced in that period.
I’m looking forward to demoing skis this winter from The Gear Source.
Just noticed that Sports Page had Avant stuff in today actually. I was pretty excited to see that, especially seeing that they’re guys out of Tupper Lake.
These 2 young guys seem reasonable in their outlook but I have to wonder why they are trying to make a go of it in a remote area of the Adirondacks? To me it would make more sense to head over to Vermont, lots more ski areas/skiers and I have to beleive the tax situation for any business would be more favorable in VT. I’d like to try the skiis sometime, let us know when they might be available to Demo at a Ski Area, Thanks and good luck.
I’m going to defend that statement about little true ski innovation in 20 years… I’m sure it must make people wonder what Avant does that is so special and why anyone should buy any new skis period.
I think I can edit the statement to say there has been little "revolutionary innovation" lately such as the first composite ski, ski brakes on bindings and shaped skis (can you believe that was almost 20 years ago!!?)
Powder skis have revolutionized back-country skiing. However, mainstream skis have not experienced much innovation beyond their looks and shape tweaks. Most ski shops do not carry powder skis, especially in the east, because they are not a mainstream, price-point ski with a mass market appeal. It's like buying a high end sports car from the dealer. You’ll be lucky if they even have one in the showroom, but you can bet they have a lot full of their entry level, most profitable vehicles.
Avant has plans to revolutionize skis in near future once we have established the brand and ourselves as a credible ski company with products that are accepted throughout the market. For this season, we have worked on producing a line of USA made skis with light, stiff and lively skis using advanced carbon fiber composites and shapes designed for skiers who aren't afraid to point em'. They are designed to appeal to the savvy buyers who are looking for a ski more akin to a Dodge Viper vs a Dodge Neon. These are buyers that appreciate the performance, design and engineering in a high end product. Avant skis are are designed to stand out on the rack and on the slope, while making you feel good about owning something special from the USA.
Thanks everyone for your interest and good wishes!
Benny Profane – Your absolutely right, and i guess it has a lot to do with the word innovation and what that means to us all.
Basically what we are saying is that some of the most popular skis out there are still generally designed and made the same way they were twenty years ago. The materials are similar or the same (fiberglass, wood and plastic) the constructions are very similar (hand laid sandwich with a base, wood core and graphical topsheet), even the way you attach yourself to the ski has not changed much. You still use a hard plastic boot that clips into a two piece binding mounted on the ski with screws. Of course, most people would say, ya how else would you do it?? and that is what we are asking ourselves. What other materials are out there that have not yet been introduced to the ski making industry that may have even better performance and aesthetic characteristics? How can we construct them so that our process is more efficient, more friendly to the environment and produces a top notch product.
So far, we have been able to introduce a line of all mountain carbon composite skis that really take advantage of the performance and beauty of the material. Our skis are some of the only ones in the world where you can see directly through the topsheet to the actual carbon fiber.
We also received editors pic from Freeskier Magazine for our Frost Fire powder ski this season. This ski features our dual density Featherweight Core. It is super light weight for its size (151 in the tip) and the combined materials provide amazing torsional rigidity.
These products are beautiful and out perform the majority of the skis out there but are modest steps in terms of real design change. For the future, we hope to release some truly innovative products that defy the norm.
“It is super light weight for its size (151 in the tip) and the combined materials provide amazing torsional rigidity.”
How much would that be? Your site doesn’t list any weights.
Lots of marketing blah blah here, but not much substance for someone to consider shelling out the extra coin.
How exactly can we buy a pair of these skis?? I’ve been looking for weeks and see nothing. Is Avant still in business?
Kodie, PM me (click on the link at the lower right of the homepage).