Reviews & Previews – Fischer for 2016-17

FIS Brand Rankings are fun to browse (for Fischer fans)

FIS Brand Rankings are fun to browse (for Fischer fans)

What can we say about Fischer? As a brand they dominate racing, from citizen racing all the way to the World Cup. Since FIS started tracking world cup brand rankings in 2008 Fischer has been the leader in every discipline, every year, for both men and women. The margins have generally been large. This year is closer than most, and Fischer won 72% of all the points on offer; accumulating 138% of the points of all other brands combined.

The easy explanation for this is that Fischer has the greatest number of athletes on the World Cup, which is its own testament to the quality of the brand. And while that’s true, a count of the brand distribution at the start of the Tour de Ski turned up 51% of both the men’s and women’s fields on Fischer skis – not the 72% that would explain this points totals. Assuming that this is representative of the season as a whole, then we can say that Fischer is over-performing based on their share of the skiers on the start list, which indicates that they have more than their share of strong athletes and point-scoring performances.

Another easy explanation for the disproportionate number of top level athletes on Fischer would be to suggest that they have the biggest racing budget, and pays out the most to sign athletes. This is also definitely true, in aggregate. Fischer has a big stable of racers, and their budget has to be large. But their contracts aren’t the biggest – particularly among the top rank of high-performing athletes. A World Cup star is likely to be able to get a more lucrative contract from another company.

It boils down to this: a majority of the top-performing skiers in the world choose to ski on Fischer.

Sophie has been on Fischer since she was a kid, and she knows that the most important thing she needs from her ski company is access to skis she can win on. It seems to be working out pretty well.

Sophie has been on Fischer since she was a kid, and she knows that the most important thing she needs from her ski company is access to skis she can win on. It seems to be working out pretty well.

We see this trend propagate through the market, at all levels, and to even greater degrees of domination. In our business Fischer accounts for over 75% of our new ski picks. There is no question that marketing and brand image are a big part of the strength of Fischer in the retail market. Fischer is a race-driven company, and the success in racing lends a great deal of legitimacy to their position as the market leader in race sales. But there are also very good material reasons for Fischer’s strength, both at the World Cup level and in the marketplace. What’s cool about Fischer is that the material reasons are the same at all levels. The skis are consistently and predictably good, and the useful range of the skis is very broad. Whether you’re paying retail for a new pair of race skis, or choosing skis for your World Cup campaign, you need to be confident that you’ll have the right material for the most challenging circumstances.

“All Companies Make Great Skis”

We’ve all heard (and probably repeated) that mantra over and over. And it’s true. But it’s worth remembering that all companies also make different skis. Ski design is complex; the combination of materials and camber configuration that makes up a ski concept can be considered a possible solution to an ever-changing problem. From time to time we’ll see a given brand dominate the results list of a big race, and we’ll know that their solution was superior on that day. Fischer definitely has those days – the one that sticks in my head is the 2006 Olympic 15K classic where Fischer took something like 19 of the top 21 places. A simple podium sweep may be notable from any other brand, but it’s commonplace for Fischer given the strength of their roster. To really recognize a “Fischer day” you’ve got to look deeper into the results.

But Fischer isn’t dominating because of the “Fischer days”. The real reason for their strength is the extreme rarity of the circumstance where Fischer skiers are at a disadvantage. It’s almost unheard of to see Fischer athletes absent from the top end of the results.

Anybody who has done ski service for a race team recognizes that the first priority of waxing is simply to put the racers into the race. Once in a while, by doing good systematic work, you’ll provide an advantage that can make a big difference to the results, but you don’t try to win races with wax because the risk of missing can take skiers out of the race. The same is true with skis. As impressive as a “Fischer day” can look, the more impressive thing is how infrequently Fischer skis don’t work. The Fischer solution to materials and cambers is, simply put, the most versatile solution available.

A big part of the dependability of the Fischer solution has to do with consistency, and incremental change. Fischer’s design team knows that they have good skis, and while they constantly work to refine and improve, they always control the process and ensure that the steps are small. The Fischer process epitomizes the concept of control. This results in a process of development that brings the skiers along for the ride. From one generation of skis to the next, a Fischer skier will always feel at home, and be well positioned to take the best advantage of the qualities of the skis that Fischer is producing. When we demo Fischer skis the responses seldom express surprise – mostly it’s a sense of everything being as it should be. Peter Harris said it best at out Craftsbury demo in December; “I’m a Fischer guy, and I like Fischer skis. This is the epitome of what a ski should be.”

2016 Review

Getting to know the new skate skis...

Getting to know the new skate skis…

Going into the season we were very excited about a subtle but significant reconfiguration of the material thickness and camber in the 610 model skate skis. Once we got on snow, the skis absolutely measured up to our expectation, and feedback all season was very positive. The one place we missed the call by a little bit was with the cold model skate skis. We picked a bunch of those this year, and expected them to be quite universal in a wide range of cold conditions. In the end we found that they were outstanding in quite cold conditions (which we didn’t see too much of in many parts of the country), but that the plus model remained more universal in a wide range of mild to moderate cold temps.

On the classic side we found that the Speedmax core and material layup continues to provide easy access to kick. On balance, we’ve found that our misses in ski picking have erred on the side of too much kick and not enough speed. We’re selecting skis with higher flex values and stronger finishing pockets, but there’s room to swing the selection toward more speed, and we’ll make that adjustment as we work with skiers next season.

This past season, with warm conditions common in many locations, we saw increased utility from Fischer’s C-Special clear-base model. We have never felt that the clear base has a really universal wet range, and is fairly crystal type dependent, but we’re also seeing more and more conditions where it works well. After a winter like the one we’ve just seen, I feel that we’re well equipped to recommend and support the specific addition of C-Special skis to a well-defined race fleet. We’ve got enough experience with them at this point to have a clear picture of the camber characteristics we want for that model.

It’s also worth checking in on the status of Fischer’s zero skis. Zero skis remain a reality in the race world, and Fischer has continued to refine their design. At this point the Speedmax Zero+ model has reached a level of refinement that we could really only dream about back in about 2008 and 2009 when we were doing a ton of testing of zeros and hairies at the Olympic venue in Whistler BC. At the time the standard zero was an 812 mold RCS with a full rubberized inlay, and it was usually very slow. Now the Zero+ is a full Speedmax model 902 mold ski with a split inlay – faster clear-base materials at the ends of the pocket, with rubberized (stronger kicking) material centered around the highpoint of the pocket. These are the best and most versatile zero skis I’ve seen, especially for race-day applications where a high concentration of traffic on the course inevitably leads to some glazing tracks and more challenging kick than your average training day.

FischerInventory2015Looking Ahead

There is no question that Fischer is secure in their market leading position. While there is a lot of room for personal preference, no brand has any claim to being better than Fischer in any race category. It’s a game of catch-up for everybody else, and unless the Fischer team screws up something big, it’s going to remain that way. And in case you’re wondering, the Fischer team doesn’t screw up. We’re not anticipating any big changes to the line-up for next season. We’ll know more later this season after we’ve seen the new production, and we’ll pass along our observations at that time.

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