The first thing skier Eric Pollard says in our call is that he knows that what his business is doing is a bit hypocritical. He scales in front of a mood board at the headquarters of Season Equipment in Oregon, the ski and snowboard company he’s dropping out with snowboarder Austin Smith. Two old proathlets, along with a team of veterinarians from the naval industry, K2 and Line, are selling new skis and boards so that people buy less of them.
It’s a guide to change and the new ski season, but it’s also the time of year when most of us can feel the itch of consumerism. We’re at home, clicking on photos of the latest shiny versions of the items we have. The strain of trying to be a good consumer, trying to keep our personal footprints small, collides with the appeal of different and better things. And in the gear world, where a team can really make a difference in performance, the appeal of new products is strong.
As in the outdoor industry, sales of solid snow products are based on the seasonal cycle of new products. Every fall, brands launch new models and advertise their innovations, trying to sell as much gear as possible before the holidays. And this sales cycle is a significant economic growth. A November report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Affairs found that outdoor recreation added $ 459.8 billion to the U.S. economy last year, and retail trade accounted for nearly a quarter of that.
Smith and Pollard have been sponsored athletes since they were teenagers. Pollard, who is also an artist, has spent 21 years line-skiing and has produced nearly 50 coveted professional models featuring both his ski design and his artwork. Smith’s Nitro tables have a similar cult following. But both have started to feel like constantly creating new products when those awkward products aren’t so different from the previous year’s gear. They knew it made sense in business, but it was morally questionable and not creative.
“Selling new jackets to our friends year after year has started to eat into our souls,” Pollard says. “The old equation worked, it had a lot of blue sky, but we don’t want to be an old band playing hits.”
They started talking about what they, as athletes who were very involved in product design and had some cultural influence, could do to change the product footprint of snow sports, slow it down, and make skis and boards with longer lives. They looked at other industries, such as construction, for inspiration. “It’s not like you’re going to buy a new hammer every year,” Smith says.
He and Pollard decided that they were going to make three board models and three ski models, all built to last. The products have black topsheets (which will remain the same every year), universal shapes, and come with a built-in service plan via Evo that will provide free tuningand waxing. “It feels good in terms of taking some responsibility,” Smith says. “If we were going to talk to longevity, we should have put our money where our mouth was.”
The season plan is the footprint and shelf life of your replacement products.) and sharing that responsibility between the new march (which will break the product cycle), the store (which will keep the product for life), and the user (which will keep it going for a long time) Pollard knows this isn’t a perfect plan, and he doesn’t really know if it will work: “Maybe everyone buys our stuff once, and then we’re done,” he says, but thinks it’s important to try.
The company is part of a broad and slow wave of conscious consumption in the outdoor industry. The edge of the wave is probably Patagonia, which attracted good and bad attention with its 2011 ” Don’t Buy This Jacket “ad, but also includes NeedEssentials’ non-branded surfbasics and REI selling used equipment on its website. The season looks at the same environmental challenge that many sectors face, from energy production to fast sausage: Can we make it, whatever it is, better without sacrificing what consumers expect?
Reducing the worldwide outdoor and retail excess should include traffic from many different directions. This should be due to changes in the supply chain, changes in consumer culture, and changes in how equipment is transported, sold, and monetized while still operating in a product-based economy.
So maybe the season plan is a little hypocritical, maybe it’s not perfect, and maybe it doesn’t even work, but it’s a step forward on the imperfect path that many companies are trying to follow. And if we expect morally clean and totally perfect solutions to the waste and overuse of the outdoor world, it’s going to be a long, long wait.