Where do Gear West’s Skis Come From? Part 1

My name is Jenny Beckman, I manage the Nordic department at Gear West. Maybe you’ve seen me in the Gear West product videos on Facebook or YouTube. Maybe we’ve talked on the phone, or at an event somewhere. Who I am doesn’t really matter, but for the purpose of this piece, a little context is important.

I am a goal oriented person, a “doer” if you will. In college my parents used to tell people I was “majoring in ski racing with a minor in marketing.” I was a decent racer, never producing outstanding results – but - I was (am) a total gear head. I read the Gear West catalog cover to cover when it came out, checking new equipment and memorizing specs. I know. Nerd. Alert. But! Everyone needs a passion, right? At the end of college I was asked, “what are you going to do once you graduate?” I had no idea. Someone suggested, “have you ever considered the ski industry? You should be a rep!” Once I knew I could get paid to know about this stuff, there was no other path for me. I was going to be a rep, period.

In 2014 I landed a job with the company of my dreams, Salomon. My title was “Nordic Community Manger”, and my task was make Salomon the brand of choice for everyone. This included the person vying for the Olympics, qualifying for Junior Nationals, or training for a coveted spot in the legendary Birkie Elite Wave. This job took me to races and events all over the country, and eventually to Europe to select skis for Salomon’s domestically sponsored racers.

I remember driving the autobahn to the Salomon & Atomic factory in Altnemakrt, Austria. I was incredibly excited. I was going to THE Amersports factory, the place where skis get made! To top it off, I would pick skis alongside the American ski fit legends, Zach & Amy Caldwell of Caldwell Sport. That’s the dream, right? Upon arrival, I was introduced to the masters of Amersports Nordic area. Jean-Marc Drayer, and Willi Englehardt. Jean-Marc has worked in the ski industry a long time. As in, when I told him I was from Minnesota, his response was “Oh! Minnesota. I’ve been there! Biwabik…Giant’s Ridge World Cup. 1985.” To put this into perspective, I was born in 1989.

Willi is in charge of the Salomon kilo ski program, which is a special area of the factory where freshly produced skis are gathered. Willi sorts, selects, and pairs every single pair of cross country skis that leave that area. It’s truly amazing. So amazing, they made a Salomon TV episode about him and his work. Before you finish reading, seriously, check it out!

That day, I showed Willi the list of skis I had compiled with the needs of my athletes and we set to picking. I remember his perplexed look regarding some of the classic skis racers needed for their quivers. He explained to me, that at that time some of the models and flexes I was searching for were not available. This illustrates the limitations of a factory visit, you are subject to what is available to you on that particular day. In other words – it’s a long way to go to maybe get what you need.

Do not get me wrong, factory visits are super cool! Seeing how skis are made is an impressive and interesting experience. Yet a visit is not efficient for the sheer volume of product we order on a yearly basis. On average, Gear West stocks over 3000 pairs of race skis. That’s why we order all of our skis on “Kilo programs” like the Salomon’s. We trust experts like Jean-Marc and Willi will curate professionally, the inventory Gear West requests. We submit our specific needs at the end of every winter and they

spend all spring, summer, and early fall selecting our order. We work together, communicating along the way to ensure what receive is exactly what we’re looking for. Why? Because we are their customer. And we order more cross country skis than any other store on the continent.

Designing skis is our supplier’s job. I am sure many of you have heard stories of World Cup racers having astronomically large fleets. Hundreds of skis that come out of mythical places referred to as “race rooms”. A lot of times, “race room” skis are prototypes with esoteric bases developed for highly specific conditions - like the salty streets at urban sprint races in Drammen, Norway. These skis get used once or twice. For the majority of their races – athletes are skiing on the same thing that is available for sale in  stores. Fischer’s athlete skis are selected from the same production stock, so are Salomon and Atomic’s. I personally own some damn fast production stock Rossi’s. Salomon is researching and building skis for Jessie Diggins to win her next Gold medal. See for yourself! 

Our job at Gear West is to serve you, our customer - and make sure you get the best ski possible to help you achieve your goals. Every person who fits skis at Gear West a master of their craft. Speedy picked the skis that sent me to my first Minnesota state high school meet. Brodie skied for the Subaru Factory Team. Listening to Brian Knutson, a retired Fischer Ski rep, explain what makes a truly fast classic ski inspired me to pursue a career in this industry. Corey Towle is a Prince Haakon 10k champion! Michael beat the snowmobile at Big Island and Back in 2019, and Jan Guenther needs no introduction. But! She almost won the women’s Birke in 1995 (sorry Jan, you were 28 seconds too slow!). That’s why who I am doesn’t matter, because when it comes to getting a pair of skis from Gear West – you’ll get a great pair at a great price. Guaranteed.

- Jenny Beckman

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