Look out Salomon, here comes Naxo
December 5, 2003
It’s competing against major players in the industry. It dominates its market, yet its office is funky and small. And it’s finding success in one of the most unlikely market segments in the ski world -alpine skiers who are discovering the backcountry.
Backcountry Access is a small Boulder company which was founded by a couple of ski bums who had a good idea. The idea was the Alpine Trekker, a device that allowed alpine skiers to tour into the backcountry like their telemarking friends.
With the invention, the company kick-started a revolution in equipment which sees no sign of ending soon. And, as this retail category continues to expand, Backcountry Accesses’ fortunes look likely to grow, too.
Alpine Trekkers are, in essence, a binding within a binding. The design is a simple, hinged plate which fits into standard alpine ski bindings. Clip your downhill-skiing boots into the Trekker, and, viola, your heels are free, like a telemark or cross-country skier.
Throw some skins onto those alpine skis and you’re ready to tour up into the backcountry.
The product is innovative, simple to use and gets powder-hungry skiers up into wilderness areas outside ski-area boundaries. Better yet, it allows alpine skiers to use the equipment they’ve grown used to, their downhill gear.
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And, while downhill gear can be cumbersome and heavy while touring, the advantages of the equipment when going downhill in steep, gnarly terrain is huge.
“When I started doing this the gear was just terrible,” recalls Lou Dawson, the legendary Colorado ski mountaineer who was the first to ski all of the state’s 14,000-foot peaks. “The randonee bindings were heavy and broke, and the telemark gear would just make you ski poorly.”
Alpine Trekkers addressed skiers’ concerns regarding using sub-par equipment on radical descents, allowing skiers to tap into ever more rowdy terrain with the confidence that their equipment wouldn’t fail them.
Despite their success with the Trekker, Backcountry Access didn’t rest on its laurels. The company, co-founded by Bruce Edgerly, a passionate skier, continued to innovate. It now owns the North American market for avalanche transceivers, after introducing the first digital beacon, the Trakker.
The Trakker dramatically reduced search times for victims buried in avalanches and it introduced the first easy, consumer-friendly transceiver to a market which was growing, and growing quickly
“The alpine touring category is one of our fastest growing segments,” notes Christian Gennerman, the head buyer for BackcountryStore.com. “We’re seeing a lot of alpine skiers who want to leave the ski area, but their emphasis is on skiing, not touring.”
Gennerman estimates that in the past year alone, sales have skyrocketed by nearly 500 percent, a huge increase, although the total numbers are still well below traditional alpine equipment.
“The growth in alpine touring isn’t driven by touring,” said Garmont’s John Schweitzer. “There’s a growth in demand for powder. The mountain gets tracked out by 10 a.m. People ride lifts and then tour to get powder.”
The boom in this kind of skiing – if you’re a Vail local, think East Vail Chutes, the Minturn Mile and the Gore Range – has sparked further innovation.
This year, Backcountry Access has introduced the Naxo, a alpine touring binding that is lighter than the Alpine Trekker and which threatens to decimate the market for the product that started it all.
With a triple-pivot design, a DIN of 12 and a beefy toepiece with the spring located in front of the boot, the Naxo is as close to an alpine binding that you can get. It also comes with wide brakes, essential for fat skis and works perfectly with alpine boots
“The Alpine Trekker is dead,” says Edgerly. “Its numbers are flat or declining. We just don’t sell them anymore.”
Still, Edgerly admits that the Naxo isn’t the last word in alpine touring bindings. According to Edgerly, the Naxo can’t handle really brutal abuse. “You wouldn’t want to use the Naxo in an extreme big-mountain competition,” he said. “It’s not tough enough for that. The guys on the Alpine Trekkers know they can use any set-up they want.”
And as he knows, that means the fattest of the fat skis, alpine-race boots if they want to and solid metal bindings with a race spring which goes to 16.
With the introduction of the Naxo, though, there’s no doubt that a small company from Boulder is one of the leaders in North America in alpine-touring gear. And, while the Alpine Trekker may no longer be the flagship product for the company, Edgerly says the Naxo is flying off the shelves and that Backcountry Access is gearing up to make a run at the European avalanche-transceiver market.
“That’s the next phase for the Trakker,” he says. “We hope to dominate it the same way we’ve dominated North America.”
It’s a good prognosis for the company which was started by ski bums who just wanted to ski powder.
Tom Winter is a freelance writer based in Vail.
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