Interview by Matt Harvey and Chris O'Connell.
4FRNT represented by Matt Sterbenz and Joe Stumpf.
Where is 4FRNT based out of, and who runs it?
We are based out of Lake Tahoe, California. Joe Stumpf and I run the day-to-day stuff, but as a rider owned company we get a ton of support from our riders in terms of ideas for shapes, graphics, ads shops, you name it?.
What inspired you to start a ski company?
Working with race companies got really frustrating. Their interests and expertise are mainly dominated with the race concentration of the sport. Trying to educate them with what we are doing with skiing was always a pain. You would do a competition and they would just want placements. That would get me to try really hard and when I won, it was great but when I often lost, it was like calling home from Jail to your parents if you didn?t hit the podium. Dealing with all that just got me pumped to do my own thing. The more I got interested in skiing backcountry and not competing as much, the more I found the reason do start 4FRNT. It?s a project that was built to help support the current state of skiing and being an owner, there?s no one to hold us back.
What makes your company different from others? Why are your skis better?
I think we?re different because we are closer to the sport than any of the corporate guys and we listen to the kids. We?re on the hill everyday and we care about helping this sport and its athletes continue to progress. Our skis are better than the others because we design them specifically for what we are all doing on the hill ? we use progressive shapes and materials that make our skis more responsive and durable for what we do.
Who?s on the team?
Me (Squaw Valley), Steele Spence (Aspen-Snowmass), Luke Van Valin (Idaho), Eric Hjorleifson (Canmore, AB), Oakley White-Allen (Whistler, BC) and Griffin Cummings (Mt. Hood, OR) are the more established guys. We also have a team of rippers who?ll be making names for themselves in the near future, including B Divine (Lake Tahoe), Matt Walker (Aspen-Snowmass), Jean-Nick Bouchard (Quebec), Sammy Carlson (Mt. Hood, OR), Kim Lamarre (Quebec), Erich Kunz (Washington), Will Brown (MA), Henrik Lampert (MA), Jeremy Miller (MT), Mike Hornbeck (MI) and Marc Hilly (Lake Tahoe).
Where are the skis made?
Our skis are made in Southern California ? surf and skate country.
How many pairs will you be releasing this season? Where can people buy them?
We are going to distribute 300 pairs to dealers and online. We have online purchasing available at 4FRNT.com, as well as getboards.com. Other than that, we are working on getting in shops that cover the US and Canada. I am leading the sales effort and I have got a killer sales team with me now so we should be showing up all around town. Our focus is working with board shops that haven?t carried skis yet. Showing them that we are athlete owned and operated goes a long way. We find that being in those shops, there really isn?t any competition beside other companies that are doing it like we are. Just one more way to be separated from the other brands I guess.
What warranty will you be offering?
We offer the longest warranty of any ski company ? 2 years. We think that kids should get more for the money they spend on skis. We know how hard they work to get that money and think that its ridiculous that they have to pay for skis that are designed to break within one season. We?d love to be able to sell the skis for a lower price, but then we?d be no different from any of the other guys out there ? that is, selling skis that will break quickly. That?s why we also offer a Loyalty Replacement Program so that if kids somehow break our skis and its not covered by the warranty, we will sell them a replacement pair at a discount.
What skis do you plan on making in the future?
This year is the MSP model. It?s an aggressive shaped ski that we developed to satisfy a broad skier. We want to see kids getting out of the part and whether its spinning off of cornices or just bustin 5?s off of cat walks, we want to see the whole mountain/hill/landfill as a terrain park. Next year, Steele?s pro model will be out and it will have some significant differences just to help open the lineup. With what we have talked about already, his ski will be more competition specific with narrower dimensions. Every year after, we will continue to produce another Pro Model that will be designed to progress some other element of our sport. Every Pro gets ownership and their own ski. It?s our way of keeping 4FRNT on track with ski design.
What will 4FRNT bring to the ski industry itself?
We?re bringing a new future to the industry. Companies like Armada and 4FRNT are catering to the needs of skiers today and more importantly, tomorrow. We represent skiing?s future and the big companies are the sport?s past. Hopefully, some of the big guys will realize that they are living in the past and that its time to stop wearing the neon one piecers (although Tuffelmire may not want to see that after WSI this year).
Who helped you make this company a reality?
That?s tuff. I would say everyone that ever emailed me and say keep it up. I knew that this was going to be very difficult to get up and going, which it is, but everyone that has sent me props on it and the kids I meet in the summer time really are the ones that help make this what it is. From an operations perspective, Joe Stumpf is my main man. James Cole is our designer. Steele is neck deep in production. 5AXIS is our factory. Jay Grube is my boy who lent me his snowboard press and know-how that helped us make the first skis way back.
Where can people try the skis before they buy them?
The best bet is to go into their favorite store and ask for a demo pair. If they don?t carry 4FRNT?s, tell them to contact us and get our skis or you?re never buying from them again! For those areas that don?t have dealers yet, we are looking at demo days. In a few weeks, our site will be relaunched with a new design and all our dealers will be on there. So keep checking back.
Steele Spence said after joining 4FRNT that he was stoked to be more involved in the company from a business standpoint. Why are you offering your riders a stake in the company and do all riders on the team get that offer?
We have opened ownership to all of our pros so they can gain personal return for their efforts. Filming and competing is really dangerous and having ownership in the company that your working so hard for, just makes it all worth it. When Steele puts out his ski, he?s receiving ownership benefits, not just another years contract. With our other riders, they are all working on getting promoted to Pro and once they do, then they are going to receive the same benefits. It?s setup to build motivation for our riders and to help push them with benefits of moving up.
Is the 4FRNT team going to be just another group of sponsored athletes or can we expect team ventures like tours or films?
We started out with a tour theme for our riders coming up. A good way to get them some travel time in and start to learn the business. We hope to get some tour time in this year and then hit it hard in years to come. From my perspective, bringing the team to resorts across the country is the only real way of promoting our riders and helping out our shop heads. I would like to release a 4FRNT team video fall of 2005.
What skiing website do you use most to do your market research?
Is there any website other than newschoolers.com? Really though, we visit all of the websites regularly because that is where the kids are telling all about what they want and we listen. As the largest web community for freeskiing, newschoolers.com provides us with the best information. Your members have been great about telling it like it is and supporting the future of the sport.
Can I have some free skis?
Oh yeah, you and rest of the world.