Armada Skis: New Ownership

By: Jason Tross

“Amer has given us a tremendous opportunity. It’s not about what Amer does or doesn’t do for Armada. They’ve been doing great things for us as a partner for more than a decade. It’s really up to us not to fuck it up.” - Hans Smith, Armada Skis president

Armada shook the ski world with the announcement of their acquisition by Finland-based Amer Sports yesterday morning for an impressive $4.2 million.

Amer Sports adds Armada to its existing brand lineup that includes Atomic, Salomon, Arcteryx, Wilson, and Louisville Slugger (among others). Armada initially paired with the multi-sport corporation in 2005 to manufacture its hard goods at the Atomic skis production facility in Austria.

"We're pleased to welcome Armada into our portfolio of strong, well-positioned brands,” said Michael Schineis, president of Amer Sports Winter Sports Equipment, in a press release today.

“The acquisition enables us to further accelerate especially in the U.S. market where Armada has a solid presence. Further, the acquisition is synergistic, as we have already in the past collaborated with Armada through a joint manufacturing arrangement. "

However, many are not feeling quite so synergistic with today’s news. The irony of Armada’s acquisition is both hot and cold water to the face of an industry on the heels of a tumultuous year. Now Armada, the iconic brand of giving the middle finger to corporations, just sold out for a few million bucks to – get this – a corporation.

Within the past year, Vail Resorts acquired Whistler Blackcomb, adding to its Epic Pass campaign. Skiing Magazine absorbed into its sister publication, Ski Magazine. K2 Sports was purchased then placed for sale by its new parent company, Newell Brands. K2 remains for sale along with its sister brands Volkl, Marker, Line, and Full Tilt - all described as “distractions” by their parent company.

Armada President Hans Smith says yesterday's acquisition is different, and the best thing that could happen for both companies at the perfect time.

“It’s not like we got acquired by some random corporation,” said Smith.

“A big difference between this acquisition – between us and Amer – those guys have gotten to know us over the past decade, plus. Our distraction at Armada has been managing the finances of a business. They’ve [Amer Sports] rooted for us the entire time we’ve worked together. They’ve seen us grow into a brand that is truly a compliment to their other brands. What’s valuable to them is the brand that we’ve created. That’s important to all of us.”

As Newschoolers forums filled up with comments and questions about the acquisition, longtime retailers were receiving the first round of phone calls from Armada staff about the changes coming.

Micah Genteman owns the Sports Creel in Spokane, Wash., and was one of Armada’s first retailers. He was also surprised to get a phone call from Armada staff yesterday morning about the acquisition. Though, he says it makes perfect sense to him, and supports the change.

“I think skiers probably have a moment when they go, ‘skiing just got bought by the man.’ The reality is that Amer is really just a big brother of a company that will let them, and wants them, to do their thing. There are other established Ski companies Amer could have bought, but there’s a reason they wanted Armada. I’ve been with them since the beginning – when they were trying to get into snowboard shops. I’ve always felt they made changes for the better. That’s something a lot of people lose sight of,” he added.

“There are 3,000 fewer ski retailers over the past decade. There aren’t any new ones. We lost three in Spokane, WA, last year alone. So, you know I’m going to be careful what we put on our wall. We can’t have stuff show up late, and fall apart. We have to be more selective than ever.”

Smith is feeling a bit out of sorts, too. After all, this whole thing really falls on him. He’s slept almost nil the past seven days working this deal in a secret vacuum. So why sell an icon of independence in skiing to a corporation?

According to Smith, it’s so Armada can regain focus on why they started in the first place.

In 2002, he joined a brain trust with videographer Eric Iberg, photographer Chris “O.C.” O’Connell, and pro skiers J.P. Auclair, Tanner Hall, J.F. Cusson, Julien Regnier, and Boyd Easley. Together, they sought to redefine freeskiing through the vision of its athletes. They were bucking the companies that were bucking freeskiing.

“Obviously we started as a rider-owned brand,” said Smith. “It’s a youth-driven focus with a great roster of athletes driving that focus. Athletes are no longer owners of the business. The athletes are where they belong, out on the snow and in the mountains skiing. That’s what’s made Armada successful. They [athletes] are more important than ever in the future development of the company.”

As such, each current Armada athlete under contract will be renewed with this acquisition. Those athletes will remain heavily involved in the direction of the products and brand.

According to Smith, the past ten years at Armada became a scale sliding moreover toward business operations – production, sales cycles, financing, distribution, and human resources (i.e. payroll, personnel, IT, facilities, etc…). Just a couple weeks ago, product designers were working in the warehouse packing boxes for shipping.

“This is a tough business,” said Smith. “We’ve always been good at developing products, marketing, and selling them. We’re a bunch of skiers who started this thing wanting it to be a vehicle to drive the direction of the sport. Managing the finances of a company was distracting us from what we’ve been focused on – the people buying our skis. Honestly, it’s the people reading this on Newschoolers. It’s tough to meet all those demands and stay profitable. Marketing and sales are independent of the new ownership. We can focus on that now.”

The sense of relief in Smith’s voice was equal to his enthusiasm to capitalize on Amer’s corporate resources. He is staying on with Armada as president, along with all sales reps and sales agents – most who have also been with the company since its inception.

“Amer has the best ski factory in the world,” said Smith. “That’s why we’ve had them doing the majority of our production for more than a decade – the same people we’ve been working with as decade ago. Our designers and engineers work with them on a regular basis. Amer Sports is exceptionally well run. Being brought into their [Amer Sports] fold brings in so many more things we didn’t have previously. This alleviates constraints - certain production windows and development windows.”

“Amer has given us a tremendous opportunity,” said Smith. “It’s not about what Amer does or doesn’t do for Armada. They’ve been doing great things for us as a partner for more than a decade. It’s up to us to not fuck it up.”

“We’re not going to fuck this up.”