In 2002, a group of skiers, including JP Auclair and Tanner Hall, joined forces to establish an independent ski brand "by athletes, for athletes." By staying true to its rider-owned, rider-operated credo over the last 15 years, Armada Skis became one of skiing's most influential indie companies. That longstanding commitment to independence made it hard to believe Wednesday's announcement that Amer Sports, the Finnish corporation that owns Atomic, Salomon, and Arc'teryx, had acquired Armada for $4.1 million.
Armada came along at a time when the sport of skiing was clamoring for change. Auclair and Hall, along with other founding members JF Cusson, Julien Regnier, Boyd Easley, and Chris O'Connell, were driven to reclaim skiing's fun-loving, non-conforming spirit. Spurred by the influence of snowboarding, terrain parks, and the 'new school,' Armada launched with a line of two twin-tip skis and the motto "we are what skiing will become." The brand went on to develop influential shapes such as the reverse-camber powder ski called the ARG, which excelled at surfing over deep snow, and the JJ, a rocker-camber-rocker all-mountain powder ski spawned by the minds of Auclair and Regnier. Yet for the small, athlete-powered company, creative genius has always been easier to come by than business experience and savvy.
"We've been fighting to stay alive for the last 15 years," Armada's President, Hans Smith, told POWDER.
So is this acquisition skiing's biggest sellout? Not really. The acquisition includes the Armada brand, branded products, intellectual property, and distribution rights, but Armada will continue to operate independently under the Amer umbrella, according to Smith. The company will benefit from Amer's vast financial resources and operational frameworks, with few strings attached and little compromise on the product or brand.
"Armada is only enhanced because of this new support," Smith said. "Nothing people love about the company is changing. We'll keep developing great products, we'll keep supporting athletes doing incredible things in skiing around the world, and we'll keep doing it in a way that makes skiing fun… [the acquisition] affords us the ability to focus on the things we're good at, and get backing and resources and support for the things we weren't so good at."
Armada and Amer already have an established working relationship that goes back to Armada's beginnings. While the ski company’s design and engineering has always been in-house, serial manufacturing was first outsourced to Amer factories about 12 years ago. "We have been working toward long-term financial backing for a long time now," Smith said, and this partnership made Amer the natural choice. The Helsinki-based corporation understands and respects Armada's brand, Smith said. Its independent voice and athlete focus made the company a valuable acquisition--so he isn't worried about corporate overhaul.
Amer “didn't need another Salomon, they didn't need another Atomic in their portfolio--they wanted to diversify," Smith said. "In conversations leading up to the acquisition, [they were saying] 'We want Armada because of the unique brand identity. That's not something we want to mess with, but we also see those synergies in areas where we can certainly enhance the business, from the financial, the operations, the logistics side that we [at Armada] aren't capable of doing at the current size.’ They're super fired up on the brand."
Amer was established in 1950 as a tobacco manufacturer and distributor, but formed a sports division in 1986 after acquiring a majority stake in a golf equipment company. It picked up its first ski brand, Atomic, in 1994. Salomon followed in 2005, the same year the company changed its name to Amer Sports Corporation. Its North American headquarters are based in Ogden, Utah, but it’s still unclear whether Armada will relocate from their current offices in Park City.
"We welcome them with open arms," says Jake Strassburger, Alpine Commercial Manager at Atomic. "They're a cool, grassroots U.S. ski company, and it's always cool to know we've got like-minded people in our organization driving and contributing to the sport."
Amer is a "perfect fit," for Armada, Smith said. "This gives us the business support to do what we do for a long time to come, only a lot better."
PHOTO: David Reddick