In an industry chock-full of large-scale, corporate acquisitions over the last year, including K2, Volkl, and Line being acquired by a private equity firm and Armada's acquisition by Amer Sports, a press release this morning announced big news for the private sector.
Jason Levinthal, founder of Line Skis, Full Tilt Boots, and now the owner and operator of J Skis, has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire 4FRNT Skis Inc., with the deal expected to close sometime in early July.
4FRNT, founded by Matt Sterbenz out of Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002, remains one of the original indie ski brands that came out of the early 2000s that is still privately owned. That authenticity and energy attracted Levinthal, who founded the first twin-tipped ski company, Line, out of his parents’ garage in the mid-1990s. "When I got into the ski business in 1995, there was only big, conservative ski companies, most of them based out of Europe,” Levinthal said in a phone call on Tuesday. “Snowboarding was huge and skiing was dying. I started Line to kick off the next generation. By 2002, brands like 4FRNT jumped in…and they added a lot of enthusiasm to the sport. They were founded by guys that didn’t care about the bottom line, they just wanted to make a great ski. Today, everyone is getting sold off. 4FRNT is still kicking, and I want to see them thrive.”
Sterbenz and 4FRNT will remain in Salt Lake City operating out of "The White Room," the company's research and development facility. Sterbenz will continue to be at the front of the brand’s identity and athlete-driven products.
Sterbenz said he knows this direction will be the best for the longevity of his company. “It was never my intention to be the sole owner,” he said. “I didn’t start the company 15 years ago to take it to my grave, because I don’t ever want to see 4FRNT going to the grave. With J, I know the brand is going to be around another 15 years.”
A week prior to the deal, Levinthal posted a photo on social media with the caption, “I'm working on developing another brand. If you are in the position to loan $200k email me to discuss." In the interview Tuesday, he laughed, “It takes money to run a business.” He said that because of the unique seasonal sales aspect of skiing, it’s difficult to secure loans from a bank. “When you make three-fourths of your sales in a quarter of the year, banks won’t even look at you for loans,” he said. Clearly, his pitch worked and Levinthal was able to secure a private loan, outside of a bank.
Looking at the future of 4FRNT, Levinthal said they are excited to expand the company’s audience. “We've got a huge opportunity to introduce 4FRNT's unique brand position, heritage, and award winning products to a far broader audience of skiers,” he said. “We'll immediately ramp up brand awareness to match the demand it's award-winning product deserves.”
Having gained individual strong cult followings, lovers of 4FRNT and J Skis need not to worry about a mixing of brands with the acquisition. Sterbenz jokingly said that at this point in both of his and Levinthal’s careers (15 and 22 years, respectively), they wouldn’t even know how make one brand look like the other. “It’s like getting married at 47 years old, you’re not going to completely change who you are,” Sterbenz said. “Your core beliefs are set, but there are always small improvements that can be made.”