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Skis Rossignol S.A. Business Information, Profile, and History

company world wood equipment

B.P. 329
38509 Voiron Cedex
France

Company Perspectives:

Rossignol's wish is simple: to share with you our passion for the wonderful world of winter sports.

History of Skis Rossignol S.A.

Skis Rossignol S.A. is one of the world's premier manufacturers of ski equipment. Headquartered in Voiron, a small town in southeastern France, the company was among the first to make skis in France and was an early leader in ski technology and design. Its skis, for example, were used in the 1936 Winter Olympics, the first to include alpine ski events, and have since been worn by numerous Olympic and World Cup champions. By 2000, almost 40 percent of all downhill skis sold throughout the world were manufactured by Rossignol. The company's major markets are in Europe, Japan, and the United States. Since the 1970s, the company has diversified into new areas of ski equipment, first adding the manufacture of cross-country skis, then ski boots, poles, snowboards, bindings, accessories, and apparel. Rossignol also manufactures tennis rackets and golf clubs. While most of its products are sold under the Rossignol brand name, the company has expanded through the purchase of existing brands, such as Lange (boots) and Dynastar (skis).

1907: Sport Skiing Is Born in the French Alps

For thousands of years, skiing was a practical means of transportation in snowbound regions. In early Scandinavia, for example, hunters and soldiers used skis during the winter months. But it was not until the 20th century that skiing began to develop as a sport. Early events focused on cross-country skiing, but as skiers developed techniques, most notably the telemark turn, downhill events started. Compared with modern equipment, skis of this era were heavy and long, made of solid wood and measuring between eight and 14 feet.

Sport skiing first took hold in the vicinity of Grenoble, a town in the French Alps not far from the Italian border. Early sport skiers used equipment that was manufactured in Scandinavia, though these skis were not designed for conditions in the French Alps, which tended to be steeper and icier than slopes in Scandinavia. The military ski school in Briançon, southeast of Grenoble, introduced the first French-made downhill skis in 1906. By the next year, sport skiing was booming in France. Numerous ski events were held in the Alps, and French artisans joined in the production of skis to meet the demand. These new skis were generally made of ash, pine, or larch—woods chosen for their flexibility and resilience.

During this time, Abel Rossignol, a skiing enthusiast and wood craftsman, was the head of a wood turnery in Voiron, a town just northeast of Grenoble. The turnery, founded in 1901, produced wooden articles for the textile industry. In 1907, Rossignol decided to make his own pair of downhill skis, for which he used solid wood protected by a light-colored varnish. His skis took first prize in a contest sponsored by the Touring Club of France, and in 1911, bolstered by his success, Rossignol established a "skis and sleds" division of his company. Rossignol continued to make solid-wood skis for the next three decades with production reaching several hundred skis per year.

In the 1930s, France emerged as a skiing power, led by Emile Allais. At the 1936 Winter Olympics, held at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Allais won the bronze medal in the alpine combined, and the following year at the world championships, he won the gold medal in all three alpine events, earning the title "champion of the world." All his medals were won on Rossignol skis. During this time, Allais codified his method of ski instruction, published in the book Ski Français.

In 1936 Rossignol hired Allais as its technical adviser and official tester, a position Allais used to help the company design some of the world's most advanced skis. The primary weakness of the company's skis was their solid-wood construction. Unless the wood had a uniform grain, for example, the ski would tend to warp during production, and even good solid-wood skis would begin to lose their shape with age. Some of Rossignol's competitors had already found a solution—a laminated, or layered, construction similar to plywood, with wood grains running in different directions—which made a lighter, more durable wooden ski. By using different types of wood and various patterns of lamination, manufacturers could determine the ski's flexibility and resilience. Although Rossignol did not originate this method, the company's first laminated ski, the Olympic 41, was an advance in design. Developed in 1941, the ski met with great success after World War II, carrying such racers as Henri Oreiller (1948) and Ottmar Schneider (1952) to Olympic victories. Production of the ski at Rossignol's Voiron factory rocketed to several thousand per year by 1951.

1950s: Metal Skis Are Introduced

Laminated skis presented problems with maintenance and durability. Like all wooden skis, they absorbed water and were easily damaged, and to slide smoothly across the snow, they needed to be waxed regularly. Some manufacturers began to experiment with other materials, especially metal. Metal skis would prove to be more durable, more resilient, and faster than wooden skis. The first successful metal ski was made by American aviation engineer Howard Head. Using the sandwich-type design found on aircraft, Head placed two strips of aluminum (at the top and bottom of the ski) around a plywood core, added a plastic bottom, and attached an exceptionally hard metal edge to improve control. Head skis were an immediate hit, especially among recreational skiers, when they were introduced in the early 1950s.

Allais, who tested an early pair of Head skis in the United States, was impressed with their handling in soft snow and powder, but he found them "totally unsuited" for the hard-packed snow of competitive skiing. Even so, he brought several pairs of Head skis back to France, where he and Rossignol started working to come up with their own design. One of Rossignol's first metal skis, the Allais 60, earned worldwide attention when Frenchman Jean Vuarnet wore a pair when he won the men's downhill event at the 1960 Winter Olympics, held at Squaw Valley, California. The Allais 60 was the first metal ski used to win an Olympic gold medal. Allais later observed that the ski's "characteristics, notably its ability to grip [the snow], were much superior to the wooden skis still used during this time." Despite such early success, the Allais 60 and other metal skis would prove to be merely a bridge in the transition from wooden skis to those made from fiberglass and other synthetic materials, which were both lighter and more resilient than wood or metal.

At the same time that Rossignol was embarking on a program to develop new technology, the company was undergoing significant change. In the mid-1950s, Rossignol was organized into two main activities: ski manufacture and the production of wooden articles for the textile industry. The textile industry was in decline, putting a severe financial strain on Rossignol. In order to save the company, Allais approached his friend Laurent Boix-Vives, a 29-year-old French businessman, who was the owner of Société des Téléskis de Moriond, a small ski-lift company in Courchevel, a town northeast of Grenoble. Boix-Vives agreed to purchase Rossignol for $50,000. One of his first decisions, in 1956, was to drop the company's textile operations (Rossignol's original line of business) and to focus solely on ski production. Under Boix-Vives's guidance, as gérant (managing director, 1956-1960) and then as président-directeur général (from 1960), the company was transformed from a small factory producing several thousand skis per year to a multinational corporation with subsidiaries in several countries. By 1972, when the company was incorporated as Skis Rossignol S.A., Rossignol had become the world's best-selling brand of ski, a position it continued to hold into the next century.

Rossignol's phenomenal growth was aided by several external factors, including the increased popularity of skiing in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the United States. In 1973, Rossignol established a subsidiary in the United States, Rossignol Ski Company, Inc., in Williston, Vermont, and manufactured skis in that state from 1973 to 1984. Rossignol also gained market share through its investment in research and development, which allowed it to manufacture some of the most advanced ski equipment in the world.

Rossignol's first truly successful fiberglass ski was the Strato, introduced in the mid-1960s. It was actually made of a complex layering of various materials, including a plastic called acrylonitrile butadien styrene (ABS), which formed the top layer and the side walls of the ski. The Strato, like previous Rossignol skis, proved popular among world-class racers. At the 1968 Winter Olympics, held in Grenoble (near the Voiron factory), the Strato was worn by five medalists, including Canadian Nancy Greene, winner of the giant slalom. By this time, the company also was producing skis under the name Dynastar, a brand it bought in 1967.

1970s: Technological Evolution Continues

In the early 1970s, Rossignol introduced its first skis made without any wood. These featured a light-density polyurethane core, which not only was cheaper than wood but also made the ski more comfortable. Rossignol's racing skis, including the ROC and the ST, featured the polyurethane core and, as expected, performed exceptionally well in international competition. For example, at the 1976 Olympic games at Innsbruck, Austria, Rossignol's plastic-core skis were worn by six medalists, twice as many as the nearest competing brand.

Over the next two decades, Rossignol spent millions of dollars refining the design of its plastic-based skis. Performance and comfort were enhanced, for example, by Rossignol's patented Vibration Absorbing System (VAS), introduced in 1981. Made with an inner layer of steel wire and other materials, VAS was designed to reduce harmful vibration, while preserving vibration that improved ski performance and speed. In 1984, a complementary "external" VAS was introduced, comprising a light alloy stress plate attached to the top of the ski. Another notable improvement was the "Rossitop," introduced in 1992, which was an eight-millimeter-thick layer of transparent plastic that protected the ski's cosmetics.

Also important to the company's success was its decision to produce other types of ski equipment. Its first major diversification was in 1971, when the company introduced a Rossignol brand of cross-country skis. These skis, manufactured in Sweden, were made entirely of wood, as were many cross-country skis at the time. But in 1974 the Voiron factory began making a fiberglass model. Cross-country skiing grew increasingly popular during the 1970s, and in 1976, Rossignol established a cross-country division. In 1987, it introduced its "System Concept" line of cross-country skis, boots, and bindings, which were specifically designed to work together. That year, Rossignol also developed an air-injection method that produced exceptionally lightweight, durable cross-country skis.

1980s: Diversification Begins

Though Rossignol was the world's largest manufacturer of downhill skis, the company did not have a line of downhill ski boots until 1989, when it purchased Lange, a leading brand of ski boots since 1965. Rossignol gained much from Lange's existing research and development program. In the 1980s, Lange had been working on a compromise between the two most popular types of ski boots. The first—pioneered by Lange's founder Bob Lange of Dubuque, Iowa—was an all-plastic boot fitted with a series of buckles across the front. Exceptionally stiff, this boot efficiently translated body movement to the ski and was especially popular among competitive racers. The second, introduced in the early 1970s, was an all-plastic rear-entry model, in which the back of the boot hinged off to provide easy access for the foot. The rear-entry boot was more convenient and comfortable than front-buckle models, though its performance was generally regarded as inferior. The compromise, introduced in 1989 under both the Lange and Rossignol brand names, was the MID line of ski boots. These were front-buckle boots with a unique hinge system that allowed the top to open wider, thus making them easier to put on. The traditional front-buckle design continued to be used for many Rossignol and Lange boots, especially for high-performance models.

1990s: Remaining Competitive

As early as 1991, Rossignol was testing prototypes of a new downhill ski binding, which was the only major piece of ski equipment it did not yet manufacture. It soon became clear, however, that developing and marketing a new binding would be more expensive than buying an existing brand. Thus, in 1994 Rossignol purchased two well-known brands of ski bindings, Look and Geze, and began to sell bindings under the Rossignol and Look brand names. By the end of the 1990s, the company had solidified about 25 percent of the world market in ski bindings.

By the early 1990s, Rossignol was also making a variety of other ski equipment, including ski poles and accessories such as bags, gloves, socks, shirts, sweaters, and hats. By this time, the company had diversified outside the ski industry. In 1977, it had introduced a line of Rossignol tennis rackets, and, in 1990, Rossignol Ski Company purchased Roger Cleveland Golf Company of Paramount, California.

In the 1990s, a number of variables, such as changes in worldwide snow conditions, economic recessions (especially in Japan), and exchange-rate fluctuations between the French franc and the currencies of its major markets caused a sharp decline in Rossignol's sales. At the time this industry-wide crisis occurred, Rossignol generated more than 80 percent of its sales outside of France. Declining skis sales during the 1990s can also be attributed to the explosion of interest in new and extreme winter sports, especially snowboarding, which appealed greatly to the youth market. Rossignol entered this market by purchasing already-established snowboarding companies such as Original Sin and Emery (purchased in 1999). Rossignol restructured in 1998 and outfitted its Spanish factory to become the industry's largest producer of snowboards.

By the mid-90s, after several years of declining sales of downhill skis (industry sales had dropped 40 percent), the development of parabolic (or shaped skis) revitalized the industry. The shaped skis had a slim hourglass shape, narrow in the middle with a fat tip and a wide tail. This allowed for more stability not only for beginners, but for advanced skiers as well. Rossignol looked to Olympic champion Picabo Street to design its Peak skis, which were bestsellers in the late 1990s. According to Time magazine, by 1998 (only four years after their introduction by Elan-Monark) parabolic skis accounted for more than 80 percent of alpine ski sales, and had increased overall ski sales from the previous year by a whopping 82 percent.

Fashionable apparel (especially for snowboarders) became a huge moneymaker in the late 1990s for winter sports clothing manufacturers. After several years of conducting worldwide focus groups on consumer's opinions, Rossignol showed its first line of name-brand winter sports apparel in 2000. While the clothing designs were still under development in 1997, Jeanne-Marie Gund, vice president of communications and advertising, told WWD magazine, "The big message is that the line isn't developed by a bunch of office designers sitting in front of computers all day. We're talking to snowboarders who are using our products 200 days a year."

By the end of the 20th century, Skis Rossignol S.A. was the world's dominant manufacturer of ski equipment. In 2000, the company sold about 1.2 million pairs of Rossignol and Dynastar alpine skis, or nearly 40 percent of the world's ski category, putting them far ahead of their numerous competitors, such as Head, K2, Elan, Atomic, Salomon, and Pre. The company also had yearly sales in 2000 of some 720,000 pairs of boots (Rossignol and Lange), 900,000 pairs of ski bindings (Rossignol and Look), 91,000 pairs of cross-country skis (Rossignol), and 180,000 snowboards (several brands).

Despite the ever-changing winter sports equipment marketplace, Skis Rossignol S.A. has maintained it dominance. As the world's leading producer of skis, Rossignol has enjoyed almost universal name recognition among skiers—a brand familiarity that has helped the company launch into new lucrative winter sports. The Rossignol name, prominently marked on skis and other equipment, can be seen on almost any ski slope in the world. Many ski shops rent the company's products, thus introducing a large number of potential customers to the Rossignol brands. Its reputation for quality also has been maintained through the sponsorship of top skiers and snowboarders, many of whom have won Olympic and World Cup races, as well as other international competitions using Rossignol equipment.

Principal Divisions:Alpine Skiing, Snowboard, Nordic, Roller Skates and Tennis, Golf, Textiles and Collections.

Principal Subsidiaries:Skis Dynastar S.A. (France); Look Fixations S.A.; Emery S.A.; Lange International S.A. (Switzerland); Rossignol Lange SpA (Italy); Rossignol Ski Poles SpA (Italy); Rossignol Ski AG (Switzerland); Rossignol Ski Deutschland GmbH (Germany); Skis Rossignol de Espana S.A. (Spain); Rossignol Ski Company, Inc. (U.S.); Roger Cleveland Golf Company (U.S.).

Principal Competitors:adidas-Salomon; K2; Rollerblade; Burton Snowboards.

Chronology

  • Key Dates:
  • 1907: Abel Rossignol sets up a small company in Voiron specializing in wooden items for the textile industry and envisions its first all-wood alpine skis.
  • 1911: Rossignol creates a skis branch in his company.
  • 1942: Rossignol patents the first laminated wood ski.
  • 1956: With the textiles market shrinking, Laurent Boix-Vives takes over Skis Rossignol and concentrates the company's efforts on the more lucrative ski business.
  • 1957: The first metallic ski is developed.
  • 1961: A fiberglass ski is developed. Rossignol products are launched in foreign markets.
  • 1972: Rossignol becomes the world leader for ski manufacturing.
  • 1977: The company launches its first range of products in the summer sports field.
  • 1989: Rossignol acquires the Lange company, a leader in ski boots for racing.
  • 1993: Rossignol acquires the Look company, which is famous for ski bindings.
  • 1995–1998: The company becomes the world leader in manufacturing of winter sports equipment and enters the promising markets of snowboards, parabolic skis, and in-line skates.
  • 2000: Rossignol launches a line of winter sports apparel in Europe and the United States.
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