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About Utah: Company helps show 'you don't win the Olympics on bad skis'

Published: Sunday, March 9 2014 9:20 p.m. MDT

Everywhere he turned in Sochi, David Wise displayed the 4FRNT brand.

Andy Wong, Associated Press

Three weeks ago, when a 23-year-old freeskier from Reno, Nev., named David Wise captured gold in the halfpipe competition at the Sochi Olympics, he did what everyone does when they stand on the podium: He proudly held out his skis for all the planet to see.

Only the logo wasn’t Rossignol, or K2, or Fischer, or Salomon, or any of the usual suspects.

It was 4FRNT.

And in that instant, halfway around the world, in a storefront warehouse in the industrial hub of the Salt Lake Valley, Joshua Moreland knew his life just got a whole lot easier — and a whole lot busier.

Joshua is director of marketing for the 4FRNT Ski Co. located on West Temple and 2900 South.

The business has been in operation since 2002, and in Salt Lake City since 2005, selling its skis to freeskiing purists the world over, largely via word of mouth.

Then came Wise’s moment in front of hundreds of millions Olympic-watchers.

“Impossible to buy that kind of attention,” says Josh, who lends his own personal perspective to that observation by adding, “Oh yeah, it’s all the mac and cheese I can eat.”

If you think that sounds like someone who has never really known a world without texting — and therefore has no trouble spelling “Forefront” in the more economical “4FRNT” — you would be correct in not only identifying Josh, but everybody else at the ski company where he works.

No one at 4FRNT is old. There are eight full-time employees, and the average age is under 30. The most ancient in the entire company is founder Matt Sterbenz, who is all of 34. “The old dog, the savvy veteran around here,” Josh calls him.

Sterbenz started 4FRNT when he was 23 and competing in big air and slopestyle contests, the forerunner to what are now commonly called freeskiing events. He was sponsored by Fischer Skis and grew frustrated when the company balked at building skis Sterbenz felt would better help him pull off his freeskiing tricks.

So he decided to build his own.

He gave birth to the “first rider-owned ski company” in the fall of 2002 in Truckee, Calif., outside Lake Tahoe. He named it 4FRNT to reflect its position at the forefront of the freeskiing movement.

He relocated the company to Salt Lake three years later for logistical reasons: He could be to the airport in less than 15 minutes and any of seven world-class ski areas in less than 45.

“We can press a ski and be at Alta testing it that afternoon,” Josh proudly boasts.

Beside the twin-tips that are de rigueur for freestyle skis, 4FRNT’s emphasis, then and now, is how the skis are shaped.

“The shape should determine the ski, not necessarily the technology or the cosmetics,” says Dan Burwell, 29, 4FRNT’s production manager, who, like everyone else in the company, can be found on the mountain skiing on the product when he’s not building it, shaping it or selling it.

The customer base has grown steadily over the past decade. You can find 4FRNT reps and outlets on every continent except Africa and Antarctica. Besides the U.S., the company has carved its strongest niche in Norway, Japan, Germany and Canada.

But it’s been a modest niche — until David Wise, who incidentally is a part-owner, soared into history in Sochi, site of the Olympics’ first-ever skiing halfpipe competition, where his 4FRNT logo was visible when he was upside down, right-side up and all stages in between.

Since then, “the response has been actually pretty incredible, as far as just people trying to give us money,” says Josh.

That includes hordes of new customers as well as investors who want in on what is obviously a good, new, profitable thing.

The gold medal beams a huge spotlight indeed.

“It validates what we do. It makes what we do here legitimate,” says Josh. “You don’t win the Olympics on bad skis.”

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays.

Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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