When Prmin Zurbriggen of Switzerland won the gold medal in the downhill in the last Olympics, no one was more pleased than Salt Lake's Kip Pitou.
Nor was there anyone happier when Sigrid Wolf won the woman's Super G gold, or when Hubert Stolz accepted the men's combined gold, or Anita Wachter the women's combined gold.Because, stuck like glue alongside all four of the gold medalists as they stood there for all the world to see, arms waving, big smiles showing and cameras flashing, were Pitou's skis. His, that is, by virtue of the fact that from his Salt Lake office he controls the U.S. Kastle ski market.
And to any of the ski makers, a gold is gold. The only problem, admitted Pitou, is convincing retailers. "Consumers want the skis. Retailers are somewhat skeptical . . . but shouldn't be. There's good reason for wanting the skis of winning racers."
A strong committment to racing, he said in an informative tone, is a benefit to skiers, from entry level to expert. Many of the advancements in skis in recent years have come out of the racing rooms and off racing skis.
"Produce a faster base," he explained, "and you have a base that is slipperier. Naturally, a slipperier base will be a base that will turn more easily for the recreational skier.
"We," he offered in the way of a product testimonial, "have the fastest skis in the world."
Proof, he added, is in the skiing . . . having the very fastest in the fastest events in skiing, and on skis called among the fastest, makes his skis the fastest.
It also reaffirms his company's committment to racing, he said, adding that there's more to it than what people think.
Take for example the now-in-session World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail.
One year ago, Kastle sent a five-member test team to the race location, Vail, Colo. For two weeks, the team tested everything from time and temperature, to bases and waxes. Anything to do with ski racing that could be tested was and then recorded.
Then two weeks before the event, a three-member team returned with over 100 pairs of skis of every imaginable cut and composition. Again they ran tests to confirm that they had the perfect skis under all possible conditions.
When racers arrived, each had his or her very own technician. Each technician then went over test data, added input about the skier, and selected one of the 100 pairs. The "golden" pair.
"The only thing that could foul all this up is new snow," said Pitou.
"Well, it snowed. There were a lot of long faces over there and a lot of testers scrambling for new data."
All, of course, has not been clean runs and gold medals for Pitou and his Salt Lake-based ski company. Selling skis is not easy, nor is it lonely. Check the racks at a ski shop sometime.
There are, conservatively, over two dozen ski makers in the world. And each has a dozen or so different models, all claiming to have skis that run faster, turn quicker, feel smoother, look better and cost, well, . . . a little or a lot, depending on the a skier's needs.
Back in 1983, when Pitou, executive vice president of Kastle USA, left his New York home for the Wasatch Mountains, fewer than 300 of his skis were marketed locally and fewer than 30,000 in the United States (eighth in the market). Most of the sales were east of the Mississippi.
This year he anticipates total sales of 80,000 (tie for fifth with Atomic) and local sales of 3,000.
The reasons, he offered, ranged from image - "Good image is the thing skiers are looking for these days . . . how they project themselves on the slopes is important. And they want a ski with a high image," he explained - to moving out west and learning about the western market.
Having offices in Salt Lake City has helped. It's central, accessible, projects good work ethics and is close to great snow and some of the very best skiing.
And, putting the fastest on the best in the greatest is a sure sale these days.