By Eric Peterson | Feb 05, 2019
Ski bindings and skis
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Telemark ski bindings and skis
When Bombard moved to Colorado in 2008, he was working in the medical device industry, developing a product for hip arthroscopy. "I'm an engineer and product designer," he says.
He's also an avid telemark skier. "I met this guy, Fin Doyle, in Silverthorne," he says. "He's an engineer, a nerd like me."
Doyle was making bindings for hard-boot snowboard racing at the time, and also ported his designs to a telemark binding branded as the B1 Bishop. When Doyle moved on to start Sulas Industries, manufacturer of an electricity-free solar tracking system, he sold the rights for the B1 Bishop to Bombard in 2012.
That led to a major shift for Bombard. "I came from medical devices," he explains. "I didn't know a damn thing about consumer products, let alone snowsports."
He got a whirlwind education and started making bindings in 2013. "I just did it myself out of the garage for four years," says Bombard.
In 2017, he moved the operation to an 850-square-foot space in Edwards. In peak binding-building season (October to December), he brings on temporary workers to boost the inventory for winter. "We're kind of an assembly house," says Bombard. "Our main suppliers are in Denver."
Englewood-based Radtech makes most of Bishop's parts. "Everything is custom, except for a couple screws," says Bombard. "The backbone of our product is these beautiful machined parts from Radtech."
Bishop also sources sheet metal components from A.G. Machining & Sheet Metal in Englewood and other parts from suppliers in China and Taiwan.
"We really push some of our suppliers to do designs that are tricky," Bombard notes. He highlights toe cages: "We had no idea going into it how tricky those toe cages could be."
The shop in Edwards includes a CNC machine to cut aluminum and a pair of 3D printers from Aleph Objects and Raise3D. The latter printer is primarily used for one part -- a spring plug -- but Bombard sees potential. "If we were to go vertical, we'd go vertical with 3D printing," he says.
Before the Raise3D machine, the company outsourced production of the plug to local machine shops. But a new and improved design that better distributes stress "would have been cost-prohibitive for machining," says Bombard. "Now it can perfectly conform to that pin."
It all adds up to notably high performance. "We've positioned ourselves as the premium telemark binding out there," says Bombard.
In 2017, Bishop launched its new top-end BMF line of bindings. "I invested a lot of time and money into R&D," says Bombard. Unlike most of the competition, the bindings are step-in and semi-releasable, and feature ski brakes. Two telemark boot styles -- traditional and NTN -- "splinters an already niche market," notes Bombard. The BMF bindings solve that issue: "We make a product that can be used for either of those boots. That's very unique. We're the only company that has that kind of customization right now."
The new products catalyzed a 300 percent sales bump for the 2017-18 season, but there was a hangup. "We had a really tough learning lesson about cost and pricing," Bombard explains. "We set the price of these new bindings before we had the final cost."
And of course, the final cost was considerably higher than expected. "Our margins just weren't there last year," laments Bombard. "We had to increase our prices this year." A 30 percent hike helped get things in line.
Bishop also launched a line of skis in 2017 manufactured by Denver-based Never Summer Industries. It's part of a broader push for the company. "As a business, my vision is we're going to expand into other products to grow the company," says Bombard. "We love to innovate and play in the mountains."
He continues, "That's what gets me going: innovation. I'm an engineer and a designer. That being said, we need margins and sales and all those other business things as well. . . . Nobody's retiring on a yacht. It's a passion product."
Challenges: "Sales," says Bombard. "Getting the word out there."
Volatility due to tariffs is another, he adds. "Markets don't like that.
The telemark market is also small; estimates hold there are about 1.5 million telemark skiers worldwide. "We have great, loyal customers -- there's just not very many of them," he notes. "Our profile is definitely a hardcore skier. Somebody that's going into telemarking is not dabbling."
The growth in AT skiing has translated to a shift for telemark manufacturers. In the 1990s, telemarking "was how you got in the backcountry," says Bombard. Now that AT offers another option, telemark skiing "is not about the backcountry anymore. It's about a turn, a style of skiing, and a community. It's a beautiful turn and it's hard to do."
After a dip, there's been a bit of a boomlet in recent years. "Now it's kind of back up again," because it's different," he says. "The kids love it."
Within the telemark market, positioning Bishop as the premium binding creates another hurdle: "Our price is a real challenge," says Bombard. While he notes that Bishop's bindings can be twice the price of low-end products, he's quick to add, "This is Marketing 101: You shouldn't compete on price."
Opportunities: As education is critical to win new converts to Bishop, a new mail-based demo program launched in late 2018 ships products to customers to try before they buy. "We need to show people what you get," says Bombard. It might well be an industry first. "I've never heard of it," he says. "I think we're the first manufacturer to do it."
He also sees runway for growth in telemark products, but awareness is key: "We need to let the tele tribe know we exist."
Bombard says other snowsports or gravity sports might offer additional opportunities for Bishop. "It's building on the brand reputation and leveraging the experience and expertise we've grown making the hardest product out there," he notes.
An AT binding is one possibility. "That's where the growth is," he says. "That being said, I'd like a simpler product."
Needs: "PR," says Bombard. "Locally, getting the word out is huge. Sales and marketing is out main push right now."
An assist from the state wouldn't hurt, either. "Maybe the government and industry could work together more," he says.