Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Great Rossignol Boondoggle

By Seth Masia

I’ve just stumbled across a reminiscence by Jackson Hogen of a Rossignol-sposored junket to the Alps in the winter of 1993-1994 (see Because Jackson mentions me in the article, I feel some obligation to elaborate, and to set the record straight on a few minor points.

Jackson is entirely correct on the market situation of the era. Salomon was on a roll, and had recently introduced its line of “monocoque” alpine skis. They were growing very quickly, mostly at the expense of Rossignol and Dynastar. Salomon was a powerful marketing machine. One of its tools was the full-bore press trip – the company would round up a dozen or so ski magazine staffers and fly us off to some snowy venue for a three-day new-product introduction. On occasion, the Austrian Trade Commission did something similar for Austrian ski and boot manufacturers. But Salomon seemed happy to spend the most money. By 1993, Rossignol’s management felt they needed to put on a full-court press in answer. The company sent invitations to all the American ski magazines (SKI, Skiing, Powder, Snow Country, Ski Racing) and flew us off to Europe.

In attendance were two or three writers plus a publisher or advertising rep from each publication, escorted by the senior management of Rossignol’s U.S. subsidiary, and Rossi had hired Andy Mill as athlete-host. We were supposed to have a good time. Jackson’s idea of a good time consisted very largely of ingesting whatever fell to hand, and then skiing hard.

The woods above Val Floret, Tignes.
First stop was Tignes. In theory there was a FIS race to be attended, but a blizzard was in progress so four of us (Mill, Hogen and me, and a local guide) jumped on some GS skis and headed for a steepish out-of-bounds hardwood forest on either side of the Les Lanches lift. The upper slopes were a complete white-out but in the trees we could see perfectly and the new snow lay about 18 inches deep. I should have felt sleep-deprived and jet-lagged but it was one of the glorious mornings of my life. I love skiing with Andy Mill – his knees are trashed enough that I can keep up with him, but not so trashed as to keep him out of trouble. Les Lanches was then a double chair, and because Mill and I were well-matched for speed (at least in powder) we sort of lost touch with Hogen and the ESF guide.

At lunch, Hogen passed out. In addition to the sleep deprivation and jet-lag, he was hung over and dehydrated. I was the volunteer who helped him stagger back to the bus and found him an overdose of aspirin and eau minerale.

We then toured the new ski factory. Rossignol had built this production line to make the 4SV, a light squirt ski meant to replace the popular 4SK recreational slalom ski in the line. Fat skis were already in wide use for powder skiing, Elan had already introduced the SCX shaped ski and the Austrian factories had their own shaped skis in prototype, so I thought it curious that Rossi had just spend about a million bucks to create a light, overdamped straight ski that would be obsolete before it cooled.

Then it was off to Grenoble for cocktails chez Boix-Vives, a fabulous penthouse. Then a late-night charter flight on a ratty but durable old Gulfstream I turboprop, to Venice. About two dozen of us were massed into what was really a 19-passenger airplane, so we got to make use of the cockpit jumpseat, the head, and the overhead luggage bins.
Jackson here begins to make frequent reference to a “whacked-out” boot editor. I won’t identify this personage, save to note that he seemed a marginal Asperger case, obsessively focused and oblivious to social skills. His obsession on this trip was to annoy the hell out of our host, Jacques Rodet, president of Rossignol's North American operations.

We toured the Caber factory in Montebelluna. Rossignol had just purchased the facility and begun making a bright yellow race boot under its own label, a stiff four-buckle boot that would eventually make a suitable stable-mate to the Lange race boots Rossignol already made in Bolzano.

There was some kind of mix-up over luncheon plans but we wound up in a wonderful haute-cuisine country inn somewhere between Montebelluna and Venice. Our table made far too much noise, disturbing a dining room full of well-dressed civilized folk. Jackson showed off his Italian with a loudly-declaimed toast in the form of an obscene bit of doggerel.

The Gulfstream I lofted us over the alps at dusk, and I was glued to the window watching the alpenglow from a new perspective.  We landed at Le Bourget half an hour after dark. On the bus to our hotel – an old monastery on the Left Bank converted to deluxe rooms -- the whacked-out boot editor asked Rodet, in all seriousness, “What river is that?” Rodet, who had graciously suffered fools for three days, finally lost it. “There’s only one river in Paris!” he barked. 

Dinner was at a three-star establishment overlooking said river. My chief memory of the meal is watching Rodet glare as the boot editor served himself with bare hands. The good-time tour concluded at the Crazy Horse. Like Jackson, I’ll leave that experience to your imagination.

Back at the hotel, we found that our hosts had thoughtfully left us each a pair of 4SV skis and a pair of bright yellow race boots. I’m sorry to say that the skis proved to be submarines, going to the bottom of any soft snowpack and staying there. They lasted one season in the market, then got blown away in the shaped-ski revolution. The boots worked well.

Related articles: 100 Years of Rossignol.

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