Ski Factory Disruption Due to Russian-Ukrainian War Hits Missoula Stores | Local News


New skis, especially Nordic skis, could be hard to come by this fall and winter as disruptions in ski production from the Russian-Ukrainian war ripple through the supply chain.

According to industry estimates, at least half of the skis sold globally each year are made in western Ukraine, mostly at factories around Mukachevo. Most ski, snowboard and shoe factories in Ukraine closed for a few weeks at the start of the war, which began when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

As Russian efforts to conquer the country stalled and refocused on eastern Ukraine, ski and snowboard factories in western Ukraine reopened. But some, like the Rossignol plant near Lviv, remain closed indefinitely. This factory was near a military training base for foreign fighters which was the target of a Russian missile strike in early March. Although the factory was unharmed, the missile strike destroyed utilities and other infrastructure around it.

The Trail Head in downtown Missoula is a major Rossignol retailer, especially for Nordic skis, also called cross-country skis. On Friday, owner Todd Frank said “we can’t get Nordic products.” In the first weeks of the war, Frank said, his Rossignol sales representative told him that the factory was closed and that skis were not to be expected for that winter.

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“He called and said you wouldn’t get any of your s— because there’s a war in Ukraine and our factory is closed.”

To compensate, The Trail Head will not be selling any of its rental skis, which Frank says are now entering their fourth season. Normally about a third of the fleet is sold each year and new skis are brought in, and the skis are only rented for three seasons before being sold. But last winter’s rental skis didn’t arrive until around April, after the season was over, he said. From now on, these skis will be the retail skis of this winter. Frank was able to get a few entry-level Rossignol skis and boots made in China, but he expects nothing from Ukraine. He said he planned to order more skis from Fischer than in previous winters, and he brought Salomon skis back to the store for the first time in 25 years.

He also encourages people to bring in their used skis to add to the store’s growing consignment operation. During recent pandemic-related product shortages, The Trail Head issued a “call to action” for customers to bring old skis, which Frank says “saved us during the time when we couldn’t get no product”. He hopes people will do the same.

“How many years do you need to stare at that dusty pair of skis in your garage when there’s a college student who would use them every day?”

Overall, Frank expects The Trail Head to have only about 25% of its normal amount of retail skis this winter: “We expect a significant drop in business this fall.

Mukachevo’s main ski factory, a sprawling 50-acre facility owned by Fischer Sports, produces 60% of the ski giant’s products, as well as skis and snowboards from many other brands. All brands combined, the Fischer factory alone produces up to 60% of all skis and boards sold in Europe each year, according to the Berlin economic information site BNE Intellinews. Industry estimates indicate that the plant employs 1,000 to 1,200 workers. In a phone call Thursday, Brian Landrigan, Fischer’s U.S. marketing manager, pegged the figure at “about 500” workers.

Landrigan said he couldn’t provide exact numbers on the factory’s “total global production,” but he noted the concentration of ski and board factories in Ukraine. Technica has a facility in the area; the same goes for Amer Sports, which owns Salomon and Atomic.

Landrigan said the Fischer facility, built in 1944 and purchased by Fischer in 1985, was shut down for nearly a month and a half immediately after the Russian invasion. Only “a small percentage of workers” left to join the war effort.

“The area has become quite calm and business has returned to normal in the area,” he said, noting that the shutdown at the start of the war meant there would be “some delays in our market.”

Skis that would normally arrive at US retailers in August may not arrive until late September or early October. Overall, however, the war and the plant closure were “a speed bump”, he said. If war forces a plant to close, Fischer is ready. A significant part of the factory burned down in 2020 but came back online before the war. After the fire, Fischer moved part of its Ukrainian production load to a factory at the company’s headquarters in Austria – a decision that could be repeated if necessary.

“We have the factory online now, and even though there was a month and a half of delay, we are able to produce our skis in our factories,” he said. “There hasn’t been too much disruption otherwise.”

Evan Wilkinson, the winter sports and camping gear buyer for Bob Ward’s Sports & Outdoors in Missoula, had a similar message Friday. His annual Nordic ski selection of a few hundred pairs is almost evenly split between Rossignol and Fischer, but he hasn’t heard much about the war-related delays. He pointed out that although Nordic ski production, and to some extent alpine ski production, is highly concentrated in Ukraine, many brands’ top-of-the-range skis are produced in their country of origin (the Fischer’s top-end skis are made in Austria) and many entry-level skis are made in China.

A line of boots he normally wears will not arrive this year due to the closure of the Rossignol factory, he said. More cancellations could happen, but it may be too early to tell.

“I think it’s just a big question mark right now.”

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