SCARPA’s Kim Miller has been in the Outdoor and Snowsports Industry since high school, where he worked in retail and was trained by Roberto LaRosa and Hans Whitman as a cobbler at a store in Denver called Colorado Shoe Company — a specialty boot repair and sales shop where Miller had his first lessons in mountaineering and Telemark boot sales and repair.
In college at the University of Colorado, Miller worked for Outward Bound and became a ski guide. After college, he started a retail store in Denver called simply, Telemark. And after selling that business in the late 1980s, he went to work for Chouinard Equipment in Ventura, California; went through the employee buyout in 1990; and was then on the founding team that built Black Diamond, where he stayed for 18 years.
After doing almost every job imaginable at BD, from sales manager to ski line category manager to name a few, Miller helped launch SCARPA North America in 2005, and became CEO in 2006. We managed to catch a few minutes of his time from 30,000 feet between Italy and Boulder to ask him a few burning questions:
How has the SCARPA consumer changed since you’ve been there? How has the brand evolved?
Not just the SCARPA consumer, all consumers in the outdoor and ski industry have evolved a lot in this time. More diversity (gender, age and ethnicity) has had a lot to do with the evolution, but the sports have also evolved a lot. Specifically, BC skiing and climbing have exploded. The cost of resort skiing, the crowds and lack of adventure have made a lot of people want to look for more freedom, adventure and powder. I just went to Canada for my annual BC ski trip and the lodges are booked out 3 years now. The sport climbing and climbing gyms have changed rock climbing as well. This is a whole new mentality for the participants. Done in a week (expeditions to AK etc.) is now done in a weekend. Done in a day is now done in an hour.
SNA has evolved in two big ways. Consumer needs and the products we build to serve and support our people and their adventures have become very specialized and amazingly efficient, light and innovative. They have also become more expensive, which I worry about because this effects access to the sports we serve. Equipment is an investment and luckily the new stuff lasts a long time. Access to skiing on the hill is a worry to me for this reason. Who can afford to go skiing these days if you have a family, or are on a tight budget? We also now speak directly with our consumer and hear from them directly. Social media is a big part of this and has changed the relationship to a more direct conduit for the communication loop.
How has SCARPA reacted to, or perhaps help lead, the growth in SkiMo and Backcountry, the two segments with the highest growth rates right now?
We have been making products for, and following these sport at a very intimate level since the beginning of time. SCARPA is 80 years old this year. Ski Mo and BC skiing have been around a lot longer than most people think, especially in Europe and specific epi centers in NA. We are a product driven company that bases our development around the trends and evolution in these specific areas. Mountaineering is also like this. Moving from leather to plastic boots – first plastic tele boot (Terminator) , first Ski Mo boot (F1), plastic mtn boots (Inverno). I can say with pride that our products have advanced these sports and have been integral in moving the ski and outdoor industries forward to where we are today.
Why is SIA important to SCARPA, given your large position in Climb/Hike/Outdoors as well as in Ski?
SIA is like SCARPA, here since the beginning supporting and driving the sports and the industries at the center of the action. Inside looking out! SIA has been like a trusted mountain guide, keeping the clients safe and informed while guiding us all through a great experience and adventure to new places and aspirations.
What are you most excited about for 2019? Are you still playing off the excitement of the Maestrale or is there even more cool stuff in the pipeline?
The new Maestrale and Gea have been so awesome and there are always new ideas and cool products on the plan. BC skiing, climbing and hike / mtn boots are always in the bullseye. What Im most excited about is making the boots for people (the tools and gear) to go new places, to have new experiences and to push their personal limits. Usually, always doing this with people they love. That is my professional and personal mission because this makes people happy and healthy and teaches them why it is so important to protect these special places in the world.
Telemark…help us out here, why no new boots or bindings?
We do not make new products just to sell more stuff. There needs to be real innovation and advancement here and that takes time and a lot of money. This is always the challenge. If you know about what it takes to make a new plastic tele boot (costs for tooling) and you compare that to the size of the market, it is pretty clear why this is a big challenge and effort to do the right thing here. We / I have so much passion for Telemark and it is clear that AT has hurt tele not because of the turn but the efficiency of the boots compared to AT boots. We are trying and want this so much but passion alone will not pay the costs to do this. We have been developing and testing new prototypes for the last two years but this needs to be a real advancement and not just a commercial endeavor.
Anything else the industry should know about SCARPA for next season?
We want to hear from and engage with our “people” more than ever. The rate of change is so rapid these days that we need to shorten the communication chain. We care so much about what we do and have a personal passion and feeling of responsibility to do our best. Being original and authentic participants in the sports we serve and users of the products we make keeps us very close to our customers. It is an honor and huge responsibility that we take so seriously. We are a family owned Italian business that is 80 years young in 2018 and we still have the pedal to the metal and tons of energy and commitment to the future and the life of specialty boot makers.