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The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi introduced the world to two freeskiing events: halfpipe and slopestyle. The men’s halfpipe gold medalist, David Wise, captured the top prize on skis designed by a Utah company, 4FRNT Skis, a pioneer in the developing sport of freeskiing.
4FRNT was founded in 2002 by Matthew Sterbenz, a professional skier who was dissatisfied with the skis available to him. As a freeskier, Sterbenz was interested in pushing the boundaries of the traditional ski experience—instead of trying to get down the slope as fast as possible, he wanted to be able to perform jumps and tricks, as well as maneuver in the backcountry.
At the time, the sport of skiing had lost a lot of participants to snowboarding. “There just wasn’t much excitement in skiing,” said Sterbenz. “We believed that if we had control over the ski shapes, skiers would stick with skis and not turn to snowboards.”
Freestyle skis have a wider shape, a turned-up back tip and a radius that allows the ski to turn on its own. “We like to say that at 4FRNT, we’ve been ‘shaping skiing since 2002,’” said Sterbenz.
Sterbenz “assembled the company around a group of peers, competitors.” In fact, 4FRNT is a rider-owned and operated company. At first, it produced its skis in a U.S. snowboard manufacturing plant, but after a few years, the company moved its production to a large European plant.
All of the design and prototyping is done in 4FRNT’s South Salt Lake location—and product testing is done in the local canyons. “We claim Alta as our backyard,” said Sterbenz.
In late 2011, the company entered into a sponsorship agreement with skier David Wise, a competitive freeskier who, up to that point, had not won any major competitions. 4FRNT agreed to develop skis specifically for Wise. “He kept breaking skis and we kept making them, using new materials,” said Sterbenz. “We could innovate on the design basically overnight.”
And Wise began winning. He won gold for superpipe in the 2012 Winter X Games—and then took gold in 2013 and 2014 as well. He took gold in the FIS Freestyle World Championship in 2013, competing in the halfpipe. Then he captured gold in the first-ever Olympic freeski halfpipe in 2014.
“When David won the gold … people started understanding the significance of our brand,” said Sterbenz. “Our sport remained in the shadow of snowboarding for a long time,” he said, but he believes the Olympic exposure will increase the popularity of the sport and give snowboarders a reason to take a fresh look at skiing. Retailers, which have seen their ski sales dwindle over the years, are also excited about a renewed interest in skiing.
“We are really proud that we have contributed personally to the development of the sport,” said Sterbenz. “We build skis that allow top athletes to be the skiers they want to be, and then that also becomes available to consumers.”