Cody Barnhill shaping some prototypes in the warehouse. Photo: Peter Anderson
4FRNT began its stride towards greatness in 2002 as a small company operating out of Lake Tahoe, California. As the company gained traction in the ski world, it picked up and moved to Salt Lake City in autumn of 2005. Three years later, in October of 2008, the company moved into a newly renovated warehouse where they not only sell their product in their own retail store, but also manufacture prototypes. For the past five years, 4FRNT founder and visionary Matt Sterbenz has been tirelessly working to grow the company into what it is today. “The important thing to realize is that there is no model for success,” says Sterbenz. “The world has the big ski manufacturers that have been around since the beginning and they have their methods for doing business, [but] we are different.” The difference is apparent the moment you walk in the door. The shop has more of an art gallery feel with clean lines and various ski models placed elegantly on the wall with bindings, boots, poles and clothing specifically positioned to match the flow of the store. As in-house product developer and pro skier Cody Barnhill took me through the back office and into the warehouse, the difference between 4FRNT and other companies became clear.
“I spent virtually my entire summer back here,” says Barnhill, as he points to the workshop housing an intimidating-looking ski press. “Hoji (Eric Hjorleifson) and I stood over this machine and hand-built nearly every pair of the new Renegade skis.” For a company like 4FRNT, having an in-house ski press just for prototyping new designs is phenomenal. It allows the athletes to develop and design a ski that suits their style, press it in the warehouse and then take it out into “the backyard” and test it. “There aren’t many companies that have the ability to do this kind of on-the-fly product testing,” says Sterbenz.
With their devout attention to detail and commitment to development, you’d think these guys never get to relax. Wrong. Directly behind the ski press is a custom built mini-ramp that takes up about a fifth of the warehouse. Not a bad place to unwind when you start to feel stir-crazy. “We are really working hard getting caught up on all our orders for the season, but we’re still havin’ a good time,” says Jeremy Handly, shipping and recieving manager at 4FRNT.
For the 2010/2011 winter season, Sterbenz and his crew are unleashing a full range of skis developed for everything from park to big mountain to pow. Since the beginning, 4FRNT has been a company devoted to incorporating the athlete’s style into the design process. As a sponsored athlete participating in numerous competitions around the world, Sterbenz always felt that he was simply riding what his sponsors wanted him to: The gear never reflected his style or emphasized his strengths. “I wanted to change that mentality. Products should be an extension of athletes,” says Sterbenz. The mindset of athlete inspiration has transcended through the levels of 4FRNT and remains at the core of its culture, always growing and never relenting. Another unique facet central to 4FRNT’s success is its willingness to build community instead of just selling to one. This value was a prime motivator in opening up a ski shop at its warehouse rather than only peddling its merchandise through chain stores in the area. “There is a lot of unharnessed potential here in SLC, and we wanted to create our own platform for its rapidly diversifying identity,” says Sterbenz. He also described how using the shop/warehouse as a crude prototype facility adds to the character of the company and allows athletes to hone in on a ski design that acts as an extension of their personality and technique. This extension comes in various forms, of course, from finding artists for top-sheet graphics to material selection, shaping and even naming. Local hero and long-time 4FRNT athlete Willey Miller is in the final stages of development for his first pro model, which is set to debut in coming seasons.
In addition to compiling input from athletes, Sterbenz constantly monitors industry trends and makes sure that new product launches coincide with market desires. 4FRNT has kept in mind that North America plays a pivotal role in the progression of free-skiing, and that it is vital to build upon the sport’s rich history instead of replacing it. In Europe, the scene has been race-oriented for decades, but as skiing witnessed a rebirth, the sport developed new styles that permeated through variety of cultures. Capitalizing on these transitions is what keeps 4FRNT fresh in the minds of athletes and, consequently, consumers.
The ability of Sterbenz and his company to evolve and adapt in an ever-changing industry is illustrated in its continued growth and willingness to accept change. The things that people do on skis today were inconceivable five years ago, and the evolution of the sport over the next five years will surely be the same. “Women have really turned it up as well,” says Sterbenz. The sea change among female competition has brought about a new class of rider, and 4FRNT is watchful and interested in their maturity. Sterbenz expressed his involvement in continuing to observe female influence on the sport and eventually develop women-specific skis when the time comes. He also emphasized the company’s commitment to progression by looking towards the future of skiing: the youth. By continuing to promote the sport to kids in the area, 4FRNT hopes to build a community of young riders that influence style.
Keeping nimble from the start has helped 4FRNT maintain its core values while still advancing its position in the world of snow sliding. Its corporate culture is paramount to its success and it will continue its journey towards excellence with each season. You can check out the shop at 2900 S. West Temple and believe me, you wont be disappointed.