- Written by Ben Jacklet
- Category: Business
- Published: January 07, 2015
The remote industrial property in Tualatin, Oregon with the sign out front for Kassbohrer All Terrain Vehicles, Inc., would be pretty easy to drive by without noticing. But it represents something large and worth paying attention to, in a skiing and snowboarding world where the art of grooming snow grows more important each year.
The German manufacturer Kassbohrer is best known in the snow sports world for its PistenBully groomers. The brand's reach and influence has expanded considerably, in the Pacific Northwest and globally, since Regional Manager Colin Hales set up the Oregon Kassbohrer shop in 2009.
Hales and his team provide machines, parts and service for snowmobilers in Alaska, cross country skiers in the Methow Valley and scientific research teams in Antarctica. Their biggest customers are ski resorts, and they have grown into the market leader in the snow sports industry, with over 100 machines operating at Whistler-Blackcomb, Squaw Valley and Mammoth, to name a few. They also have a new low-emission hybrid groomer that recently made its national debut at Crystal Mountain; a long-running presence at the influential Cutter's Camp event each spring at Timberline; and significant new orders with resorts such as Mt. Hood Meadows, which is buying nine PistenBullies in all.
This photo of a PistenBully winch rig building a huge jump for Superpark at Meadows gives you an idea of how powerful and precise these machines have become:
'Right down the street from Porsche and Mercedes Benz"
I managed to catch up with Hales in Tualatin not long after his latest trip to Alaska and just before his next trip to Germany and Switzerland, where he will be traveling with Mt. Hood Meadows President Matthew Drake.
Hales is a laid-back guy who dresses casually. When he first opened the office with co-worker Diana Thurston he used to bring in his skateboard to ride around the empty warehouse while making calls and forging plans. Today the warehouse is neatly stocked with parts and machines and Hales has a "telemetry" app on his desktop computer that can track the on-snow progress of PistenBullies at work from Alaska to the South Pole.
A lifelong skier and snowboarder, Hales grew up in Salt Lake City with Alta and Snowbird pretty much in his back yard. His cousin worked as an engineer for the Logan Machine Company building snowcats, and he remembers poring over blueprints for those machines as a kid and thinking they were the coolest things on the mountain. He took a job at Snowbird out of high school, worked there three years, then landed a position as regional service manager for Bombardier. Kassbohrer hired him away from Bombardier to set up a Northwest regional office in Oregon, near the air and marine ports of Portland and within relatively close reach of Alaska and British Columbia.
It turned out to be a dream gig for Hales. He gets to sample the terrain at all sorts of resorts, work with people who love the mountains as much as he does, and sell and service a product he believes in. His mother grew up not far from the Kassbohrer factory in Germany, he speaks a bit of German, and he has always held a deep respect for German efficiency.
"You just can't beat the German engineering," he says. "Our machines are built right down the street from Porsche and Mercedes Benz. When you're over there driving on the Autobahn and you see how things work, it's just amazing. That's when you see the difference."
First Hybrid in the Industry
PistenBully has grown from about 20 percent market share when Hales set up the Northwest office to being the market leader. They jumped on the terrain park trend quickly and decisively, and their Park Pro model is the machine behind some of the most advanced park builds in the world.
They also recently developed a super-efficient hybrid with powerful torque called the 600 E+, the first groomer with a diesel-electric drive. PistenBully executives traveled to Crystal Mountain last month to christen the first hybrid snow groomer sold in the U.S.
Hales and PistenBully landed the deal with Mt. Hood Meadows bit by bit, starting with a test machine a few years ago, followed by a much-touted demonstration with Woodward Parks and Snowboarder Magazine at last spring's Superpark event, leading to an official partnership announced in the fall - and the upcoming trip to Europe.
While they are overseas together Hales and Meadows President Matthew Drake plan to tour the PistenBully factory and visit European maintenance operations to get ideas as Meadows prepares to build a major new maintenance facility for its growing fleet of groomers on Mount Hood.
Timberline could eventually be the next local resort to make the switch. PistenBully has been involved in the annual Cutter's Camp at Timberline since its launch in 2002 with Ski Area Management Magazine, training groomers and park managers from all over the U.S. in the latest design technique, liability concerns and equipment upgrades. PistenBully provides machines for Cutter's Camp every year, and while it has yet to land a machine in the Timberline fleet, that could change with time and a steady presence.
In the meantime, Hales has no shortage of business to attend to in the Northwest.
PistenBully builds 1,000 new machines per year, about 200 of which sell to North American resorts. Their basic 400 model runs around $300,000, while the Park Pros and 600 E+ hybrids are even pricier.
Providing parts and service for the fleet that already exists is enough to keep the Pacific Northwest PistenBully office plenty busy, and the flow of new orders for the PistenBullies of the future probably won't be slowing down anytime soon.
Here is another shot from Colin Hales showing a pair of PistenBullies at work on Mount Hood: