first off, thanks for taking a few minutes to talk to us. It's
hard to imagine going into this ski season without Tua on the
scene. Have you heard anything from Italy? Is there a chance
for a comeback?
Paul Parker: I
havent heard a word from Italy. The companys affairs
are in the hands of the court now so I doubt I will hear anything
directly. I could see a bigger ski company coming along and buying
the brand. Thats a good way for instant credibility in
a niche market, and happens in the Outdoor Industry all of the
time. But Im not sure how much value there is in the brand
at this pointtoo much of it is nostalgia, I think.
were involved with Tua for a very long time. When did you start
helping them with product development?
Paul Parker: I
think it was the fall of 1984 that I made my first visit to Tua.
I was in charge of ski product development for Chouinard Equipment
and really wanted to make skis. There wasnt much on the
market at the time except tele racing skis. I had a friend who
worked for Tua, so Peter Metcalf and I met with him and Nanni
Tua at the fall show in Munich. We came to an agreement that
I would bring design ideas to Tua and Chouinard would have exclusive
distribution of these products. Early that next year I spent
several weeks in Italy going back and forth between the TUA factory
and Courmayeur, tweaking and testing new designs It was a great
winter over there, very cold and snowy; more like a good winter
in the western US. Everything including the weather fell into
place and we came up with the Toute Neige and Expresso.
you share a little Tua history with us? How did this unique telemark
and backcountry ski company get its start? Who were its founders?
What was the chain of events leading up to Giovanni Manfredini's
ownership of the company?
Paul Parker: Tua
was originally a machine shop owned by Nanni Tuas grandfather,
Vittor Tua. It was located in Occieppo Superiore, a small village
outside of Biella, Italy in the Piemonte (Piedmont) region. Its
in the foothills of the alps, quite close to Val dAosta,
Courmayeur, and Chamonix. Soon after WW II he and Nannis
father started to manufacture skis. Many of those early skis
were called Vittor or Vittor Tua. Nannis father took
over the company and moved it into the modern skiing boom
of the 60s. At the time alpine skiing was booming enough in Italy
to support a number of small brands and Tua was one of the most
Nannis father died quite young and
Nanni took over, not too long before I met him. He had a couple
of consultants: one was my friend Eberhard Schmalzl, ex- Italian
National Team member and Olympian, and Angelo Piana, a mountain
guide. Both were very colorful characters. Eberhard acted as
International sales manager, my original contact with the company.
Angelo was a creative force and strove to develop superior skis
for Ski Mountaineering, fathering the original Excalibur with
its Driving Effectthe variable-angled sidewalls. This was
a step away from pure alpine and was the perfect segue into telemark.
Soon after the launch of the first Excalibur I got involved with
TUA through my development role Chouinard Equipment.
Tua chose to change U.S. distributors after
the Chouinard Chapter 11 and its reorganization into Black Diamond.
It was a controversial decision. I had left Chouinard during
the reorganization and was working for Patagonia, so I wasnt
involved during that period. Nanni hired me back as a consultant
a year or so later. He was trying to streamline and focus on
telemark and randonnée, and I was able to take care of
both the creative side and the small amount of international
sales, which was dominated by North America. We moved along very
well like this until the Korean financial crisis a few years
ago. At the time Nanni was setting up a factory for a Korean
entrepreneur, and this fellow owed him a considerable amount
of money for machines and materials. The Asian financial markets
crashed, the Korean gentleman filed for bankruptcy and defaulted
on his loan. Nanni was left high and dry. Giovanni came in, bailed
him out and took over the company. Nanni stayed on and ran production
for a season, mostly, I think, out of loyalty to me, Steve Hardesty,
and the North American market. Wed worked together like
a family, he liked our North American attitude, and he didnt
want to leave us hanging. Once skis for that season were produceda
great line: the first Sumos, 110s, etc.Nanni left to manage
another ski factory.
back, it would seem that in recent years Tua was slow to react
to changes in the backcountry ski market, specifically in addressing
the trend towards really fat skis. What's your take on this?
The introduction of the Bubba and Tsunami would seem to have
been about two years too late. Didn't anyone at Tua see where
the market was headed?
Paul Parker: Some
of us saw very clearly where the market was headed. But the recent
years that you refer to directly coincide with Nanni Tuas
leaving the company. The last really killer line that we did
was that first year after Giovanni took over, when Nanni stayed
on to run production. Wed had a bunch of great skis in
the works during the changeover and Nanni pulled through before
he left. As I mentioned earlier, that was the year of the 110,
Sumo, and Hydrogen.
New management changed everything. When
Nanni ran TUA, it was never a problem to get him to make me a
prototype of some new idea Id had, even if he didnt
agree. Great skis like the Tele Sauvage, Mega, and Montets came
from that willingness to doubt but to try it anyway. Nanni would
say that what I was asking for was exaggerato (excessive)
but would make a prototype anyway because of his natural curiosity.
That mentality is one of the most important reasons that under
Nannis ownership we were a very innovative little company.
We were able to stay abreast and often ahead of the market because
Nanni was willing to give new things a tryhe likes new
thingsbased on our gut feeling about where the market was
On the other hand, Giovanni Manfredini,
the more recent owner who ended up taking us into bankruptcy,
has a big-company marketing background and knows very little
about the ski market. It seemed as though his pride wouldnt
allow him to let non-local markets drive his business, even if
they were his only real marketsNorth America in the case
of telemark. So he put tremendous energy and resources into developing
the European market, rather than doing a better job in his established
and profitable markets. Not that one shouldnt develop Europe,
but he was disproportionate in his efforts.
Three years ago I put skis with Tsunami
and Bubba-esque dimensions on my R&D list. I started pushing
and kept expecting to see protos, they were promised, but nothing
happened. One of the issues, I think, was that in Europe, especially
Italy, the skiers who drive the markets were late to shift to
super-fat skis and Giovanni was waiting for some reinforcement
from their local market. He wasnt convinced and didnt
realize that if you arent a bit uncomfortable with new
ideas, then they probably arent very new.
Waiting for the market is a mistake. Giovanni's
need to see someone else doing it, his need for that reinforcement,
limited him as an entrepreneur and point man for a little company
in such a competitive market. He spent money on the wrong thingsnot
on productnot on what would eventually make him money.
And ours was a simple, frugal business in a niche market to start
with, so there wasnt much money to waste.
Steve Hardestya great guy and Tuas
U.S. Distributorand I tried to guide Giovanni since he
simply didnt know what he didnt know. Unfortunately
he wouldnt listen. He seemed to have little respect for
experience, acting a lot like a man with nothing to lose, while
Steve, myself and his other longtime employees who had built
the brand, had everything to lose. Its too bad because
his behavior reflected badly on Tua USA. That has been very difficult
for both Steve and me, the frustration of fielding well-founded
criticism that we agree with from dealers, reps, and consumers.
Yet not being able to do anything about it because our owner
This long-winded response is why Tua lost
its edge and it took the Bubba and Tsunami so long to happen.
It didnt have to be that way. We had all of the tools and
we understood what our telemark and backcountry skiing customers
wanted; it's what we wanted to ski on too. The boss just wouldnt
put our experience to use and invest in new product. He didnt
know where to best spend his and his investor's money.
have speculated that Tua's demise was hastened by its move to
an expensive new factory, and by subsequent delays in delivery
of new skis to its dealers at the beginning of the 2002/03 season.
What can you tell us about the role the new factory may have
played in Tua's fall?
Paul Parker: The
year of the new factory Giovanni said that we couldnt spend
any money on new molds, but had to put time, money, and energy
into getting existing products up to speed in the new factory.
Steve and I felt that he couldnt afford NOT to spend money
on new molds, but he signed the checks so that is where the money
His was a very unfortunate decision. Consumers
dont care if you make skis in your garage, all they look
at is what they see on the wall in stores, on snow, and in the
reviews. They want to see cool new stuff. Cool new stuff that
we should have been investing in.
the new factory really necessary?
Paul Parker: No.
The old factory was too big and old and a bit inefficient, but
wed made it work for a long time and could continue to
do so until the time was right for a move. I think it was a decision
to make a good impression onI dont know whomaybe
his investors and distributors. But the only thing that really
matters to investors is the bottom line, and the only thing that
really matters to distributors are good skis shipped on time.
No one cares about factories.
would guess that you must have many pleasant memories from your
time with Tua. Any special successes that stand out? What are
some of your favorite Tua skis?
Paul Parker: I
have a lot of pleasant and comical memories of European travel
and work experience that come to mind. Those high points all
took place, Im sorry to say, when Nanni was running the
show. Memories like our drunken ski-naming sessions that resulted
in great names like Sumo and Big Easy, and our subsequently being
asked to leave the restaurant. Or Nanni and his wife Anitas
penchant for adopting stray dogs: there were always at least
three, and they would follow Anita around and bark in unison
every time the phone rang or someone had a delivery at the factory
gate. Every time the phone rang. Steve would call me from 5000
miles away, Id answer the phone to this impossible howling,
and every time hed just about swallow his tongue laughing
when wed have to wait 60 expensive seconds for the dogs
to shut up. Part of the culture. Or Nannis very classy
mother who, in her twilight years with her white hair elegantly
slicked back, would exit the factory peeling out like a teenager
and wed all have to scramble out of the way. It was often
like a situation comedy, such characters in that environment
and willingness to laugh.
My ski favorite was always
a bit of a joke because every year I had a new favorite. Our
reps kidded me about that incessantly at our sales meetings,
how fickle I was, that my story changed each year. We all knew
that was my goal: to raise the bar for TUA each season and develop
a new favorite. The first year that didnt happen, after
Giovanni had taken over, I knew we were in for tough times. I
kept skiing on 110sI didnt have a new favorite. It
was one of those seasons that looked OK on paper but just didnt
feel right, like there wasnt enough new stuff to get excited
Some landmark favorites:
The first big ski was the first year, the
Toute Neige, fall of 1986. It was a very solid, stable ski that
was confidence-inspiring, especially in difficult snow. The Expresso
had its aficionados, too, but the Neige was the keeper
of the twoit lasted about 8 years as a TUA model, evolving
into a touring ski as turning skis got wider.
The Excalibur and Excalibur Magnum were
AT skis that launched at the same time as the Toute Neige and
were very well-liked with the small AT crowd, as well as tele
skiers in heavy-snow territories. It was one of the first skis
that burgeoned the short/fat free-heel trend for difficult off-piste.
The Tele Sauvage was launched in the fall
of 1987. The light bulb really went on with that ski. It was,
for its day, a very radical ski with 20mm of sidecut (that was
a lot) and almost as wide as a narrow slalom alpine ski. 80/60/70.
Many dealers said it that we were nuts, it was too much like
an alpine ski. But skiers loved it, and it sold like hot cakes.
For its day it was hands-down the best-skiing telemark ski out
there and stayed that way for many years, taking the name Cirque
when Tua distribution changed. In developing subsequent skis
I always used it as my benchmark, as it was hard to develop something
that skied better. It was copied by most of the big
The sandwich Montets was a one-year hit,
with similar dimensions to the Tele Sauvage, but no metal. All
of the ski manufacturers of the time, including alpine, were
trying to get metal-like performance without the metal in the
skis that made them prone to bending. The Montets did that and
The sandwich Montets only lasted a year
because the next year we came out with the Montets MX, the first
monocoque telemark ski. That was probably about 94, Im
guessing. The Montets MX was a superb ski, a very wide
ride for its day, and lasted a number of years.
Over the next year we took all of the skis
to monocoque construction, including the Excaliburs. This made
our skis not only look cool, but they were lighter, quicker,
and more torsionally rigid. They had quality laminated wood cores,
no filler. We used the advantages of monocoque construction like
light weight and torsional rigidity, without trying to make the
skis cheaper, which was the biggest reason for the switch by
many manufacturers to cap (or monocoque) ski construction.
When we took skis to monocoque, we were
very careful to maintain that sweet flex we were known for in
our sandwich skis. Of the more modern skis the Big Easy was a
favorite and was just that, big and easy. It did very well.
Sumos and 110 Cross Rides were a huge hit
as they were some of the widest skis available at that time,
and very versatile. Both skied firm snow well and gave a great
platform off-piste. 110 remained my favorite for several years,
sort of a new-age Cirque. I felt that it was much higher-performance
that our competitor's skis with comparable dimensions.
112 Cross Rides were a great addition,
a bit beefier and longer-turning than the 110. That ski has one
of the best all-around dimensions we ever built, especially in
the Titan iteration. It never really got a chance in that it
was always in the shadow of the 110.
The new favorites that didnt
Miraculously, we came up with a great line
for this year, in spite of internal resistance. The Titan and
Tsunami would have been hot. The Titan was super light, yet skied
like a big skia step forward in backcountry skis. It had
great 112 dimensions that kept it light enough for touring and
versatile in a wide variety of snow. And the Tsunami was one
of the few wide boards that Ive skied that really holds
well on firm snow. It was super-versatile. Bubbas were simply
a kick to ski, again with a lot of versatility for the wide dimensions.
retrospect what, if anything, could you have done to change the
sad outcome of Tua's ultimate demise? Any regrets?
Paul Parker: Ive
always tried to be one to get things done. When Giovanni took
over I pushed and pushed to get new stuff done at TUA yet there
was nothing to push against. No resistance, no compliance, just
smoke and BS. It was infinitely frustrating as I never knew where
we stood and how to create momentum. I tried all sorts of coercion
to get new skis made and tested. I figured that I had nothing
to lose since, if he didnt listen, we were doomed
anyway. I started frank discussions from his first day, risking
my job but knowing that I had to if I wanted to make something
Given that drive to get things done, certainly
I regret that I wasnt able to get what we needed for the
market. As I said, the last year was developed against all odds,
and to Steves and my own continued frustration, I dont
know what else we could have done except push as hard as we could.
We did everything that we could given our resources, but I do
regret that we couldnt make it happen.
Speaking for myself, I pushed well beyond
my comfort zone, knowing that if we couldnt make some changes
we wouldnt survive anyway. Im not so sure that any
level of pressure could have changed things.
are involved now with G3, and you continue to work with Garmont
in the area of tele and AT boot development. Do you miss being
involved in ski design?
Paul Parker: Sure
I miss skis, but its fun to get involved in something else.
And Ive been so busy with new Garmont boots the past couple
of years there has been no time to get bored.
lot of us feel that we are seeing solid growth in telemark and
backcountry skiing. Garmont has reported strong and impressive
increases across the board in last year's boot sales, and sources
at Scarpa tells us that their own numbers have remained consistent.
Purely from an observational standpoint, it would seem to most
of us as if the numbers of tele skiers seen at the resorts has
taken a sharp turn upward in recent years,with more rippers than
ever. What's your own view on the future of freeheel skiing and
the state of the sport? Is Tua's downfall symptomatic of larger
problems within telemark skiing, or is it an aberration within
a generally healthy industry?
Paul Parker: I
dont want to sound negative because telemark product development
is what I do and Im going to keep doing it. But
increased visibility of the sport doesnt necessarily translate
to hard numbers. Overall, with our weak worldwide economy and
concerns about safe travel, the ski market has sagged. Telemark
has certainly been a brighter spot, holding its own, but it hasnt
been setting records. Investments, especially in boot development
mold costs, are huge. The market needs to grow enough to make
those investments worthwhile. The sport is surviving but we need
a bit more growth. Telemark skiers tend to be frugal, which doesnt
Skis are tough, especially for a small
company like Tua. It is so difficult to compete with alpine companies
that can use their alpine molds to build telemark skis, molds
whose costs have been amortized long ago with alpine ski sales.
Tua was the only company dedicated solely to telemark and randonnée
skis, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to combat the
big guys who already had their molds and infrastructure set up
and paid for by the high-volume side of their business. We remained
passionate and dedicated, but passion doesnt always translate
in recent months there has recently been a lot of public and
private discussion within the industry as to what those of us
involved in the media, entertainment and business ends of the
sport can do to help keep telemark energized and moving forward.
What are your thoughts on the subject?
Paul Parker: I
think that telemark looks hard to people who havent tried
it. That is a continuing argument that I hear time and time again:
it looks hard. And alpine skiers who want to go into
the backcountry dont always want to learn a new technique,
but would rather use what they do best. These are fundamentals
that we must overcome. Real or perceived, they are hurdles in
opening the sport up to more people.
There are some impressive things shown
in todays media on free-heel skis. Jumps, tricks, big mountain
skiing. That gets a lot of skier's juices flowing and keeps the
excitement for our sport and what can be done on a pair of free-heel
skis. But it, too, looks hard. There needs to be a balance that
makes our sport more accessible to those who cant picture
themselves rail sliding, in the pipe, or hucking cliffs. Its
like any sport: the more extreme pushes its limits but also needs
to pull along the mainstream. I dont have all of
the answers but I think these are things we need to address:
Kids programs, Womens programs, entry-level programs.
We need to pull the mainstream along as we push the sports
Its not just the perception of difficulty
of the technique thats holding telemark back, its
the gear. We need a step-in, releasable binding system that is
as put-together as alpine. Thats a completely different
subject, but it needs to happen for us to see the sport grow.
We saw a bump in numbers with plastic boots, then with shaped
skis, but what we really need now is to get out of the dark ages
with 75 mm and all of the confusing choices that still dont
answer the needs for skiers and ski mountaineers.
Im risking sounding like a crabby
old guy saying this but I also think that there are too many
freeheel skiers out there right now in the business or on the
periphery wondering whats in it for them when they need
to be worrying about what they can bring to the sport. We all
need to be brainstorming how we can spread the word and get others
turned on to the sport. THAT is the number one thing I think
of when working with athletesnot what tricks they can do
but what positive effect they can have on potential consumers.
Maybe that effect is through their tricks, for sure, but those
athletes who will thrive in our industry are those who bring
something else and communicate it to others. We need more of
always, thanks Paul, best of luck to you in your new endeavor
at G3 and in your continuing role at Garmont.
Paul Parker: Thanks!