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Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Updated: November 27, 11:06 AM ET
Graphics matter


Can you guess which of these entries won G3's graphics contest? Answer at bottom.

Canadian ski company G3 has always had bold-looking graphics: There was the El Hombre with the Mexican Wrestler on it, and the Reverend with a big, bearded Reverend's face. Last year, G3 debuted their Skigraphiks contest. The idea was that people would submit topsheet graphics they'd created, G3 staffers would pick the winner and the top design would be turned into a one-off custom ski for the winner. But then people began asking if they could buy the winning ski. So this year, G3 rolled out a similar ski graphics contest, but this time, they'd pick four winners and the winning skis would be turned into limited-production run models. The first contest winner was just announced -- Tim Curren designed a graphic called "Fear and Loathing in Times Square" for G3's Manhattan ski, which is now being sold on Backcountry.com. We spoke to G3 president and owner Oliver Steffen about the origins of their graphic designs and what matters most: performance or appearance?

ESPN Freeskiing: How do you guys come up with ideas for ski graphics?
Oliver Steffen: We just finished the 2011-12 graphics. For inspiration, we look at past graphics and we try to look beyond the ski industry. We look at snowboarding, packaging, Pantone color trends. Our big theme for next year is Southern California and surf-inspired -- there's one ski with a Herbie Bug graphic with a stripe down the hood.

How do you know if the graphic is going to be well-liked?
It's a little bit of luck and a little bit of intuition. It's about being connected to your brand and your shops. We get feedback from athletes and shop buyers. We play around with fonts and logos. We try to keep it fresh.

A great performing ski with ugly graphics won't sell. True or false?
Graphics definitely play a much bigger role than most people want to admit. Some buyers purchase skis based solely on graphics. Our company is product focused in every regard, so that's what's most important to us. Some people say, 'It's all about graphics. Spend your money on graphics and don't spend money on R&D.' That's not us. We stick to our guns and we're not the biggest company perhaps because of that. We could come up with a watered down, corporate, non-offensive graphic and it would sell a lot, but we just don't want to go there. That's not our culture.

G3's fattest ski for this year is 108 millimeters underfoot. Which is practically a mid-fat at some other companies. Are you afraid to go fatter?
Our skis are getting bigger -- the fattest one keeps going up three or four millimeters every year. Four or five seasons ago, we had the El Hombre, which was our big fat ski. It's been replaced by the ZenOxide, but now it's almost in the middle of our spectrum. Some brands are all about making the biggest, fattest ski. But we're more about building a ski you can haul uphill, and then ski down.

You guys also make shovels, probes, skins and bindings. What's the most challenging product you create?
This will come as a surprise probably but skins are the most technical product we make; they require the most amount of engineering and they absorb an inordinate amount of energy and time. Other companies try to make skins and they give up. So for us, it's a huge chunk of our business.

[The winning ski graphic from the image above? It's the one on the top.]