Univers Fusalp

MEETING | Antoine Dénériaz – Olympic Downhill Champion and dedicated entrepreneur

 
On the slopes or on the floor of his ski factory, Antoine Dénériaz is a passionate man, forever in search of excellence. The former Downhill Olympic Champion works with Alain Zanco – a ski manufacturer for over 30 years — to create premium “Made in Savoie” skis that feature premium construction, to provide a unique slide capability.

We met up with him to find out a little more.

 


 

Antoine Dénériaz, tell us about yourself and your career.

I am originally from Morillon, a village of 600 inhabitants connected to the Grand Massif ski area.
I started skiing when I was two or three years old. At the time, my father was coach and president of the ski club, and all the kids in the village were skiers. He was my coach until I was 15 and entered the first level of the international circuit (FIS). My dream as a kid was to be part of the French team and to do downhill like my hero, Philippe Verneret, who was also from Morillon and was a member of the French team in the 1980s.

I made my way up, officially entering the French B team in 1995 and then the A team in 1997. I skied my first World Cup downhill in Val d’Isère in December 1996. As a specialist in speed disciplines and especially downhill, I won three World Cups (six podiums) and won the Downhill Gold Medal at the Turin Olympic Games in 2006. Three weeks later, during the World Cup final in Sweden, I had a massive fall. After a year and a half of intense work to get back to my level, I finally ended my career in December 2007.

My “second life” then began. First of all, I worked as a consultant for former sponsors such as France Télévision until 2011, for the big championships and the Olympic Games. I was also very active in Annecy’s (unsuccessful) bid for the 2018 Olympic Games. At the same time, I went back to school to obtain a specialized master’s degree in “International Sports Marketing” at ESSEC in 2012.

Today, I am 200% dedicated to the development of my company and the DÉNÉRIAZ brand.

 

 

You were an Olympic downhill champion in 2006, but when you were retraining, you made the choice to become an entrepreneur and start manufacturing top-of-the-range skis.
Why this choice ?

I launched my brand in 2009, starting by selling ski accessories (helmets, masks, goggles) and for a short period, technical underwear. This was my first idea of retraining after I stopped my sports career. Skiing is not a sport in which you raise big money, even if you are an Olympic Champion, so you have to think about retraining…

My father was a ski instructor and coach in the winter and a carpenter in the summer; my mother was a nurse. As a child we lived above my father’s workshop. So, I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment, surrounded with wood, craftsmanship and a love of a job well done.
As a former skier and after launching my own brand, I quite naturally wanted to market DENERIAZ skis. As is often the case, it was a chance encounter. I met Alain Zanco in 2016. A goldsmith in his field, he worked for nearly 30 years in the development and creation of skis for a major French brand (one of the world’s leading brands), then in his own “haute-couture” ski workshop from 2006. We started working together quite quickly on the first DENERIAZ skis.

 

 

Inside the walls of your factory, located in Doussard in Haute-Savoie, DENERIAZ skis are made in collaboration with Alain Zanco. What is the essence of a pair of DENERIAZ skis ?

It is first of all the story of a meeting (with Alain Zanco) and the sharing of our expertise and experience. Alain has unique expertise in the design and manufacture of skis. As for me, I have had the chance to test hundreds of pairs of skis throughout my career in order to find the pair that would help me win the World Cup and the Olympics. We complement each other, and skis are the sum of our experiences. In concrete terms, the skis are made from finely selected raw materials. We source these as locally as possible. Just like a Michelin-starred chef who chooses the best products to make his exceptional dishes. The skis are made by hand from A to Z in our Doussard workshop with the utmost care. To walnut, ash, bamboo or balsa wood we add various composite fibers, chosen especially for their mechanical properties. The skis are assembled by molding, using our own unique technology. All the skis are numbered; it takes about ten hours of work to make a pair. The result : “designer” skis with an exceptional snow feel, comfortable and accessible to the greatest number of people, but which also satisfy very good skiers who are looking for high-performance skis. They can also be personalized and kept for many years thanks to the maintenance service we offer.

 

At the beginning of this year, and after an unprecedented crisis, what are the challenges for the DENERIAZ brand ?

Thanks to a fund-raising campaign in 2018, I bought the production tools from Alain Zanco, who was eager to pass on his experience. As a skier, the son of a carpenter and a lover of the Pays de Savoie, my region, I therefore set up my company with the aim of preserving this unique expertise and making it last by hiring young people to learn alongside Alain.

The challenges today remain the same. It’s an extraordinary challenge to create your own brand and set up your own company. It’s like a baby that you see being born and that you try to nurture. Today, DENERIAZ is still young and fragile, so there are many projects to be undertaken.
This unprecedented period, which is far from over, adds complexity to the challenge. We are on a very seasonal timetable. The repercussions and difficulties will last for many months, even years. Our challenges are the same as for many other companies. We’ll have to roll up our sleeves while continuing to fight, be creative in finding solutions and get through this storm. I remain optimistic because we have some real assets and some great avenues for development, beyond our positioning and our unique expertise.

 


 

 
We are fortunate to have new premises in Doussard since the summer of 2020. In this showroom/concept store, open all year round, we present our entire range, as well as exclusive products and brands we feel an affinity with. A major asset : by opening the door of our workshop, our customers can see how we make their skis.

Cross-country skiing is currently in full expansion. In February 2019, when we didn’t yet know what was going to happen, we presented our first ‘free-rando’ and ‘mountaineering’ skis. This diversification also opens up new prospects for us.

Finally, until now we have mainly sold our skis in France, but DENERIAZ skis have recently made their first appearance abroad, we have just sent our first pairs to the USA, Korea and China !

 

You are a Fusalp ambassador and mentor for the Young Champions program developed by the brand. What would you like to pass on to these young skiing hopefuls ?

I have indeed had the good fortune and honor of being a Fusalp ambassador for the past six years.
Aged almost 45, I ended my career 13 years ago. I am fortunate to have a past as a top-level skier behind me and I am in the process of building new experiences through my professional retraining. I have experienced ups and downs, injuries, moments of doubt, immense joys and victories. Things are not always easy.

We are what our parents passed on to us. If I had to remember just two of the sentences my father said to me, it would be : « We’re not dumber than the others » and “Work always pays off in the end”. What I want to pass on is simple: when you have a dream, you must always believe in it, never give up. It is often in difficult moments that we learn the most. Things rarely happen easily in life, and in top-level sports in particular.

Anything is possible when you have goals and work hard to give yourself the means to achieve them. Skiing is an individual sport, which is practiced as a team. You have to be curious, learn from others, help each other. When you work for the team, the team becomes stronger. It is a virtuous circle that benefits everyone. To conclude, I would say that above all, you must have fun, be passionate and not hesitate to aim high ! “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”*.

 

Antoine Dénériaz wears the WENGEN FIZ II Cardigan in Dark Blue.
 
Follow Antoine Dénériaz on Instagram : @antoine_deneriaz_ski

 

Quote by Oscar Wilde

 


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