You may not know how to say it (I still don’t, it seems to change between ‘Wed Zee’ and ‘Wed Zuh’), but you’ve almost certainly seen the Wed’ze logo on the slopes, particularly when skiing in France. The label, set up in 2006, is one of Decathlon’s ‘Passion Brands’ along with Quechua for camping and Simond for climbing. Wed’ze is, as you’d expect from a blog on MadDogSki, all about snow sports.
I’m recently back from a trip to France, hosted by Wed’ze, where we were given a behind the scenes look at how the company goes about getting the products on the slopes, from the initial idea to selling the gear in the shops. My first surprise was how big Decathlon is – employing around 60,000 staff across over 1,000 stores worldwide, with 277 in France and 21 in the UK. While these numbers are large, it’s surprising to know that Decathlon is still a family-owned business and, from talking to the team, that means something to the employees. A good sign for a strong company culture is retention of staff and at Decathlon there are a lot of ‘long-timers’ – there are many examples of people who started on the shop floor 20 years ago and now run a department, in charge of a product range.
We were shown around the Decathlon International Design Centre in Domancy, France, where all the Wed’ze gear is designed and tested. The vast building houses a large Decathlon store as well as offices, workshops and testing labs for the three brands mentioned earlier – Wed’ze, Quechua and Simond. There’s a small tourist office, machines to get your ski pass as well as a popular restaurant – everything you need to get kitted out and on the slopes.
Wed’ze innovate. They recently brought out an all-in-one suit for kids that can be quickly inflated to regulate the wearer’s temperature, they designed children’s ski boots that cover three boot sizes to save buying new boots each year, and a pair of goggles that darken and lighten at the push of a button.
Being located so close to the slopes, Wed’ze can design and build an item, test it on the snow, refine it and test it again rapidly. The company also run ‘Innovation Days’ where teams are sent to the slopes to test the gear and suggest improvements – well, y’know, someone’s got to do it.
The goal for Wed’ze products is simple: quality products at affordable prices. As a few examples, their ski jacket range runs from £20 (yes, £20) to £170, their ski boot range from just £60 and you can get a pair of the Boost 300 skis for just £99, including bindings. The range isn’t huge (which is not a bad thing) so you choose the level of kit to suit your needs – if you’re going skiing for a week, the lower end jacket will do, if you’re skiing for a season, you’ll be better off with the top end version.
While we didn’t get to try out any of the jackets, trousers and accessories, they look good and have all the elements you’d expect from a more well-known brand. And at these prices, they are definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re just starting out.
We did, however, get to test some of Wed’ze’s ski range which includes piste skis, all-mountain skis as well as dedicated off-piste skis and freestyle twintips. The big story this year is the Boost 300 which is a beginner’s ski with a whole new manufacturing process that’s five times faster than traditional methods – that’s why the price is so low. While not targeted at UK skiers – with baggage costs you’re probably better off renting – these are meant for beginners who ski regularly so they don’t have to rent all the time.
The range covers beginners, intermediates and experts, with the top of the range piste ski, the Boost 700, selling for £179 including bindings. This ski was certainly my favourite of the day – solid, responsive and firm enough to cut through the snow with ease. I’ll be looking out for it in rental shops, for sure.
Marie Martinod, the halfpipe silver medallist at the 2014 Winter Olympics, works with Wed’ze as a technical partner, designing and testing equipment. There’s a short video here that explains the process and shows the range of products, which are all available to buy. They might not make you ski like Marie Martinod, but they are certainly worth a try.
In the nicest way, Wed’ze are a little like the Ikea of the ski world: good value, dependable, functional and good looking. The Wed’ze range is available exclusively in Decathlon stores or online at www.decathlon.co.uk and I’ll definitely be paying them a visit the next time I need some new kit. Ah yes, and if you were wondering where the name Wed’ze comes from, it’s a variation on a Savoie word to mean ‘slide, skid, jump’. So now you know.