How Norway’s 329 Winter Olympic Medals Help a Company Making Smart Skis

Norway has owned the U.S. -- and every other nation -- in the Winter Games since 1924. Here are the two Norwegian companies reaping the rewards.

Mar 10, 2014 at 12:23PM

More than 2,300 miles north of Sochi lies Trøndelag, a small region of Norway known for three very different things: farming, logging, and producing reams of winter Olympians.

Trøndelag makes up just 8% of Norway, yet has historically accounted for roughly 20% of Norway's medals.

Trøndelag is a boon to Norway, which has an uncanny knack for capturing medals in the winter Olympics. The city's success -- coupled with Norway's overall dominance -- is also a blessing for two niche Norwegian companies.

One makes Smart Skis and a cutting-edge "SmarkSki" app. The other, ski wax.

Norway is 1.6% the size of the United States

It's worth noting that Norway's population is minuscule compared to larger nations.

Even so, Norway came into Sochi with 303 total winter Olympic medals. For context, the United States was second with 253 and Austria third with 201.

In 2014 Norway had yet another strong Olympic performance.

 GoldTotalPopulationNorway's Population as a Percent
Russia 13 33 143.4 3.6%
Norway 11 26 5.1 100%
Canada 10 25 35.2 14.5%
United States 9 28 311.6 1.6%


Smart skis will be ready in 2014

Norway wins so often that it draws attention when it does not win.

While Norway captured 11 gold medals and 26 overall in Sochi, it still had some key disappointments, such as not medaling in the men's or women's cross country relays. Norway Chief Wax Technician Knut Nystad called the problem a "crisis."

A 108-year-old company hopes to fix that.

A day is soon coming when the skis will tell skiers what type of wax to use, and how much. According to Norwegian ski maker Madshus, that may be as soon as fall of 2014.

Madshus plans to roll out a ski with a smart chip inside. The chip will send signals to its corresponding SmartSki app, which will give riders data about the wintery conditions and suggest the proper wax mixture.

For example, a skier skiing with a heavy backpack would need a different wax mixture than the same person skiing without one.

And it won't only help the skiers on the snow. When salespeople sell skis, the process is often long and drawn out. It takes time for the customer to find the best-fitting ski. Data from SmartSki tells salespeople what type of skis are best suited for different types of skiers.

Such advice is possible because Madshus tracks each ski from the production line down to the end customer.

As Madshus' senior advisor and former Technical Director Gunnar Bjertnæs says, "Creating individually tailored skis has been Madshus' vision since 2006. We are now able to follow the product through the entire value chain -- from factory to warehouse, from warehouse to retailer, and from retailer to end-customer."

Perhaps Madshus' technology will calm Knut Knystad's nerves by helping avert another wax crisis.

50 years of wax growth

The success of Norwegian and also Swedish skiers since the 1940s pushed Norwegian wax maker Swix into the spotlight. Based in Lillehammer, Norway, the company supplies ski wax to many Olympians.

Swix has established itself as a premier ski wax maker. Swix is known not only for supplying the pros, but also for recommending wax mixes for amateur racers, based on the conditions of the city their races are held.

With the success of its wax products, Swix has since branched out into all sorts of ski equipment. This includes poles, tech ski suits, hats and gloves, and all sorts of wax brushes, files, stones, and tables (to apply ski wax mixtures).

Norway has done quite well for itself in the winter Olympics. And with it, a key Norwegian wax supplier.

Thanks, Norway, for helping our businesses

From reasons ranging from a wealthy nation, to Norwegians' deep interest in watching skiing, to the Norwegian government spending money on wax research, Norway is adept at capturing winter Olympic medals.

Helped by Norway's success, Norwegian firms Madshus and Swix have both built successful businesses around skiing. And both aim to innovate in those respective niches.

That's something that the citizens of Trøndelag can cheer about. Smart Skis and better wax might make perhaps the world's best skiing city become even better.

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David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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