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Headed by industry veterans, Canada-based FortyNine51 knows what industry needs

By Rebecca Henderson

 

The staff at FortyNine51 don’t just supply and distribute sporting event equipment and safety systems to ski resorts and areas in North America. They possess a wealth of global knowledge on the sport too.

“I’m pretty sure I started skiing when I was three,” said Sami Piana, president of FortyNine51. “I come from a small town in the Italian Alps, and in some villages, skiing is all you do.”

Piana’s skiing career has spanned from participating in high-level racing and skiing to becoming the technical director of Livigno’s ski school – one of the Southern Alps biggest resorts – to commercializing used lifts and machinery in Europe and Central Asia.

“My entire life has revolved around skiing,” he said. “I love every aspect of it.”

Piana began coming to Canada in 2006, and has since moved there more permanently after the Italian sports equipment supplier LISKI reached out, interested in expanding into North America. Piana seized the opportunity and co-founded FortyNine51 in 2013, with his business partner Nick Kwasniak.

Like Piana, Kwasniak has a tremendous amount of experience in the ski industry – over 30 years. Despite growing up in Montreal, Kwasniak spent much of his time on the West Coast between Whistler and Sun Peaks, B.C. He now spends his time with Piana on the business development side of FortyNine51.

“There are pros and cons that everyone faces when looking at distribution in an area as large as North America,” said Piana. “The cons are the distance, but the pros are the clients and the satisfaction of overcoming challenges that such an expansive continent brings to winter sports.”

To address North America’s massive geographic region, Piana and Kwasniak focused on East and West as service demographics.

“That’s why we have an East and West base because skiing in North America is different depending on where you are,” said Piana. “There are many different elements, like trail conditions and lengths and weather patterns, that require different solutions.”

FortyNine51 has a base in Collingwood, Ont., and in Calgary, where they sell Canada-wide and to some regions in the United States. The company is also Liski’s official distributor for these areas.

The company carries the brand’s ski safety equipment, such as foam rubber and air safety mattresses and protection systems with nets, poles and hooks, and racing equipment such as flex poles, signage and panels, to list a few.

“Liski is very well-known and respected in the industry, having supplied the last four Olympic Winter Games and the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Beijing,” said Piana. “We are one of the only companies that supply ski racing and safety and ski resort equipment at that level in Canada.”

FortyNine51’s association with Liski has allowed them to supply safety equipment for high-level events like the Fédération internationale de ski (FIS)’s Lake Louise Audi FIS Ski World Cup, held between last November and December.

“We have a great relationship with Liski’s manufacturer,” said Piana. “So, our reputation has allowed us to become directly involved with elite events like the World Cup.”

FortyNine51 contributed Liski air safety mattresses – a go-to product for high-level races due to its advanced safety features regarding skier impact and speed – racing gates and fencing to the event.

FortyNine51 products also extend to training, ski school, rental and resort supply and equipment. These products include Geoski, a polyethylene surface for practicing winter sports when snow is unavailable, and IDS Mountain’s “Mountain” range flooring, designed for extreme conditions around lifts. Other products include rental and retail soft goods such as Bullski helmets, Cober guards and ski poles.

Piana says they also partner with Planet Built, a metal fabrication company in Idaho that produces snow planning tools for terrain park building and maintenance. Planet Built also has a solid reputation in custom-made solutions for snow parks and other tubing facilities. Piana personally partnered with Planet Built’s owner in distributing belt conveyors for North American winter sports under the sister company, PLANET MOVER.

“They have already established themselves in the United States, so we participate in their Canada sales,” he said. “In terms of supplies, FortyNine51 pretty much covers all the needs that a ski area or ski resort can have.”

Piana says even though FortyNine51 is a distribution company, they also offer consulting expertise to use their products effectively. “Because of our background, we are capable and available to help our clients throughout the entire process and give them the best possible solution for their projects.”

The five people who make up FortyNine51 include Piana and Kwasniak, and three additional staff. Piana says they all share an immense passion for the sport, including backgrounds in racing, ski school, lifts and ski area management.

“Our team, we are all ski pros,” said Piana. “We love the sport and the world of skiing, and that’s what ties us together.”

As FortyNine51 continues to establish itself as an entity in Canada, Piana says they want to expand their presence further across North America.

“Right now, we are missing some spots, so we have to improve our network of professionals,” he said. “We want to grow and have more FortyNine51 bases and be present everywhere there [is] skiing, snowboarding, tubing or winter sports.” 

 

 

 

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