AUBURN, Maine — Walking through the parts yard at Kassbohrer All Terrain Vehicles in Auburn, James Bear explains how the long line of snow groomers and attachments, just received from Germany and assembled locally, will be gone by December.
“We do a lot of importing and [shipping] out of this yard to other parts of the country,” he said. “Most of our sales are east of the Mississippi.”
Kassbohrer’s products, a line of snow groomers called the PistenBully, can be seen on ski slopes, including at Sunday River in Newry, and snowmobile trails around the country.
But the business is far from seasonal. Bear said the company receives big shipments of components from Germany that it assembles, sells and maintains during warm-weather months. It delivers them to buyers in the fall.
In the winter, it is busy maintaining the equipment, although making sure the PistenBully equipment is in working order is a year-round job.
“Ski areas have big projects to maintain their equipment or install lifts during the summer,” he said.
The Auburn company is one of five factory branches of Kassbohrer, a German company with U.S. headquarters in Reno, Nevada. It also has a U.S. dealer network.
The Auburn office’s sales territory is Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.
Recently, business has been booming. Last year, the 50-year-old company moved from leased space in Lewiston to Auburn, where it built a 23,000-square-foot regional headquarters building and bought three adjacent lots.
On June 25, it received city approval to build a 5,600-square-foot covered storage building for equipment. That will be another $250,000 investment.
The company, which employs 11, plans to hire another person in August to handle logistics and sales support.
Harry Turgeon, North American logistics manager, would not comment on revenue at the Auburn location, but nationwide, he said the company has from $50 million to $100 million in revenue.
Some 75 percent of revenue is from sales to ski areas and the rest from sales to snowmobile or cross-country ski trail groomers or to private individuals who might have a remote cabin in the woods.
A snowy history in Auburn
The current company originated in 1969 at the Lost Valley ski area in Auburn as another company called Valley Engineering, where Turgeon worked.
That company developed equipment to groom ski areas and subcontracted manufacturing to now-defunct Rainville NC Co. of Lewiston. The equipment pulverized icy areas and created a smooth surface for skiers.
In 1972, the company moved to Gray. It was acquired in 1979 by Kassbohrer, which in the late 1990s moved its U.S. headquarters to Reno and set up the local office in Lewiston.
The new Auburn location also imports parts and products. Turgeon said Auburn handles 45 percent of all Kassbohrer products shipped into North America. Part of the reason for building the new regional headquarters was to accommodate the sizeable parts warehouse.
One trend helping drive sales recently is consolidation in the ski industry.
“Ski areas are in a phase now where the big fish are swallowing the smaller fish,” Turgeon said. “If a ski area becomes one of the bigger players, it is good for their expansion and cash flow.”
He cited Boyne Resorts of Michigan, which owns Sugarloaf and Sunday River in Maine and Loon Mountain in New Hampshire. Also, Vail Resorts of Colorado owns Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont and Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire. Peak Resorts owns Wildcat in New Hampshire and Mount Snow in Vermont.
Kassbohrer’s largest customer in Maine is Sunday River, which has 25 to 30 PistenBully grooming machines and runs two shifts to keep them going all night, Bear said.
The primary competitors making ski grooming equipment are Bombardier of Canada and Prinoth of Italy. Both sell in the United States.
Plowing and pulverizing
The PistenBully looks like a large ATV and has a plow on the front and a tiller on the rear with about 300 teeth. It can pulverize ice to create a smooth surface that looks like wide wale corduroy, which Turgeon said is good for skiing.
The snowmobile trail version has rear equipment with blades to smooth chunky snow or ice and a section to drag and flatten the snow.
The driver uses a terminal screen and a joystick to control both the front and back of the PistenBully. The joystick can lift, lower, tilt, swivel or change the cut angle of the blade. The joystick can make four movements simultaneously.
Most of the PistenBully machines run on a diesel engine with a hydrostatic drive for improved maneuverability.
They groom a 16-foot wide area. The PistenBully comes in small, medium and large sizes. There are various equipment options, including a winch with a mile-long cable that can help stabilize the PistenBully.
Prices range from $150,000 to more than $500,000. The Auburn company sells both new and refurbished equipment.
The company is selling a hybrid model in North America for about 15 percent more than the standard large model. The German company also has built an all-electric prototype.
No special license is needed to drive the PistenBully. The company does offer formal training, for a fee, that is web-based with some on-site training.
Kassbohrer also sells a software and hardware service called Snowsat that uses sensors to monitor fuel consumption, depth of snow, acreage groomed, grooming time, RPMs and fuel used.
“That gives management an idea of how the mountain looks,” said Dennis Kinsella, regional sales and operations manager for KassBohrer. The product can use wifi to communicate data from the PistenBully to managers.
Kassbohrer also sells specialized PistenBully equipment, including the ParkPro model used to groom sport terrain parks.
“We have partnered with Snow Park Technologies of California on the X Games and Olympics,” said Josh Lempert, regional sales representative. Snow Park designs extreme and professional snow park venues. It uses the PistenBully to groom the snow.
While the Auburn location focuses on sales of PistenBully equipment for snow, Kassbohrer sells versions with different attachments to municipalities and contractors for uses such as trimming grass from roadsides and mosquito abatement. It also sells a version to clean refuse out of beach sand.
“The PistenBully is lightweight, so it can function near saltwater to remove cattails, where mosquitoes breed,” Turgeon said. “It has low ground pressure so it doesn’t damage the soil. It can do the job of a bulldozer with one-third of the weight.”