The Back Page – Where, what, by who?
BY BRUCE STEINBERG
Two things surprised me when I ordered roller ski ferrules from Swix, that great ski company of long Norwegian tradition. First, as is nearly always the case with cross-country ski equipment bought new—the price. Over $19 for two, one-and-a-half-inch tubes of plastic, each with a half-inch metal claw sticking out, the pair weighing less than a quarter pound. Of course, a whole lot of engineering goes into roller ski ferrules, considering the pounding on asphalt they have to endure. Still, for $20, I could have instead put one-one-fortieth of a down payment on a pair of new cross country racing skis, without bindings, so C’mon!
The second thing that surprised me, much more than the first, came when the ferrules arrived, in a neat plastic compartment that made the nearly $20 spent seem 10 percent more palatable. And that is the proclamation that the “Swix Nordic Pole Spare Parts,” as noted on the package label, with reference to swixsport.com in Lillehammer, complete with a telephone number, contained what were, in fact, two roller ski ferrules—made in Lithuania, over 1,200 kilometers away from Lillehammer.
My research (talking to my teenage son, who directed me to Google Maps and Wikipedia) showed that Lithuania, tucked in the pocket of Poland, Belarus and Latvia, is the Baltic Sea and the country of Sweden distance away from Norway. Lithuania itself does have a National Cross Country Ski Association, with cross-country ski resorts and a Nordic ski team that competes in the Olympics. But with a population of nearly 3 million people, it only had two men compete at the 2018 Nordic events – Mantas Strolia and Modestas Vaiciulis, finishing in 94th and 96th place respectively in the 15k men’s freestyle competition, and one woman, Marija Kaznacenko, who finished 73rd in the Women’s 10k freestyle competition. Not one advanced in the sprint competition. Whereas Norway, with a population of over five million people, had a total of 14 Nordic Olympic medals in 2018, half of which were gold. It outpaced second-place Sweden in Nordic events by more than two to one.
So, what gives with Swix, Norway’s corporate darling of equipment to the cross country ski world?
Swix itself answers the question on its website, in the “About Us” section. It states, if not confesses, that its production of all things ski pole manufacturing moved from Lillehammer to Lithuania in 2007, with a portion then also moving to China. While Norway still holds on to its Swix warehouses, waxes and “accessories” (wouldn’t that include roller ski ferrules? But I digress), customer service and part of the company’s administration, other products are also manufactured in China and Eastern Europe.
While Norwegians may have been upset with this situation, there has been no evidence of attack rallies. Perhaps that’s because Swix actually began in 1946 in Sweden and didn’t move in full to Norway until 1964. Its 1946 founder, Börje Gabrielsson, has long been replaced by a corporate entity, the investment company Ferd AS, which has also bought up other ski company logos and products.
None of this really matters to me, I suppose. All I wanted was a new, replacement pair of roller ski ferrules at a reasonable price. Since the reasonable price wasn’t going to happen, why should I expect a Norwegian company making a Nordic product to make it in Norway? Lithuania, land of my great-great-grandparents running away from the Tsarist military (to the USA, thank you very much!), before the Bolshevik Revolution, will do just fine.
It makes me wonder where any Make Norway Great Again hats might be manufactured. Or should that be a Swedish hat? Either way, I’m going to start rooting for the Lithuania Nordic ski team. After months of roller skiing since my purchase, I’m convinced that their country makes great roller ski ferrules, well worth the $20.