The origins of the K2 Corporation are fairly modest. This Vashon Island-based company was first known as Kirschner Manufacturing and began as a manufacturer of high-quality research cages in the business boom that took place right after World War II. In 1961, however, founder Bill Kirschner manufactured a pair of fiberglass skis that eventually revolutionized the business’s focus and launched a brand.
Kirschner’s fiberglass skis took off slowly, with only 250 making it to market that first year. By 1967, however, enough skis had sold to convince Kirschner that his brand could stand on its own. He separated the ski brand from Kirshner Manufacturing and named it K2 after both the second-tallest mountain in the world and the two Kirschner brothers. The following year saw K2 sell 21,000 sets of skis and grow from a single employee to 83.
K2’s engineers developed a world-class racing ski that finished in first place at the giant slalom competition in that year’s World Cup, catapulting the K2’s ski sales. The distinctive look and performance of these skis led to the doubling of K2 ski shipments from 1966 to 1970. Such a leap in growth led Kirschner to realize that K2 needed more capital in order to survive, so he sold K2 to the Cummins Engine Company of Columbus, Indiana.
This sale was the first of several as K2 changed hands multiple times over the next couple of decades. A group made up of Northwest investors called Sitca acquired K2 as well as its subsidiary, Jansport, in November of 1976. Sitca’s company management bought up all the shares from Sitca’s Northwest investors in 1982 and decided to focus its energies on the alpine ski market. The new management sold off many of Sitca’s subsidiaries—including the still-successful Jansport—and devoted the company’s energies to making alpine ski products.
Anthony Industries, Inc., a NYSE company, acquired all of Sitca’s stock in 1985. This company is known for its development and production of leisure and recreational products under such brands as Shakespeare, Hilton, and Pflueger. Anthony Industries is based in Los Angeles and is also known for its production of Thermo-Ply insulation for various industrial and commercial markets.
K2 flourished under the ownership of Anthony Industries, allowing the company to expand and modernize its production facilities. The new owners also focused K2’s employees using various employee management techniques in order to boost productivity and better meet retailer and consumer needs.
The advent of snowboarding in the late 1980s provided another opportunity of growth for K2. They are now the most successful snowboard manufacturing company, which is largely due to the success of the Fatbob board.
The acquisition of Norwegian company Madshus A/S led to another revamping of K2’s facilities—or, perhaps, a return to its roots as it once again focused on producing alpine skis. The early ‘90s saw K2 shipping its alpine skis worldwide; the Vashon facility was remodeled to allow for full-time cap ski production. Their 1994 skis were award-winners, cementing the standing of the K2 brand.
In the early to mid-90s, K2 got into the inline skate industry, releasing a soft boot skate that became an instant player in the industry. K2 also introduced a new snowboard step-in binding system named “Clipper” as well as a new set of alpine skis called “K2 Four,” which went on to win a large amount of awards and accolades. K2 skis, K2 snowboards, and K2 inline skates consistently rank in the top 5 of their categories in terms of sales and quality.