Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Fun Visit to Salomon France by Jan Guenther

Gear West Ski & Run has sold plenty of Salomon “S-LAB” products, however I had a limited idea of why the “LAB” title was placed on their top end products. Brian and I had the unique opportunity to visit Salomon’s design center in Annecy, France, just one hour outside Chamonix in the Alps. The Salomon ‘think tank’ is a fascinating study on how athletes, designers, researchers and engineers collaborate their efforts to invent super cool products.

After being in the ski business for twenty years I was very surprised to find there are still things that I do not know. For example, did you know there are 70+ pieces needed to construct a top race ski boot? Or that the cost of producing a larger foot mold to accommodate size 15+ feet is several hundred thousand dollars? Also, Salomon has every sponsored athlete’s unique foot mold, and can make one custom prototype at the design center for said athlete to use and provide instant design adjustments.

Pick your athlete
Another interesting fact I learned was the reason Salomon decided to to expand into trail footwear. After several winters of poor snow conditions, they decided something had to be done in order to continue and employ their seasoned pattern makers. For six months they developed a new concept for fit utilizing new materials along with existing Nordic foot technologies to design hiking shoes. The first pre-production boot was called the Adventure 7, these were used by  French Alpine Military specialists.

Inside Salomon’s  design center, sponsored athletes of all disciplines (downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, trail running, snowboard) work with a Salomon design team to bring new products to life and to redesign current products to meet their own personal needs. For example, ultra trail running phenom Killian Jornet was directly involved with the design process surrounding the heavily anticipated S-LAB Sense – a super light, low profile racing flat that has won several prestigious races, including the the Western States 100 and Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc. Salomon Senior Project Manager Patrick Lieck put it this way, “the S-LAB process and products are primarily designed to enable athletes to win. But they are also a source of inspiration for the range. The next generation of products is based on these shoes (skis, boots, and poles).”

Killian dominating the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)
What we saw throughout our tour of the design center was the spirit and excitement of a creative team inspired to design the best products for their athletes and challenged to produce it internationally for the consumer.  The Salomon building complex is truly a “LAB” that produces products tested right outside the center, on the snowy slopes of Mont Blanc and the mountain trails. 

For me, Salomon products now have more depth as I now understand the authenticity behind the development of an S-LAB shoe, ski, or boot. I am excited as a retailer to explain the hows and whys of the S-LAB classic boot, or what makes an Equipe 10 skate ski work so well, or why the Speedcross trail shoe is so much fun to own.  It’s this well designed and well thought out equipment that makes it so much fun to race, train or tour.