It’s not often that I find myself on top of a small powder-field on my first day of a business trip to Europe. In fact, I’d say that my trip with Salomon was definitely a first. The brand’s main design center and snowboard factory is located in and around Annecy, France, about 30 minutes toward the alps from Geneva. While the brand is often very secretive about opening the doors on its development and building process, this year Salomon’s North American group found a way to get SNOWboarding Business inside.
After I made the flight across the pond ready to go on Tuesday, November 18 the brand stalled one day before letting me inside the facilities. That day Salomon board, boot, and binding development teams were busy revealing the first phase of the 2005/06 product specs to the snowboard business unit directors, marketing managers, and product mangers of its subsidiaries, like North American Boardsports Product Manager Tyler LaMotte and Director Bo Johnston. As Salomon didn’t want me informed on the 2005/06 products quite yet, instead observing the meetings I found myself staring down the Swiss Alps on top of Los Diablerets.
I can’t say I was disappointed with the way things were going Tuesday, as I got off the second tram to the top and realized I was looking at a run of semi-tracked powder. Being that it was really only my second day on the snow since summer, I was stoked. Even with a few tracks in the run, what I saw was an endless amount of little snow pillows to make soft turns in—no groomers, and not even a T-bar to service it. Above the run ran a full-fledged chairlift with only about six people riding up our way. I was blinking like crazy.
Scanning the horizon, I noticed that there were other people at the resort but they were across the way riding a huge terrain park and superpipe that was serviced by T-bar. Mid-November, second day on snow, I opted for the powder. Riding with Salomon North American PR and Marketing Director Hal Thomson, who snuck out of the meetings to “take care of the press,” we rode that little pow-field most of the day, only moving a little left each run to score semi-fresh tracks.
Meanwhile, back at the Annecy facilities, preparation was underway for my visit. When I got there the following morning I was told by most of the boardsports group that I was only the second member of the press ever allowed to visit many portions of the headquarters and factory. Whether that’s entirely true or not, I felt stoked to be inside. I was very aware of the brand’s secretiveness as members of the French design team shuffled me past many doors and rooms saying, “I’m sorry. You are not allowed in there.”
While at the headquarters, I was treated to not only a tour of the Rumilly factory, but a look inside the Annecy Design Center (ADC). I’ve been to nearly a dozen snowboard factories and it’s hard to get me excited, anymore. I was impressed. The level of automation and quality control inside Salomon’s Rumilly factory spanned from materials preparation through the factory and into the finishing processes. The ADC was equally impressive just in the number of tests and procedures the brand is able to perform simply for development. Inside the ADC, Salomon designers are able to build prototypes for everything—boards, bindings, ski-boots, racing skis, and more.
In between the tours, members of the French development team greeted me with Powerpoint presentations on the board and binding design processes as well as a quick overview of the 2004/05 line. The brand’s boots are designed and developed near Venice, Italy in Montabullna. As I’m sitting in my hotel room in Chamonix looking out at the Aiguille Du Midi, with plans to cross through the Mt. Blanc tunnel into Italy today by car—I’ll have the full-report on boots after my visit with the team on Friday.
More details on Salomon’s factory, development, and current direction will be found in the fifth issue of SNOWboarding Business due oout in late January.