Following the news of Greg Hill leaving Dynafit for Salomon, we asked ourselves, “Why would a mountaineer known for touring 2 million vertical feet in one year ditch his lightweight gear for an arsenal that’s, well, not as light?”
So Skiing Business caught up with Jesse Malman, Salomon’s sports and community marketing manager who is in charge of Salomon’s international athlete team and heavily involved in the brand’s future products, to find out what the company is up to in the backcountry realm.
While he wouldn’t divulge the brand’s budget or ultimate investment, he says the new push is backed by Salomon’s global headquarters and has full support of its North American office too.
So Greg Hill?
Yeah. We’re entering the backcountry market this year with the launch of the Guardian binding, and that’s only the beginning. Salomon’s invested in making a wave in the backcountry touring market, and that will include skis, boots and bindings. We know where the money is invested from an R&D standpoint, but we want athletes who can help push that and be a brand advocate.
So we sought an athlete who can help us figure out exactly what we should do, what works, what doesn’t, and help us develop products that are better than what is out there now. I think Greg Hill is a perfect fit, and he was ready for a change. I think he’s fired up to come to a brand that’s invested in entering the segment.
What type of products do you have in the works?
I can’t say too much, but it includes skis, boots and bindings. We’re the top boot brand, and we want to take that expertise to the backcountry. It took us 40 years to get where we are now, but we feel like we can bring great product to the backcountry market and be innovative.
We’re talking things that aren’t in the market right now. We’re taking ideas from things that we do and like, and things that other brands do that we like. We’re sending Greg Hill and Chris Rubens to our global headquarters soon to get going on the first project: a new boot that will be between 1.2 kilograms and 1.5 kilograms per boot.
And with that, we’ll target the same consumer that Dynafit and Garmont and others like that target. Those customers are there, and that segment is growing. There are consumers that don’t even know they want lightweight gear right now, but they’ll eventually realize it.
Why do this now? It seems like you’re a little late to the party like with the Guardian.
We don’t feel like we entered the market late with the Guardian. We could have brought that to market earlier, but we wanted to do it right and make sure it was exactly what we wanted. And we’ll do the same this time. We’re going to make sure we have everything right if we want to come out with a new type of boot or binding.
We don’t feel like there’s a great lightweight backcountry boot that also performs really well downhill, so we’re going to develop our own. We have the ability to make products that aren’t out there right now, and we’re innovative.
We have the credibility to enter new markets, and we see the backcountry market as being a good place to put resources. More and more people want to earn their turns. It’s big in Europe, and it’s getting bigger in North America, so we’ve invested in the right people-like Greg Hill and Andreas Fransson-to help us get there.
What’s the timeline for the new boots or even skis and bindings?
You won’t see this stuff at the next SIA show, so we’re at least two years out. First, we’ll expand on the Guardian family for the 2013-14 season and bring back the tech-compatible boot-which will be much better than the first time we did it.
You may potentially see new lightweight stuff for the 2014-15 season. My inclination is that the first lightweight backcountry-specific equipment is most likely going to be a boot and ski.
It sounds like you guys will develop a new lightweight binding instead of acquire a company that’s already doing it.
It’s hard to say, but I think acquisition is a last resort for us. We feel like we have the money, people machinery and other general assets to make a better product on our own without acquiring another company.
Will you guys be collaborating with Atomic on the lightweight gear?
We’re not working on the lightweight stuff with Atomic like we did with the Guardian and Tracker bindings. As far as I know, Atomic is focused on the freeride community, and hasn’t committed to the lightweight market. We’ll also go after that freeride market, but we’re going further into the backcountry market.