Part III: BD Employee Evan Bouchier reports on prototype ski testing in France and Switzerland
Black Diamond employee Evan Bouchier is one of our engineers hard at work on new ski development projects, and fortunately for Evan, “hard at work” often means testing prototype skis in some truly epic locations. After his missions to the Pacific Northwest (check out Part I here) and Chamonix (check out Part 2 here), Evan headed to La Grave for one more binge of testing and skiing before heading back to the BD operations in China to continue work on the new BD-owned and -operated ski factory.
Returning to BD’s up-and-coming new ski factory after spending a month skiing in the Alps, it was clear that the team had been hard at work. A call to arms had been raised within the organization, and in reply a flood of special forces have been putting in hard time working to bring this new project up to speed. From the backbone manufacturing specialists/ski fanatics; to the mad-scientists in QA; to garage-shop-ski-builders now evolved to designers and project managers; to old time ski manufacturing and composites veterans; right down to the man who wrote the book on climbing hardware design and fabrication equipment; all hands have been on deck working to distill BD’s 50 years of manufacturing prowess in to the framework for this new ski production facility. And here I was, guiltily dragging back in from another big ski adventure…
So I put my head down and got back to work.
The project team was given the mission to go big and develop a state-of-the-art production facility—to build skis in the same way we build climbing gear to which you would entrust your life. So we purchased a battalion of sophisticated machines and equipment, sourced the cleanest raw materials from around the world, and got to work on the layout of our new factory. When the right machine for a process doesn’t exist, we design and build one on our own. To preheat the new ski presses, we are harnessing the power of the sun. In building out our facility, we placed penultimate focus on a fresh and inspiring production space. With a blank slate we are free to pursue radical production and design strategies, so we have founded our development on the lean flow concepts of the globally successful Japanese systems.
Inspiring as the project may be, it’s tremendously hard work. I find it hard to not let my thoughts drift in time. But I’ve also found there’s a subtle difference between daydreaming about the past and using past experience to inspire…
My recent past experience saw me boarding a train in Chamonix to head south. I was going down to stay with an old kayaking friend who was ski patrolling at Serre Chevalier and living in a quaint mountain village nearby. My friends picked me up at the train station, and early the next day we drove over the pass to La Grave. Yet again surrounded by mountains of staggering proportions. The funky, mellow pace of La Grave reminded me of my years in Montana, as did the local posses of underground rippers. We split our time between skiing, flying laps on the speed-wings, and soaking up the unique energy of the place.
Soon thereafter one of the few storms of my trip rolled through. We tore up the new snow on the front-country until it was beat. Then we headed out in search of something steep and untouched. With huge mountains all around, we had our pick and found our way in to a gem!
Before I left town, we also took the chance to run up the local via ferrata. Then I boarded another train, this time bound for Switzerland.
After a long day of travel, I arrived at the Horner Hotel in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland late in the evening. Standing out front was a profound crew from my homeland, who had plans to join up with a group of local athletes the next day. So my first morning in Switzerland, I found myself speed-riding in the Jungfrau region with the North American Redbull Airforce and a bunch of local talent, including Olympian and Swiss freeski/board legend Ueli Kestenholz. We ripped laps, en masse, down the steep terrain, and I witnessed how it’s done by some of the best in the world.
For the next week, most of my riding time was spent solo, sessioning my speedwing at Schilthorn in the morning, then heading across the valley to ski the one remaining stash of dry snow tucked under the North Face of the Eiger (thanks for the beta Ueli.) Sadly I lost my helmet cam in France, so I have zero action footage from the Jungfrau region where I was immersed in the steepest part of the learning curve for this trip.
As my time ran low, the weather grew hot and it was clearly time to go. I took a train to Zurich for a quick stay with Los Alamos friends so that I could look in to future opportunities at the ETH University. Then I flashed through Chamonix to grab some gear that I left behind, and finally boarded a plane in Geneva.
As I said, there’s a subtle difference between daydreaming and using past experiences to inspire. Back in the present moment, we just boxed up the first two pair of AMPerage 195’s ever pressed in Black Diamond’s new factory and sent them out the door. In two days time, they’ll be on the feet of BD’s athletes and skiers so that the feedback cycle can begin anew.