By Zach Crist
Photography by Chris Vestal and Jim Harris
Every fall in the mountains there comes a turning point when snow arrives in the upper elevations and our favorite high-country recreation becomes suspended between seasons. The autumn pause can be depressing for some, but it can also be a welcome opportunity to catch up on “work” for those who’ve been putting it off for one more ride, hike or climb. When a sloppy fall storm arrives, the opportunity cost of an all-day, indoor meeting hits an all-time low.
An occasional glance out the window only reinforced our focus on the product development meetings at hand. While continuous storm cells migrated across Lake Tahoe, showering curtains of rain-snow mix, our team of product designers, merchants and guides weighed in on the future of First Ascent’s ski and snowboard gear. With our Fall ’11 collection already available in stores and online, we are currently putting the finishing touches on Fall ’12 after months of testing from Alaska to South America. Several rounds of prototypes have been refined to meet our own expectations that we believe will earn the respect of our peers for setting new standards of quality outdoor gear.
When Reggie and I joined Eddie Bauer to help launch First Ascent, we were skeptical of the “Guide Built, Guide Trusted” claim. It’s not a stretch to think that people who would trust a guide to keep them safe in the mountains might also confide in our ability to make sound decisions when it comes to designing the best gear, but it’s entirely unique to see corporate executives empower a group of skiers and snowboarders to influence the process so heavily. In our 20 years of professional skiing, we’ve crossed paths with many brands, yet have never seen a true collaborative effort such as this.
Piece by piece, our team analyzed the entire line of new gear. Technical outerwear designer Dave Mertes and hardgoods director Mark Corell laid out their latest interpretations and welcomed the next round of feedback. What makes the process so functional is positive group chemistry. Everyone in the room is an expert of some kind, yet all have checked their ego at the door on the way in. FA merchandising director, Andrew Turner, encourages an honest dialogue that lends itself to a democratic process, which builds consensus on each individual product. Innovative ideas spawn further creativity that becomes the mark of progression, and by the end of two intensive days we were all inspired by the results and further invested in the process.
Rain, snow, or sunshine, work indoors is much more enjoyable when we’ve been entrusted to help build the best outdoor gear. But the best part is giving the gear a go and brainstorming over a few beers when the work is done—which made the backyard boulder we found up the road and the bowling alley session in Incline Village that night so much sweeter.
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