Interview by Tim Sweeney
From winning trail running races around the world to taking on Everest, Kilian Jornet is perhaps the world’s most recognized outdoor sportsman. The 29-year-old Catalan first joined the Salomon Spain team in 2003. This year marks his 15th as a Salomon athlete, and the brand is proud to announce that Jornet and Salomon have agreed to extend that relationship into the foreseeable future. We thought it was a good time to ask him some questions about what motivates him, what inspires him and why he loves being involved in creating Salomon footwear, apparel and gear.
You’ve got 650,000 followers on Facebook, 340,000 on Instagram and 225,000 on Twitter, and you post some great photos and stories. What are you trying to convey in your social media?
Well, thank you. It’s fun to share inspirational content. I believe that going in the outdoors and mountains helps make you understand how the world works, and inspiring people to go makes them more conscious about that. As athletes, we inspire people to go outdoors by using the tools we have, and social media is one of them. The Salomon brand content is similar in that they are inspiring people to go outdoors, not just go buy the products they make. We share the belief, I think, that getting more people in the outdoors in touch with nature helps deliver the good values of that lifestyle. Of course, people will need equipment if they go, but the idea is to sell the experience to people not just the gear they need.
A lot of people know you first as a trail runner due to all the success you’ve had in that sport. Where do competitive sports against other athletes fit with your plans to simply be outside enjoying nature?
Racing is a fun thing to use to get motivation and to be in top shape. It’s a chance to measure yourself, but it’s not the ultimate goal. It’s only a tool to keep in shape in a way. The ultimate goal is to be moving in the mountains and see the landscape and explore; to get different feelings and sensations. I realize I am lucky to have the health and possibility to do these things, but everybody will find happiness and emotional moments in the mountains in their own way. Some people like to push the limits and others will go to a beautiful place. A lot of days of training and expeditions are pushing the limits, but that doesn’t just mean going fast. Training is preparing for something and other days are for pushing limits. Plus, you can’t push the limits all the time; that’s like pulling lottery tickets.
What does a typical week of outdoor activity look like for you?
A perfect week can be steep skiing, mountaineering, running up and down a summit, maybe run a vertical kilometer. It’s when I can do all these different practices and distances and be performing well.
In many sports, from ball sports to ski racing, we live in an era where—for better or worse—kids are specializing in one sport at a very young age. You perform at the top level in every sport you do, but do you ever wonder how good you could be if you were dedicated to, say, only trail running or only ski-mo for a year?
For sure if you train for one thing in particular you could perform better, but I like to do different things. I think it’s important to do the things you love in a way you are comfortable and with people you are close to. I like to move in the mountains, but also to help the sports develop. And I try to progress the things I like to do in the mountains. It’s not just about exploring what you can do, but what is possible. Not every year is the same calendar for me. It’s nice to do different things, to change and see different things.
In a recent SalomonTV episode, Jordi Tosas explained how he was a bit stalled in his climbing until he saw how you were moving in this “fast and light” way in the mountains, and that re-ignited his passion. Are there days you feel less motivated and want to sit around, have a coffee and read the newspaper, and how do you address that?
There are moments you can feel stopped, but that’s normal. That’s where it’s nice to be able to see what other people are doing. It could be a climber, a cyclist, an alpinist or even an artist. There is so much inspiration out there. So you just have to look outside and take inspiration from them and say, “Maybe this can be something I can apply to my activity.” You need to look outside your close circle.
So who do you look to? Do you watch athletes in ball sports like Barcelona FC, for example? Or look at certain artists?
I pay attention to all sports. I don’t watch ball sports closely, but I watch their tactics and strategy and the psychology of how they motivate teams. And I read about physiology and training and sciences. Those things can be really interesting. In art, it can change from classical art to surrealism or contemporary. You can imagine a parallel to see why surrealism cannot go to something. You can find links to sport in all these subjects.
You certainly overlap the sports you do like few other people. How does that show in the gear you use on a given day?
Well, just like in training, it’s cool to take things from one activity to the other in the equipment you use. That’s how things progress. So, in working with developers at Salomon, we might take materials and technology from cross country skiing and apply them to trail running. I really love to work on developing gear. At home, I take a jacket or backpack and add or cut things. I modify. When you are outside as much as I am, you imagine equipment and look at what you can do on gear to take it farther.
How do the product experts react to you cutting up the gear they give you?
(Laughs) That’s the cool part. When you have an idea they say, “Why not?” much more than other brands I know of. At a lot of brands, athletes don’t have the same direct contact with developers. These people are friends of mine here at Salomon. You don’t just send an email to a team manager that doesn’t get to the developer. Here, I call a product developer I am friends with and we go from there. I say to them, “I was trying this and it works well.” And they want to hear about it. What I like most is that at Salomon these people are always visionaries in trying to see the future. They are doing these sports themselves and they are really committed to it. When you see the designers and things they are working on in the labs, you say, “Wow that’s really far away.” It’s incredible how the brand can look ahead and then how the gear can change the practice and the sport. That was obvious 15 years ago when they started with adventure racing and trail running, and it’s true now with fast and light movement in the mountains and seeing where our sports are going.
How much does the development of the gear with a Salomon designer get influenced by the progression of the sports?
It’s a cool thing that the brand is open to the athletes not just on developing products, but also understanding where the sport is going—what people are doing and going to do next. They really see the big picture. Personally, I want to keep practicing different sports and to have different experiences. Today, people are going hiking one day, cycling another day and skiing at a resort the next day. They are practicing multiple sports all year-round. With all the different sports Salomon is doing, a designer in alpinism can meet with a person from the Nordic ski department or running department and they can all take ideas from each other. At this stage I have a background with these people so it’s fun to work with them and I can call them at any time to ask a question or offer a suggestion on equipment.
Salomon launched a new “Time to Play” brand positioning and this seems to fit with your attitudes. Is this your work? Have you expanded your role from gear consultant to working in the marketing department?
(Laughs) No, no. But I do like “Time to Play” because it’s nothing too serious. It’s about having fun and being in the outdoors. We don’t go out there to suffer. I mean, sometimes we do suffer, of course, but the ultimate goal is to have fun. You need to be serious in the ways you do it, and work hard, but don’t think you are doing something important. It’s nothing too serious. It’s fun.