Pascal Pallatin has a great, loud voice but he also knows how to listen. The big guy radiates passion and energy. Under the artificial shade of a plastic palm tree overlooking his office, Salomon’s Advance Project Manager for Alpine Boots speaks while manipulating a prototype fresh out of the molding machines of the ADC workshop, one floor below. Like any good ski story, the story of the MTN Lab was born on the snow. “Riders of our Mountain Collective group of athletes were simply asked what they wanted,” Pallatin says.
Gradually the project gave birth to a free-touring boot that was expected to climb well and, above all, offer fun on the descent. We presented a first prototype to Chris Rubens and he told us, ‘It’s too light. We want it to really ski!’ So we designed a boot that really skis!
Many in the ski industry wondered what to expect from Salomon, the world leader in ski boots, when the company decided to enter the touring segment. Gaining in popularity each year, touring requires equipment that combines the lightness needed to climb up with a genuine alpine skiing construction for the descent. “We did not want to compromise,” recalls Paul-Eric Chamay, Salomon’s Marketing Product Manager for alpine ski boots. “And that is what the riders warned us about at the beginning of the project.”
Still, before the boot proves itself on the feet of Greg Hill, it took Pascal Pallatin and his team many months to create. “We started building a ski boot respecting the basic of ski racing with a last of 98 mm (width of the foot at the widest section),” Pallatin says. “Then we added the lightness and a locking/unlocking mechanism.” This (skiing to walking mode) system took 18 months to successfully create. “We knocked on the door of all Italian buckles specialists. All of them!” Pallatin says. “We tinkered a lot and finally the principle of an innovative side lock was validated that avoids the risk of accidental opening.”
The other important and innovative element of the shoe is the thinness of shell around the foot. “We worked on molds with an incredibly thin structure, yet we maintain a hardness that is three times our racing boot,” says Pallatin. This is where the challenge of industrial MTN Lab lies: inject thin plastic, overmol metal and add soft materials. “We had to re-think everything from the start,” he says. A free-touring boot is under much more stress than a classic alpine ski boot. It must be light but durable, be able to walk on stones without slipping, all while the foot inside is moving.
Once validated with mountain guides and Greg Hill, the MTN Lab boot needed a design to reveal its unique DNA. “We wondered how to synthesize freeride and hiking in the design? How to illustrate that hybridization,” explains Quentin Verhaeghe, Design Manager in Salomon’s Alpine division, while pointing at the multiple sketches and trend boards that inspired his work. “I wanted to think differently so I had a look at running shoes for anatomical approach.” The goal was to be able to read the shape of the foot, like a trainer, rather than having your shoe in a box, like classical racing ski. “In this way, we can showcase the industrial feat of refining the boot. We had to be simple and effective, in a textile way, much more than mechanical,” Verhaeghe says. “It is the fusion of two worlds.”