Recently, Salomon invited 150 accounts from North American and Europe to their facilities in Annecy, France to introduce the upcoming Salomon XR Crossmax Trail shoe. The RW crew left San Luis Obispo at 11:00 Saturday morning for the 45 minute flight to Los Angeles, then after a 3 hour layover we were off on the 11 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany. The flight over is never very much fun. You loose a day in transit, plus trying to sleep on the flight is pretty tough. Once in Frankfurt it was through customs, across a maze of corridors and tunnels to the gate for the final 60 minute flight from Frankfurt to Geneva, Switzerland. Once there a taxi driver holding a Salomon placard whisked us to our hotel 20 miles away in downtown Annecy.
Annecy itself is set in a beautiful location with the Alps a short distance away and Lake Annecy on the edge of the city. There are miles of dedicated bike paths, public parks, biking and running trails, rock climbing, and skiing available to the residents of Annecy right from their front door. To top it off, Annecy sports a downtown that looks like it was pulled directly from a post card. A great location for the outdoor enthusiast. Picturesque, lots of activities nearby, good restaurants and neat shops. It’s not very hard to understand why a large percentage of Paris residents vacation here.
After unpacking, I phoned Jeff Dill who heads trail shoe development and trail shoe marketing for Salomon, he lives a few blocks from where we were staying. We met Jeff at a large park adjacent to Lake Annecy. Jeff gave us a tour of town explaining that Lake Annecy is the cleanest alpine lake in Europe which was as advertised, crystal clear. He pointed to a castle along the lake in the distance where the St. Bernard dog was originally bred. St. Bernard is the patron Saint of climbers which makes more sense once you see the mountains and the vast network of rock climbing opportunities nearby. Jeff walked us through the neat downtown area pointing out some of the sites. He then got a call from some friends who work at Mavic that were going on a mountain bike ride and he was off to join them. A few hours later we joined back up with Jeff at a small restaurant along the river the wound through town and had some pizza followed by ice cream which sounds kind of weird being in France, but then you realize Milan, Italy is just 30 miles away and pizza in France seemed perfectly natural.
The opening session was held the next day at Les Tresoms hotel which is a very nice regal European Hotel complete with sweeping views of the lake and town below. It was interesting seeing the large group of nearly 200 people co-mingling with others from the same country and pretty much staying clear of those from other countries. Our group of 15 or so Americans did our part by sticking close to each other. Once seated we listened about the philosophy of the company, future plans and saw how closely Salomon works with their top athletes. They did a Q&A on stage with world champions Thomas Lorblanchet and Jonathan Wyatt which was pretty cool. After this it was out on the deck for hors d’oeuvres and sangria.
The next morning found our group at the Salomon headquarters touring the facility and attending eight 30 minute workshops that showcased their new footwear and apparel plus their design and testing facilities. A nice workshop took place in the lab where key product development people produce spec footwear and apparel designed specifically for the needs of a particular athlete based on input from that athlete. They then have the athlete test the design to see how it performs. If it works as intended, they try to incorporate the technology into upcoming lines of product designed for the general consumer. Jeff mentioned it was a very European way of doing things, similar in concept to Formula 1 racing. It was really surprising to see how much input Salomon takes from their athletes and the fact they actually incorporate the suggestions into product the consumer can purchase was enlightening. I have seen other companies take input from their sponsored athletes, but not incorporate the features into actual production to the extent that Salomon does.
The final meeting before lunch was with Jeff who took us through the introduction of their new trail shoe, the Salomon XR Crossmax. Currently Salomon has 2 main silo’s of trail product for most consumers. XA product, which are shoes designed for pretty extreme trail running and hiking on very loose, uneven terrain. The second silo are XT products, those intended for general trail running applications. Additionally, Salomon has the S-Lab and Speedcross product, but these are seen as highly technical product designed for competition and not for the general consumer as the XA and XT are.
The new XR is a third silo designed specifically for the type of trail running many tend to do, which involves running a few miles of road to get to the trails which are not too aggressive, usually fire roads. Salomon sees this as the next big area of growth in not just trail running, but the entire industry. Salomon sees the future influence similar to how mountain bikes or SUV’s affected their respective industries, hybrid products that turn out to be very popular.
The XR Crossmax currently includes 2 models, a neutral and support versions. The lineup is similar to the original adidas Equipment models that were introduced in the mid 90’s, shoes with very similar graphics but designs that differed based on the needs of runner wearing the shoe. In the case of the XR, the support version sports a straighter last, a medial post and more significant overlays on the medial side of the upper to help with support. The upper itself is made of a fairly flexible material that includes a honeycomb EXO type fabric used in their compression apparel across the forefoot to help snug up the fit. This also ties in nicely with the Salomon apparel which is a bonus. The neutral version has a more curved last, lacks the medial post and does away with the extra overlays on the medial side
After Jeff’s presentation, it was off to lunch which consisted of a salad, a large steak, potatoes and red wine. For desert is was a nice apple tart followed by a cappuccino. After lunch we boarded a bus and were taken a few miles out of town to a neat grass park in the mountains to test the XR and EXO Sensifit compression product on the nearby trails. Pretty surprising that the lunch a short time earlier didn’t affect people much at all. The product performed very well.
After product testing it was back to the Salomon headquarters for showers and another bus ride around the lake to a very nice restaurant that sat directly alongside the lake. We enjoyed a great dinner including some lively conversations with the other US accounts about significant and not so significant running shoes from previous eras, plus Jeff gave us a sneak peek into his bags of tricks of upcoming concepts he’s working on. A great end to a very nice day.
The next morning we were up early for the next leg of the journey which was back home for most. A short, but thoroughly enjoyable trip. It is fascinating to visit companies headquarters, particularly in different countries because you are given an opportunity to see the effect the surrounding culture and area have on the end product. Salomon is located in such a great outdoor area with a long history of testing and retesting their products in the exact environment they are intended for. Salomon reiterated time and again that they are exclusively a trail running brand with zero intentions of being anything else. This made a lot of sense. Most every run they do is on some sort of trail but they need to run a few kilos of roads to get there. The new Salomon XR Crossmax fills this need nicely and looks promising. It could very well open up the Salomon line up of top quality trail shoes to an even wider audience which is certainly the intent given the investment the brand made in bringing nearly 200 people from the US and Europe to their headquarters in France. We wish them the best.