Salomon Advanced Week 2010

March 27, 2010 · Written by · Filed Under Business & Product News 
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This past week I had the great opportunity to attend an event that I had heard of before but never thought I would experience for myself: the Salomon Advanced Week. I few words, it’s a gathering of the athletes sponsored by Salomon (running athletes, that is), their engineers, marketing and community managers and specialized press, all coming from different countries to stay together for a week in southern France.

Bédoin (don’t forget the accent Gripmaster!) is a quiet village right at the foot of the Mount Ventoux, a 1,912 m (6,273 ft) mountain famous for being the scene of one of the most gruelling climbs in the Tour de France. That makes it a great place for the main purpose of the AW: runners testing apparel and shoes. This yearly event serves for the R&D team to bring their latest prototypes so runners can test them in real conditions and give valuable feedback. And the slopes of the Mont Ventoux makes for a perfect playground for this.

So, what’s it like a normal day at the AW?

For the runners: a morning and afternoon runs (sometimes even a pre-breakfast work out) on the trails around the area wearing a ton of new prototypes provided by the product development team. After each run, to give feedback on what was tested and then time for lots of catching up with friends, checking up email and writing on their blogs. Also, posing for many video and photo shoots for the press.

For the R&D team: in the morning, get every runner what they need for testing and keep working on prototypes. Then time to write down the different points of view from the runners on data sheets and discussing the improvements and special needs for each of them. At the end, try get all the prototypes back (not sure if that was accomplished even once…)

For the press: it’s all about scheduling interviews with runners, getting technical information from engineers, doing photo sessions and then putting it all together for their next article. Journalists (and bloggers) were also invited to join the athletes on their runs.

As for me, it was a very special opportunity to meet in person trail runners who are top athletes in their specialties (ranging from vertical kilometers to multi-day runs). To see again Kilian Jornet, to meet runners I already had contact with, like Devon Crosby-Helms or Ryan Sandes, and to get to know the Canadian and British squad at the “wine corner” was simply an amazing (and funny) pleasure. Ah yes, I forgot to say that it wasn’t all “work”… We even had an excellent night at a local wine vendor for a tasting of some delicious local products.

In terms of new products, the runners had the chance to put on many new prototypes of shoes. From new versions of the Speed Cross, to preliminary versions of the S-Lab 3, all with soles, grips, midsoles and stability additions. Some of those won’t even hit the market, as they might be ruled out or totally rebuild after the testing sessions. Other are simply exclusively made for each runner, to perfectly meet their needs. As per apparel, it was all down to a word: Exo. Tights, calves and arms of the runners were wrapped in new versions of this technology, together with brand new shirts and shorts.

There was also other gear that has already hit the market, or will do so very soon:
XT Advanced Skin 5 S-Lab: a pack which Jornet already wore as a prototype at last year’s UTMB. The pack stretches to form a flexible fit around the shoulders and upper torso, compressing the load without chaffing or restrictions.
XT Wings 2: new version of their most popular shoe. 10% lighter, it comes with ACS (Agile Chassis System), a three-component midsole that mimics the unique properties of the body (skeleton/control, muscle/cushioning and tendon/energy return). Check out this video presentation of the XT Wings 2.
XT Whisper 2: the latest shoe for women from Salomon comes with ACS 2 lite technology (new for 2010) and now provides 20% more stability but maintaining the featherweight properties.

But aside from checking out cool new stuff, I think the SAW is definitely a great idea. And I’m not just talking about the valuable benefits the brand takes out of it in terms of direct contribution to new products. Opening the event to media and bloggers gives it an added value which goes beyond Salomon. The triangle athletes-media-brand turns the event into some kind of incubator of ideas which benefits the sport in general. You can feel like a permanent brainstorming session going on, coming out of meetings, interviews, business card exchanges and informal chatting. When you put together so many passionate people under one roof, the seeds for new ideas are planted. And these ideas will keep trail running moving forward.

For those wondering who the 32 runners were, here’s the complete list: Jono Wyatt, Adam Chase, Matt Ward, Nikos Kalofyris, Samuel Bonaudo, Julien Chorier, Stephan Tasani, Stephan Repke, Kevin Johnson, Kilian Jornet, Caitlin Smith, Markus Kröll, Jen Segger, Stefanie Jiménez, Agustí Roc, Anna Frost, Didier Mussard, Gil Pintarelli, Christine Bénard, Chantal Bègue, Silvano Fedel, Devon Crosby-Helms, Thomas Lorblanchet, Bernd Weberhofer, Phil Villeneuve, Marco Gazzola, Andy Symons, Ricky Lightfoot, Nikos Kostopoulos, Ryan Sandes, Erik Ahlström, François D’Haene and Christophe Malardé.

P.S.: I forgot to say that I also had the chance to run a couple of times with a group of them. And I can tell you one thing: never try to follow the best mountain runners uphill with a video camera in one hand, a still camera in the other and a backpack with your laptop inside. Seriously, don’t make my mistake….

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