LOWA PRO team meets the LOWA devel­opment team

The first athletes’ workshop in Jetzendorf

The end of November 2015 in Jetzendorf. The crème de la crème of the German-speaking moun­tain­eering community got together with the entire LOWA devel­opment team. The complete climbing lineup at the athletes’ feedback meeting, the very first time that all members of the world-class PRO team had ever assembled together in one room.

Concen­trated expertise

LOWA’s devel­opment specialists from the team of LOWA Managing Director Alex Nicolai entered this meeting with the true stars of the moun­tain­eering world full of excitement and anti­cipation: Ines Papert, Alix von Melle, Hans Kammer­lander, Stefan Gowacz, David Göttler, Rudi Hauser and Luis Stitzinger. The lineup was a true who’s who of the moun­tain­eering elite.

The meeting was moderated by Arthur Kudelka, an exper­ienced Alpinist who has also taken on some of the world’s highest mountains himself. At LOWA, he is responsible for supporting the athletes and is an expert in the brand’s products as Head of the Service Department.

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The head of the company, Werner Riethmann, also attended the meeting and knows each of the athletes personally. After all, he is the one who selected the indi­viduals whose extraordinary adventures the brand supports and who become members of the LOWA PRO team. But membership in the LOWA PRO team revolves around something more than financial and material support. It also involves profes­sional collab­oration. This meeting was a key part of this working rela­tionship.

Questions and answers

Werner Riethmann and the LOWA devel­opment team primarily wanted to act as ques­tioners and listeners during the meeting. But the company head made clear at the start of the meeting that not every wish expressed by the athletes could be incor­porated directly into the product. As he noted, the ultimate aim was to develop products that were to be sold in the marketplace. The company lives off of these sales and can also afford the “hobby” of extreme sports as a result, Werner Riethmann noted.

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The meeting then got into full swing. Alex Nicolai and the athletes got right down to business: product feedback. The focal products were naturally the profes­sional models EXPEDITION 8000 EVO RD and EXPEDITION 6000 EVO RD, LATOK and ICE COMP. The devel­opment team listened closely to the comments made by the athletes. They metic­u­lously wrote down the praise and suggestions offered by the athletes. The moun­taineers discussed the topic very intensely with one another. It became clear that the ice climbing pros had a different set of priorities than the members of the rock and moun­tain­eering group. At this point, Arthur Kudelka noted: “We won’t be able to come up with an egg-laying, milk-producing woolen sow.” And Alex Nicolai pointed to the limit­ations that boot design faced in this or that area.

Every detail counts

Nonetheless, it was obvious that the profes­sional athletes had delved very deeply into the details of the products and evaluated them. The developers nodded their heads over and over again, took notes and quietly commented on the things they were hearing. You could see that the group was intensely analysing the feedback and thinking about how to turn it into a reality.

Image photo with the EXPEDITION 8000 EVO RD, Ralf Dujmovits Fotos unterwegs

“In my view it’s the warmest in the eight-thou­sander footwear league. A specialist that has been optimised over the course of many years for tackling eight-thou­sanders like Mount McKinley or for Antarctic exped­itions.”

Ralf Dujmovits | LOWA PRO Team

Mt. Everest, Nepal, Tibet

“My perfect companion on all five- and six-thou­sanders! Light, warm and precise, it also copes with the toughest requirements.”

Luis Stitzinger | LOWA PRO Team

The feedback meeting turned into a constructive discussion about ways to optimise indi­vidual features and models. Praise was certainly not in short supply either. “The boots are already really good, ” Hans Kammer­lander said several times in his own deliberate way. But one theme ran through all discussions about all profes­sional models: the desire for less weight. This was the top priority for the athletes. But, as Rudi Hauser noted, “it’s obvious that you can’t cut any corners when it comes to quality, reli­ability and insu­lation.” The moun­taineers offered a few of their own improvement suggestions and asked Alex Nicolai and his team where they thought potential could be found. The discussions were conducted among equals. Both groups understood that everybody was working with real profes­sionals.

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David Göttler told the group about a customised boot that he had used during the past summer, a boot made by hand by a modeller and was not in the product lineup as a result. He expressed his total enthusiasm about the boot, offered a few ideas and passed it around the group of experts assembled in Jetzendorf. Once again, the group collectively nodded their heads and offered enthu­siastic comments. “Such a boot is definitely missing in the collection, ” Ines Papert said. All members of the LOWA PRO team agreed with her.

The discussion then turned to the features of the footwear, including design ideas. Alex Nicolai and Werner Riethmann spoke up here and stressed the commercial aspects of the products once again. By the end of the day, one thing was clear: A new project group had been set up to explore the idea of developing this new boot. The idea created in the feedback meeting was to be imple­mented, poten­tially with two models: a very special profes­sional version that would be made much more painstakingly by hand and a somewhat broader version for normal moun­tain­eering fans that would be mass produced.

From the drawing board to devel­opment

This entire discussion clearly showed once again just how helpful it can be if a company has short decision-making processes on the one hand. And its own trained modellers, qualified shoe­makers and the required equipment directly at the company on the other hand.

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The new model was not the only specific result of the day. The devel­opment team left it with a stack of homework to be done in their offices and workshops. Two specific areas were: ways to reduce weight and to strengthen the material at sensitive points of the footwear that were revealed during extreme use. The weight of some areas could be reduced for one reason: Experience had shown that certain features were unne­cessary because they showed no signs of wear even when subjected to the most severe conditions.

Reversed roles

It was now time for the athletes to do the listening. Alex Nicolai told the PRO team about a new project that the company was working on. The focus was on the vision of a new Alpine boot. Everything rethought: fit, sole design, cush­ioning, soles, protection, look and weight. The only thing that was not up for debate was the LOWA DNA. The PRO team was really impressed. The athletes saw that this vision, which also included an initial prototype, had already incor­porated many of their ideas.

Alex Nicolai urged the profes­sional climbers to help with the devel­opment work and to express their ideas and thoughts. The eyes of the moun­tain­eering stars gleamed, reflecting their will­ingness to help out.

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Success through repe­tition

This meeting was to become a regular event. LOWA wanted to tap the know-how of its PRO teams even more deeply in future. Speaking on the athletes’ behalf, Stefan Glowacz said:

DSC_3812.NEF Expedition Grönland Mann Philipp Hans Stefan Glowacz Thomas Ulrich

“We, the members of the PRO team, want to make an even bigger contri­bution to LOWA in future and be even better LOWA ambas­sadors.”

Stefan Glowacz | LOWA PRO Team

Their true desire is to give back to the company and Werner Riethmann those things that enable them to live their dreams. Dreams that ulti­mately end up in the footwear produced by LOWA. Those things that the profes­sionals need to carry out their adventures will later be introduced into the models designed for us, the normal friends of outdoor and mountain sports. This is why the PRO team makes such good sense.