Issue 2 | The Bird Blog - Arc'teryx

Issue No. 2 // The Uptrack

Editorial // by Jill Macdonald

THE UPTRACK

Snow falls. So thickly and heavily that the windshield wipers can’t keep up. Cleared on the glass is a wedge shaped view of the world. On the uptrack, freshly cut edges fall inward and an hour from now there will be nothing more than a suggestion of someone having walked through here. The line becomes a buried curve on the landscape, something that could easily have been caused by wind.
What is it we think about as we wind our way over untracked slopes, in search of something that we know is fleeting. Do we seek privacy and sublime beauty, A Pocket for the Soul, or is there a subconscious urge to blaze brightly in case someone is watching. With advances in technology, pressures on time, and the rise of weekend backcountry experts, the uptrack has become an art form that bears some reflection.
Back in the day, the old world, old school philosophy was to find the most beautiful route up. It was important to work with the terrain, to not overly stress the body and to capture the best views. With the invention of fat skis, the art of the uptrack has taken a serious hit. Suddenly it is possible to walk straight up a hillside, regardless of safety, efficiency, or any concept of surrounding beauty. Macho, one could say.
An uptrack that is effortless does not call attention to itself. The mastery of dedicated craftsmanship is to make a difficult task seem easy. Take James Bond for instance. Like all Real Men, the world’s top secret agent knows that he relies on the inventions of MI5’s Division Q to get him through tough situations. A little understatement goes a long way and besides, it’s just not sexy to Always Sleep with a Knife.
To be fair, ski turns yesterday required more muscle, but they also had more hips. Artfulness is what we discover in the backcountry. From Forest to Fall Line, we translate one form of energy into another. Instead of being slaves to achievement, we can emulate the King of Storms and make the most of what we are given.
The uptrack is a time to reflect on who we are and where we are going. To step even slightly off the grid is an opportunity to explore territory that reaches As Far as the I Can See.

BACKCOUNTRY: A POCKET FOR THE SOUL

Under the diffuse light of winter, wrapped in private thoughts and completely out of touch with the rest of the world, a person can drive for long periods of time in North America and be the only car on the road.

MEET THE REAL MEN AT ARC'TERYX: DIVISION Q

What you are about to read is the nuts and bolts that keep the Arc’teryx machine from becoming a caterpillar with one too many legs. Without this Division there would be a lot more carnage.

"On some level, each person skis alone."
Culture, Skiing, Exploration // by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Baschi Bender

BACKCOUNTRY: A POCKET FOR THE SOUL

THE CAST
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    STIAN HAGEN

    Stian Hagen grew up in Oslo, Norway. He competed in cross-country skiing and ski-jumping up to the age of sixteen before he decided that he wanted to pursue what was then known as extreme skiing. At the age of eighteen, he moved to Chamonix and quickly ticked off the classic extreme skiing lines, including the Mallory route on the north face of Aiguille du Midi and the East face of Matterhorn.

    Read Stian’s Bio
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    CHRISTINA LUSTENBERGER

    Born and raised in Invermere BC, Christina started skiing at the age of two. Eventually joining the ski-racing program when she was old enough, it was all progression from there. Competing on the Canadian Alpine Ski Team for six years, achieving top 10 World Cup results, and competing in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games were some of the highlights of her racing career.

    Read Christina’s Bio
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    PAOLO MARAZZI

    Paolo Marazzi grew up in a small town near Como Lake, Italy where he was introduced to skiing, hiking and climbing as a young child. Now, as an adult Paolo spends his time looking for big dumps of snow to ski in the Alps. His passion is telemark skiiing, and he has been competing in the ski event circuit in Italy for over two years.

    Read Paolo’s Bio
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    HANNA FINKEL

    Born to parents who were both ski instructors, Hanna didn't have a choice when her father first put her on a plastic pair of skis at the age of 3. Going the way of a classic alpine ski racer until the age of 18, Hanna eventually developed a taste for adventure and started venturing on high alpine skitouring and freeride trips in the Suisse Alps, the Dolomites, Austria, France and the Bavarian Alps.

    Read Hanna’s Bio
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    CONNY ZAMERNICK

    Telemark and ski alpinism has been Conny's primary focus for more than 10 years. Touring the worlds most remote areas and many classic steep skiing descents throughout the alps, has turned what started as a hobby, into a way of life. Her true passion belongs to the winter days in her home village of St. Anton am Arlberg, where almost every day she can be found in the mountains.

    Read Conny’s Bio
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    GIAN LUCK

    Gian was born in 1982 in Chur, Switzerland. The son of a Swiss mountain guide, he started skiing and climbing at a very early age. Accompanied by his father, Gian's first skitour and classic multipitch tour, was accomplished when just 6 years old. By the age of 9 he started snowboarding, which still remains as his passion today.

    Read Gian’s Bio
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    PETER GUYAN

    Peter was born in 1976, started skiing when he was 3 years old and climbing at age 10 with his brother on a Rock in Haldenstein, Chur, Switzerland. Now residing in Trin Mulin, Graubünden, Switzerland with his wife and two children, Peter works as a profession Mountain Guide, Ski Instructor, Paragliding Pilot and Canyoning guide.

    Read Peter’s Bio
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    DAVID SANABRIA

    Born in the small Valley of Aran in the North Pyranese, David spent his childhood surrounded by mountains. His father, a professional mountain guide, David and his brothers spent their days skiing in the winter and walking in the summer. After passing through the snowboard phase for a while, David got his first fat skis and has never looked back.

    Read David’s Bio
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    JACOB SLOT

    acob Slot's telemarking exploits have taken him to some of the most remote spots on the planet. He has skied major mountains in South America, Greenland, Spitsbergen, Japan and has numerous first descents throughout the Alps. He aims to keep pushing the boundaries of ski-mountaineering and continue exploring the world's most isolated mountain regions.

    Read Jacob’s Bio

Under the diffuse light of winter, wrapped in private thoughts and completely out of touch with the rest of the world, a person can drive for long periods of time in North America and be the only car on the road. In the Swiss Alps, where civilization reaches to mountain tops and cell service is rarely out of range, this is not what one expects to find. But it is possible.

The Vereina Valley is just minutes from Davos and one of the biggest ski resorts in Switzerland. A popular hiking destination during the summer, during the winter months this valley has been the private cache of mountain guide and shepherd, Peter Guyan. Last spring, Peter was asked to guide an international group of Arc’teryx athletes into his backyard plot of untracked north faces and couloirs. The trip was to unify the team, get some great visuals and to seek out a universal language behind the draw to go backcountry touring.

The word remote implies distance; a lack of connection, an unlikely occurrence. By European standards, many of the places North Americans call home are remote. By the same token however, the Alps have critically vertical and intense conditions that cannot be defined as civilized. Perspective is everything.

THE SETTING
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Rosställispitz, Gorihorn, Plattenhörner, Unghürrhörner, Roggenhorn

Peter first explored this valley while working as a farm hand on the mountain pastures. Amazed by the area’s vast ski touring potential, he wondered why it was ignored by backcountry skiers. Within striking distance of town, the area offered classic routes and a long list of opportunities for first descents. Miracles were harder to come by. So he studied the maps, he found the access and for ten years, Peter quietly skied a private, untracked mountain valley in the middle of Switzerland. And no one disturbed him.


There is a fascination with history for me. How did this valley escape discovery?

JACOB SLOT

Skiers are similar in their love for speed and motion, but what they consider familiar can differ dramatically. One person’s backyard may be vast, buckled and formidable; another’s is calm steep trees. There is nothing that says backcountry terrain is necessarily quiet, unpopulated or remote. As the group gathered to begin their journey, within each individual was anticipation – for the unknown, for powder – but also for something private. Be it a form of solitude, being humbled by the scale and forces of nature, or a need for loneliness and absolute quiet. On some level, each person skis alone.
The trip began at low elevation in rain. Peter’s access made use of a steep, volatile gulley, with a clear tendency to unleash huge wet avalanches. Metres of frozen debris made travel slow. The heavily loaded group negotiated the terrain in a cautiously spaced train, thoughts concentrated on the task at hand. They would be winter camping for a couple of days, making use of the shepherd’s refuge at 2000m only for cooking and route planning.


Skiing in powder is like – 'pouf', everything else disappears. Your life is just in this moment.

PAOLO MARAZZI

For some this degree of rusticity was normal. Others found it a challenge to be disconnected from any visible reminders of home. Storm clouds rose and fell; spectacular mountains appeared and were shrouded again.
Christina Lustenberger: “Right away I felt small and disorientated in such a hectic steep place.” Jacob Slot: “There is a fascination with history for me. How did this valley escape discovery.” For David Sanabria, from Spain, everything was new.
Morning dawned on Rosställispitz, the Unghürrhörner, the Plattenhörner, Gorihorn and Roggenhorn, fresh with 10cm of new snow. Peter divided the group into small, safe units. Tracks lead off in all directions.
Hanna Finkel: “My backyard is trees and big mountains. This trip was different for me because it was Peter’s backyard. I didn’t have to be concerned about finding the way.”

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Keeping warm.

Out of sight from each other, the landscape easily absorbed them all. There was very little to mark their existence. Within each person was the challenge of something different than their usual, yet it was balanced with the essence of what backcountry means – freedom, the opportunity to play with a landscape and have all things mental and physical come together into one smooth ride.
Christina: “Once gaining my bearings, and with these like-minded people, I started to embrace the steepness and the exposure.” She and Stian Hagen traveled across the valley to ski some epic couloirs. Paolo Marazzi: “Skiing in powder is like – ‘pouf’, everything else disappears. Your life is just in this moment.”
All members of this group grew up in the mountains. They know this lifestyle more than any other way of being. A day of touring was like a pocket for the soul. And although skiers are headed out of bounds in unprecedented numbers, if you were to ask Peter if he was worried about the word getting out on his backyard stash, Peter would laugh and have these three words to say; “People are lazy.”


Once gaining my bearings, and with these like-minded people, I started to embrace the steepness and the exposure.

CHRISTINA LUSTENBERGER

Stepping off into the backcountry brings each person face to face with an interior challenge: how far is far enough. Is it important to see people or is peace found in knowing that not another soul will disturb your meditation. How much are you willing to unplug.
The route into the Vereina Valley is steep and intimidating. It’s both remote and close by, a sort of parallel existence. Stian Hagen: “I live and ski in one of the busiest valleys of the Alps, so it was incredibly refreshing to visit one of the quiet corners of this mountain range. Very few places in the Alps can you spend 3 days ski touring in excellent terrain and conditions without seeing anyone.”
There are as many draws to backcountry touring as there are people who venture off the beaten path. This group shared a common bond as skiers first, adventurers second. They were united by snow and open to wherever that took them. On the last day, Peter assumed the lead, choosing a route with a long ride out. Skiers’ silhouettes bounced and turned through pillows in separate white clouds of light and motion, completing a circuit that had little to do with distance and much to do with journey.

Special thanks to Totti Lingott and Kay Helfricht (AlpS) for their contirutions.

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'This is the dream job that I never dreamed existed."
Research and Development // by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Brian Goldstone

MEET THE REAL MEN AT ARC'TERYX: DIVISION Q

What you are about to read is the nuts and bolts that keep the Arc’teryx machine from becoming a caterpillar with one too many legs. Without this Division there would be a lot more carnage. Scrapped designs, abandoned projects and rusted, partially-made manufacturing tools would be sitting out in the junkyard. Meet Division Q: Chris Woollard, Billy Parks and Patrick Fitzsimmons, with factory team members Bill Tso and longtime ninja, Dave Gardiner. The real men at Arc’teryx.

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From left: Billy Parks, Chris Woollard and Patrick Fitzsimmons at the Arc'teryx Design Centre in North Vancouver, BC.

Make something out of materials that don’t exist, with machines that don’t exist and then figure out how to mass produce it – this is the mandate for Division Q. Their mission is to help ideas become realities.

“This is the dream job that I never dreamed existed.” In the shop at Head Office, Chris is honest about how he ended up at Arc’teryx and his story includes beating out a Honda engineer for the position – probably because of his background in bikes and not being tied to a particular system of thinking. As the lights go out and shadows fill in, there is a sensation of reverence and anticipation. What emanates is passion: a passion for product, for making the coolest shit out there. Pushing the limits of materials and machinery, making components and tools and then taking them over to the factory and seeing how it’s integrated into the flow. That is the manifestation of higher level thinking into something that people will notice the first the time they use an Arc’teryx product. The experience is so unique and liberating that they soon forget what they are wearing and just enjoy what they are doing. That is the goal. Let’s admit it; James Bond is only who he is because of the gadgets.

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From left: Dave Gardiner and Bill Tso at the Arc'teryx Factory in Burnaby, BC.

There are a couple of ways that designs end up in the shop. Ideally, Chris is involved at the conceptual stage, where collaboration between designer and machine expert streamlines the process of making a product efficient. Each person brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and where those worlds meet is where the magic happens. Chris can contribute structural concepts into the design from a manufacturing perspective. Similarly, Dave and Bill’s team at the factory brings a vision from the assembly floor, contributing feedback from process into the design loop. Once all of the input cycles through, a beautiful product emerges, true to a primary Arc’teryx value of craftsmanship. Minimalism is the simple expression of a complex thought.

However, the ideal meets reality only part of the time. Arc’teryx is a busy, inventive place and sometimes projects arrive breathless. A product that is ready for production comes with an urgent need to create a manufacturing tool within a short time frame. Chris and his team pool together their resources and brainstorm solutions.

The first step is to conceptualize what is needed. It may be a component and then a tool, or maybe it’s a process of binding one material to another; this team is quick in their minds and light on their feet. Of Billy, Chris confidently states; “He is one of the most talented guys I have worked with. He’s hands-on but he recognizes the higher level ideas within the process.” That’s high praise. From one astute person to another, the bonds here extend beyond professional respect. “Patrick is our sensei. He is keen, positive and will do anything for anyone – which I sometimes have to shut down.” Yes, guys in shops are handy and in one way or another they are all about making things work, small metal parts and the laws of physics. Three more reasons behind their ability to constantly think outside of any box.

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For inspiration, there are previous inventions and a variety of machines around the shop: the drop tower; bending tools; welding equipment; lathes; and an industrial pizza oven (it’s not for making lunch). Sometimes ideas arrive in the middle of a bike ride. Other times the solution is an accident, a random association that leads to discovery. If all else proves futile, they call on resources from other industries. The bike business is an obvious connection, but their circle has great reach. As Chris says; “One of our go-to guys is a dentist, who is also a machinist.”
How cool is that? It’s pretty damn cool. Teeth, bikes, commercial kitchens – there is a lot more to the Arc’teryx shop than the casual passerby might imagine. But does it qualify as a man-cave; can we go that far in our description. The space is neat, the tools are organized; it looks well used and well loved. So in one sense, yes, it is a man cave. These tools are cherry picked and fit an engineer’s list of dream machines. There are favourite projects stacked on the top shelves and lots of afterhours tinkering that goes on, but really the shop is a place of work.
What many people don’t realize is that although it is possible to make one of anything, making ten is more difficult and hundreds is an even larger challenge. Aside from the costs of intensive labour, a one-off pattern, and one-off components and/or tools, there is the need to replicate exactly what was achieved the first time around. This is where the caterpillar can find itself with too many legs. To the team’s credit, there has not been an impossible scenario, no product that has died because it couldn’t be made commercially viable. “We are limited by the size of the tools we can build, but usually it doesn’t come to that. We’ll find an alternate path.” Without revealing any company secrets, what they do is extremely resourceful.

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One of the greatest cachets to the Arc’teryx process is having its own factory within the product development loop. Division Q visits the Vancouver facility regularly, conferring with Dave and Bill, talking to operators and putting together equations that make the most sense. For any product that requires custom tooling, those tools are made here and if required, someone from the team will travel to install and train operators elsewhere on how to use them. The right equipment and the right method are that important.

This is something Dave knows well. He arrives at the factory early each morning to enjoy a few moments of quiet. Dave likes to reflect on the many years he has been here, his goals for the day and how hard it is to greet his coworkers with a flawless ‘Josan,’ which is the Cantonese equivalent of ‘Good Morning’. “They always laugh at me,” he says with a grin. “But at least I try.”

There is nothing stereotypical about this place. The layout reflects the factory philosophy, which is one of efficiency and teamwork. Instead of individual tasks, the floor is organized in assembly stations, where a single operator completes several steps and at the end of the day there is a certain quota of finished products. It’s a holistic approach that is challenging and requires a high level of skill. But ultimately, it rewards the people involved with a true sense of accomplishment, contribution and participation on a team. White lines on the concrete indicate walkways and everywhere are banners and symbols of personalized work stations. It feels somewhat like home.

If there is one thing to take away from this experience, it is product excellence. Dave looks forward to the next wacky challenge coming his way and watching his team of operators learn and excel at making it happen. Being on the cutting edge of what Arc’teryx is doing and watching ideas come alive is really rewarding.

Chris locks up the shop. A red glow from the security camera lights up a sign on the door. No IKEA requests.

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