Rosti Prep, then Fritschi Factory Visit


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Fritschi backcountry skiing.
We’re still in a crumby weather pattern here in Switzerland. That’s not stopping us, but we’re not able to do the big lines and glacier tours one would like to grab for the ultimate Europe trip. Even so, we’re still getting out almost every day on some sort of ski tour.

Yesterday was a rest day, however, so we visited the Fritschi factory here in Frutigen then checked out some old castles and churches. Needing our full energy and brain power, we started the day off right (with some rosti, as pictured above) and headed down the road to see Stefan Burki, the Fritschi PR guy we’d set up a meet with.

European backcountry skiing.
The Fritschi offices and assembly plant are housed in an obvious modern looking building you see on the way into the Frutigen/Adelboden area. The feeling of the place is about as Swiss modern as you can imagine, with all sorts of shiny metal highlights, lots of glass, plenty of space — and very clean desks.

European backcountry skiing.
Fritschi is about ski touring bindings, with diversions into snowboard bindings at one point (which sold well and led to the creation of the Diamir series), and a foray into forward thinking “carving” bindings that sold well for a period and gave the company a nice income injection that’s helped them keep their whole operation top notch. Photo above, Louie checks out the carving bindings in a historical product display.

European backcountry skiing.
The company is owned by two middle aged brothers, Andreas and Christian Fritschi. Christian took up painting a few years ago and they’ve got his work on display in the building. It’s some great looking canvas, and gives you a glimpse into how the creative side is probably always present in running a successful company.

European backcountry skiing.
Stefan took us into their warehouse, stacked high with parts ready for assembly. In photo above we’re checking out the bar which connects binding toe and heel units.

Fritschi bindings are made with 70 pieces from more than 40 suppliers. All but a few screws are custom designed and specially made just for the binding.

It was somewhat of an understatement when Stefan mentioned is was tough getting everything on hand to make bindings, not to mention the constant quality control having all those suppliers requires. When you see what it takes to make one ski binding, you really wonder how they make a car. More, consider that a binding doesn’t really cost much more than a good quality shell jacket and pants combo, but is much more difficult to make, not to mention insure and test.

European backcountry skiing.
Check out some of the machinery, above is a device that paints graphics on the binding. Below is a DIN release checker. Every binding is placed in this checker, which then does both lateral and vertical release and records the results along with the binding serial number. I like the concept, but when so many people just buy the bindings and crank the DIN up to 10, it makes you wonder if this amount of attention is really necessary. It probably is for the insurance, if nothing else.



Stefan and I got to talking numbers and discussing the future of backcountry skiing gear. He said that the total number of AT bindings sold in a year (for all brands) is about 120,000. Most in Europe of course, with North America buying about the same number of units as an EU country such as Austria or France.

Most of our conversation was about how binding buyers these days don’t depend near as much on getting service from a dealer, especially those customers in North America who are buying mail order.

This situation a tough deal for traditional gear makers such as Fritschi, as their whole warranty and quality control system is predicated on the binding being mounted and adjusted properly. My opinion is that we’re never going back to the dealer system and that binding makers need to get creative and figure out how to provide end users with bindings that are easy to mount and adjust, and that third-party information providers (otherwise known as publishers) can fill in the gaps (the way we’re trying to do here on WildSnow.com.)

More, I suggest that the AT binding and boot makers get on the case with their standards. For example, the toe portion of the AT boot sole needs to be standardized so it’s safer with various AFD designs and easier for the customer to adjust the binding for. Beyond that, we probably need to do away with using the medieval technology of wood screws to attach bindings to skis (despite this being Europe, where midieval technology is an honored part of the culture).

But changing and letting go of all that stuff is a tough pill to swallow. Meanwhile, we humans are a crafty lot and seem to keep our AT bindings working despite all challenges.

European backcountry skiing.
Oh, and after all that earthly stuff, it was nice to visit a 1,300 year old church and castle just down the road in Spiez. That’s me above, pondering the cosmos.

Comments

5 Responses to “Rosti Prep, then Fritschi Factory Visit”

  1. Dongshow March 27th, 2008 12:47 pm

    have to say i’m pretty surprised how few AT bindings are actually sold. The size of the european ski industry never ceases to amaze me. That Fritschi considers France and Austria bigger markets then the United States, when the US population is 5 or 37 times the size of those two countries respectively. Just goes to show we need to get more people skiing, although im usually the first to complain about over crowding.

    Interesting take on the future of the ski industry. I definetly see it moving away from dealer based like you said Lou, but I can’t really see the average skier mounting skis anytime soon. I think certain ski shop functions will persist for quite some time. The more advanced skier has always been able to adjust bindings, and I do agree that the whole mounting system is quite the scam. Why can’t i have inserts put in so I can use one pair of bindings across 3 pairs of skis.

    great article though, as I’m an ardent lover of fritschis that was really a great read. would love to hear what everyone else thinks about the future of the industry.

    http://www.dongshow-productions.com

  2. Mark B March 27th, 2008 9:08 pm

    Dongshow

    I believe Blizzard came out with a binding attachment set-up that allows the attachment of standard Marker bindings, The Marker Duke (if that’s your BC binding of choice) and they just introduced an insert that will attach to the binding rail that will allow a telemark binding to be attached. I don’t how it performs but I did think it is the direction things are going to eventually go.

    Mark B

  3. Matus (Euro) March 28th, 2008 4:06 am

    Lou, did you mention Dynafit to Fritchi guys? Or is this word on a black list there? :) How do they look on light is right and your tests of bindings where Dynafit is the winner.

  4. AJ March 28th, 2008 5:48 am

    Hi Matus,

    To the Swiss a Swiss product is best :-)

    No point in mentioning Dynafit. Their reaction will be that a Fritschi Explore is very light (and very Swiss), I presume.

    If you want to lighten the load Swiss-style you have to drill some holes in your boots until they look like Emmentaler cheese :-)

  5. Lou March 28th, 2008 10:10 am

    When in Switzerland we suddenly are wearing Fritschi T-shirts and hats, though we had to be careful pulling out of the Fritschi parking area due to the Dynafit logo on the back of Fritz’s car.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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