|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.
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.
|Check out some of the machinery, above is a device that paints graphics on the binding. 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.
|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.|