Trab Factory Visit – Bormio Italy

Post by blogger | March 18, 2009      
Ski Trab factory visit, Italy.

Not everything has to be made by robots in China. Take Ski Trab for example. I enjoyed an extensive Ski Trab factory tour while in Europe this past January (as well as being guided by Trab on a World Cup randonnee race spectating jaunt). Trab was founded by and is still owned by the Trabucchi family, hence the name. They’ve been hand crafting skis for more than sixty years, and are known for innovations such as perfecting fiberglass skis and refining the use of honeycomb core material, not to mention so many rando race podium finishes they’ve lost count.

Trab’s factory is located in Bormio, Italy, gateway to a vast region of big mountains known for their randonnee racing culture as well as features such as Passo Stelvio’s 57 road switchbacks, which form the hardest leg of the Giro D’Italia bicycle race. Perhaps most importantly to the essence of Trab skis, Bormio is a functional admixture of the old and new. The core village is still a medieval cluster of impossibly narrow streets and dark stone buildings with earthy characters leaning against exterior walls smoking hand rolled cigs, while in outlying areas you’ll find everything from modern ski resorts — to, yes, state-of-art ski factories.

Retail showroom is the first thing you see when you visit.

Retail showroom is the first thing you see when you visit.

I arrived for my two day visit in the evening. Trab was still going strong with retail; co-owner Adriano ringing up a couple of customers who sported nice new Trab skis graced with Dynafit and ATK bindings. What struck me the most was how the retail and factory were snuggled together in a nice looking building with the trad look of a traditional farm house. It’s hard to imagine a complete ski factory on the premises, but it is there.

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You have to admit Italians do have an amazing sense for design. A whole corner of the Trab showroom is devoted to this tasty history display, replete with an old woodworking bench, leather boots and the essential pair of hand crafted woodies.

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Adriano and Daniele Trabucchi start the factory tour in front of their history display. Adriano handles more of the marketing side, with Daniele hands-on in the factory. You could tell both guys were maxed out trying to run their own business -- a worldwide phenomena that's not unique to our neck of the woods. Stress, it's the universal unifier? All I could think was, yeah, Italians do take the whole month of August off, but they make up for it the other eleven months.

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Trab's software is state-of-art, same stuff as used by companies such as General Motors.

What strikes you about the Trab factory is indeed their the mix of old and new. They’ve got aproned and gloved layup craftsman hand-assembling skis just down the hall from here, but the Unigraphics software living on their computer system is state of art. Screen above shows the process of computer designing a ski mold, which is then monoblock machined out of a solid chunk of steel — on the premises.

The molds end up costing around $10,000 each, so they don’t pump ’em out willy nilly. But the cool thing is these guys can spend however long they choose to design a ski, then with the click of a mouse have a mold made and be baking prototypes before their next espresso. Along with that, they’ve got 50 years worth of measurements and tests incorporated into the software. They’re not just designing the latest and greatest, but rather continuing a methodical and incremental process that gets proven results. What’s more, with such sophisticated software Trab can play around with designing cool things such as integrated skin attachments systems.

The computers help with weight control as well. The exact mass of materials and layers is programmed in, so weight can be easily tuned by material choices — without making physical prototypes. Catalog images come direct from the computer as well (instead of artist drawings), saving resources that can better be put towards research, design, and manufacturing.

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Flex testing.

Trab’s test facility has the clean looks of a medical research lab. After getting lined out on the array of test machines, all I could think is that these guys are serious about their planks. Way serious.

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Torsion flex measurement.

Adriano explained that they’ve been through a ten year period of modernization. They’ve now got the software and physical plant to compete with companies such as Atomic, but differ by focusing more on design innovation and quality, rather than quantity.

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Checking out a space age ski core.

Critical mission for Trab is to make skis as light as possible that still perform. To accomplish that, they use seeminly endless combinations of carbon and glass fibers, as well as honeycomb from the aerospace industry. My experience with their skis is that while they might not be as etherial as a 100% carbon ski such as Goode, they indeed offer a killer combo of performance/weight that’s definitely second to none.

Backcountry Skiing

Massive ski tuning machine in the actual factory. Can I have one of these for our garage shop?

After checking out the R&D stuff, it was time for visiting the actual manufacturing plant. No photos allowed, so I’ll have to exercise my writing muscles. The way it works is actually pretty simple. They have these big steel magnetic tables for the ski molds, which hold the edges and mold solid while a craftsman builds a layer cake of specified materials. The tables don’t look that different from a workshop bench, though they have a slot that holds the lower half of the mold.

Everything is soaked with resin as it goes in, the top goes on the mold, and the cake gets placed in a huge hydraulic press. This consists of a large rectangular frame about eight feet high. The molds are held in the frame, with hydraulic pressure applied from a row of rams that look like those on a front end loader or backhoe. When the ski comes out it’s actually pretty ragged, so it goes through a trimmer that cleans off the edge excess, then is run through the factory tuner. Result is a beautiful combination of hand crafting and high tech.

In all, I was truly impressed by the corporate culture of Trab. They combine old world craftsman with whiz bang tech such as their Unigraphics computer system, and pull it all off in good style. Apparently, not everything needs to be made by robots in China.

Ski Trab company website


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21 Responses to “Trab Factory Visit – Bormio Italy”

  1. Frank Konsella March 18th, 2009 5:16 pm

    I can safely speak for a lot of people by saying we want to see the trab bindings. So keep begging them for an inside look at those bindings, because unlike the G3 “tech” bindings, the trabs look like they may offer some genuine improvements over dynafits.

  2. Lou March 18th, 2009 5:32 pm

    Those Trab guys are pretty tight, they said the ISPO bindings were prototypes and didn’t want me to publish a photo, nor would they send me a photo. All in good time I guess. Onyx is said to be here at WildSnow HQ before I leave for Europe, so we’ll try to get those mounted and being tested before I leave, then I’ll continue when I get back (I’m only gone for about 2 weeks).

  3. Derik March 18th, 2009 6:31 pm

    Thanks Lou.

    I have two pairs of Trab skis: Duo Race Aeros and Duo Freerandos. They do indeed ski well and they are superlight. Thanks again for the look at the inner process.

  4. ScottN March 18th, 2009 7:53 pm

    Aaahhh….Trabs. Someday. Those ATK’s look pretty cool as well, but at almost 500 euros, whew. Lou, do you have any Trabs around Wildsnow HQ?

  5. Bryce March 18th, 2009 8:35 pm

    They are spendy, but man they can ski. Thanks for the insight, Lou. I’ve always wanted to know how they can keep the same dimensions and shave a full pound off the already very light FreeRandos and make a ski that skis even better.

    I’d say this is a good time to say: We’ve got some Duo FreeRandos (171, 178) and Duo FreeRando Lights (178) left that are marked down a couple hundred $ and come with free BD Glidelite 100 mm skins (the ones that are being phased out this year). If you want different skins or no skins or something, call and, as always, we can work with you.

  6. Mark March 18th, 2009 9:32 pm

    Awesome blog about the Trab factory! It is an amazing place in a sweet location. When I visited in ’05 I could overhear Bode Miller win his Alpine World Championships right about the time Adriano and I came to a distribution agreement. The factory is a short walking distance (approx. 100 yards) to a 3000M ski area. Good touring location as well, centrally located in the Ortlers (many trips involve overnight stays in Bormio). Some of the top rando racers in Europe come in daily to pickup skis to test/use and then report back at the end of the day their experiences. Great way to combine in the field testing with the high tech, state of the art design facility. The factory truly does a great job of combining old world craftsmanship with modern manufacturing to create the best touring skis in the world.

    As far as bindings are concerned, the factory is very conservative and likes to thoroughly test products before they bring them to market. I’ve requested test pairs several times to no avail, I know others have as well (to the point I sense Adriano is getting tired of the requests, so please do not send any more). “They’ll be ready when they’re ready” is the typical response, with a target date of retail availability for the 2010/11 season.

  7. rome March 18th, 2009 11:45 pm

    Great to see somethings are still being lovingly hand crafted, these skis look fantastic – if only I were able to ski!

  8. Jonathan Shefftz March 19th, 2009 6:58 am

    Got back a couple hours ago from a dawn patrol skin up Whiteface Mountain before teaching an avy course — the Duo Sint Aero skis were featherly light for the ascent (coupled with Dynafit bindings and Zzero4 boots) yet skied very well on the rock-hard morning conditions.

  9. Mark Worley March 21st, 2009 6:19 am

    Having skied a couple Trabs for Couloir mag ski tests I can say that they really do more with less. Nice skis, and yet they have a niche that has yet to cave in to the super-fat-is-the-only-thing-we-sell mindset.

  10. Tony March 29th, 2009 5:53 pm

    Did you hear of anything about new skis for next year by Trab? I thought I read about that somewhere……….

  11. Lou March 29th, 2009 6:15 pm

    They’ve got a wider one coming. Mark L., anything to add?

  12. Mark March 30th, 2009 6:15 pm

    We just recieved some Stelvio Light XL demos. 126/124-90-112, Weighs only 1360g/ski (5.9 lbs./pair) with 1722 cm2 of surface area. Similar construction as the Stelvio Light.

  13. Tony March 31st, 2009 1:42 pm

    Mark, I would love a review of those skis after you have skied them. In particular, do they still have decent edgehold (for a ski that wide) that the narrower Trabs were known for? I looking for an spring ski that will handle corn on the south faces, funky , old, windblown, and crusty powder on the north faces, and will to well with firm, icy snow if it is cold. I have found skis that do well with the first two conditions (corn and old powder) and skis that do well on firm snow, but I have yet to find a light ski that does well in all of those conditions, especially with an light AT boot.

  14. RHS October 19th, 2010 4:35 am

    It is SO hard to find a review on Stelvio Light XL skiis. I have a Manaslu and searched and searched last year for a review on the new trab but nothing. This year my Wife wants a similar thing but refuses to get the Manaslu because I have them (I know but she won’t budge)…BUT without any reviews out there its so difficult to make a decision.

    I obviously think Manaslu’s as they ROCK my world.

  15. Lou October 19th, 2010 6:34 am

    RHS, what do you mean, you guys don’t wear matching Branson Missouri t-shirts? What kind of marriage is that 😀 ??

    So many skis, so little time. That’s the answer to our question. Oh, also, not that many Trabs are imported and review skis are not as easy to obtain within our time frames as some other brands. Nonetheless, since you asked we’ll get on the Stelvio just as soon as possible. But don’t hold your breath, conditions around here won’t be ready for ski review testing for another 4 weeks or so.

  16. RHS October 19th, 2010 7:10 am

    I figured that the Italian Marketing Manager hadn’t broken the US yet and seeing as most Ski reviews are US based….Anyhow. When you pretty much own the european market why bother?

    Not complaining about WildSnow. no, no, no. Its THE spot to come for all things Ski Touring.

    My Wife likes the idea of the matching T’Shirts just not skiis…especially out in the backcountry!! 😉

  17. Mark W October 19th, 2010 8:10 am

    Stelvio Light XL review (abbreviated) in Backcountry Mag 2011 Buyers’ Guide. I’m looking for a more in-depth review too.

  18. Wick October 19th, 2010 8:48 am

    ….Several of us on Team Crested Butte have the new Trab TR race binding on order, with a November delivery ….we will be happy to report back in December on our experiences with them.

  19. Jonathan Shefftz October 21st, 2010 3:45 pm

    Would love to hear more on the Trab race binding — been very tempted to upgrade my race setup. I’m a bit nervous though with the “no safety release” disclaimers. I mean, it does have some sort of lateral release function and forward release function even if the settings are fixed and non-adjustable . . . right?

  20. Pierre Askmo September 29th, 2011 3:08 am

    Phenomenal presentation of an amazing company. Ski Trab is unbeatable at so many levels (I ski Stelvios): The ski is really good on the up (especially with Dynafits on) but also a ton of fun going down, and I always want to buy my gear from people that are as passionate about the sport/lifstyle/culture/zen of skiing as I am.

  21. Stuart April 5th, 2014 2:53 am

    The Stelvios are a superb ski, need to be skied hard, fantastic crud busters, great in pow, good edge hold, and very light even by today’s standards for big mountain skis so great on the up too. I have used them for the last 4 years with dynafits. a great rig!

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