The Bespoke Black Book Winter team went on a road trip across Austria to visit some of their best ski resorts; however the first stop was Altenmarkt where the world famous ski company Atomic resides. As part of this visit we manage to interview James Fairbank, the Global Marketing Director of Atomic.
Our tour of Austria is based around being as eco as possible whilst enjoying the Austrian Alps, how is Atomic addressing their environmental impact?
Historically, there have been a number of key initiatives that have significantly contributed to reducing the impact of the Atomic business. 15 years ago, the Altenmarkt site switched from an oil-based energy source to wood-chip. This reduced the amount of oil required across the site by 1 million litres a year and had a significant impact on the CO2 generated by the ski manufacturing process. The hot-water generated by the ski presses is recirculated to heat the site which reduces overall energy expenditure. Whilst notable, we recognize that these, and other, isolated actions do not ladder up into a clear roadmap for the future of our business. With this in mind, we kicked off a project 18 months ago with the specific aim of understanding how we can measure the environmental impact of all aspects of the Atomic business to inform the steps we need to take to reduce that impact, we’ve looked at all aspects of the manufacturing process from the raw material sourcing to life-cycle analysis (LCA) of individual products. This work will culminate in a sustainability roadmap for Atomic that will outline the steps we’re going to take in the coming years to reduce the impact of our business. It is an obvious paradox that, as a business, we are reliant on something that’s hugely impacted by the climate crisis and it’s essential that we lead the Winter Sports industry in this area.
Ski construction requires many materials with unique properties like Ptex, carbon fibre, metals, resins and wood. Is Atomic looking at how these could change in the future to create skis with less impact on the planet?
We have conducted Life Cycle analyses for key products that give us a clear understanding of the most impactful parts of both individual products and the manufacturing process. Using these LCAs we are now able to clearly understand how to reduce this impact at both site and product level. Some steps can be taken quickly, such as the amount of fibreglass used in a ski but other things, like switching to a bio-based epoxy alternative, will take several years to industrialise. We will use science-based targets to track the impact we have at product and brand level and take design decisions to reduce the impact of future products.
Is Atomic seeking to join any corporations to improve sustainability?
Atomic has recently become a signatory of Protect our Winters and once we’ve published our roadmap we will look to partner with a range of organisations to build responsible leadership in the Winter sports hard goods industry.
How do you manage to keep production in Altenmarkt im Pongau, Austria, Romania & Bulgaria when many companies have moved to manufacturing elsewhere?
We’ve been investing in our ski-manufacturing capabilities in the Pongau valley for over 66 years and the knowledge we’ve built up over that time isn’t easily transferred. The 750 colleagues who work in the Altenmarkt site and the further 1200 members of the Atomic and Amer families who are based at our Bulgarian and Romanian sites are some of the finest ski, ski boot and binding craftspeople in the world. The connection and love for skiing that acts as a foundation for our business is linked to the location of our HQ in Altenmarkt, from the factory gates you can see World Cup pistes, world-class ski touring and 75km of cross country skiing is accessible from our front door. It would be impossible to replicate this Elsewhere.
How important is it for Atomic athletes to be seen winning races on sales of equipment?
It’s hugely important for us, a cornerstone of the Atomic business since its inception and a key driver of our product innovation. As skiing has diversified, we’ve also looked to support individuals who’re driving the sport forwards across all playgrounds.
Who was the genius who came up with the name Redsters and what does it mean?
The name was created at the HQ team and deducted from our CI colour that expresses speed, precision and dominance. Put simply, Redster stands for born on the race course, built for the piste. The Redster collection is the pinnacle of Atomic’s athlete-informed product innovation.
What new technologies and designs are you working on to keep on improving the skier’s experience?
We’re working on a huge range of innovation, across all product categories. For our Redster range, we’re constantly striving to give our athletes an edge on their competitors, for Bent we’re obsessed with helping all-mountain and freeskiers take a different creative approach to skiing and for our Backland we’re trying to reduce the environmental impact of all the products that are designed to explore the backcountry.
Where do you see skiing and its multifaceted styles (Piste, Freeride, All mountain, Freestyle, Touring etc) in 10 years time?
Taking a broader view, our continuing success rests on making skiing more relevant to more people. The industry’s biggest challenge concerns how we all do that whilst reducing the environmental impact.