Mike Ambrose: From an Ultrarunning Dream to Designing the Salomon Ultra Glide Trail Shoe

When Mike Ambrose started working for Vertical Runner, a running store in Breckenridge, Colorado in 2014, he was excited to have landed his ideal job. Having moved to Colorado from the U.S. East Coast with a group of friends, living in the mountains with trails at his doorstep, and working a job that allowed him to share his love of trail running with others, it was living the dream. A simple life, surrounded by nature, and with Mount Royal at the edge of the Tenmile Range as his backyard run, it was the perfect place to be a young ultrarunner. He lived on the cheap, found jobs that supported his needs, and embraced a simple, trail running-focused lifestyle.

If you’d told him at the time that in 2021, he would be a lead product line manager for Salomon, living in Annecy, France, he probably wouldn’t have believed you. It seemed unlikely that a psychology college graduate who started running 5ks around his neighborhood for exercise would find himself creating some of the most technologically advanced shoes on the market halfway across the world.

The new Salomon Ultra Glide trail running shoe is the culmination of Mike’s years of experience in various aspects of the sport, as a runner, salesperson, technical representative, marketing specialist, and finally, as Salomon’s lead product line manager for trail running. But in the end, it’s also a result of a fateful click on an internet video while online shopping for something completely unrelated.

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Mike Ambrose and the Salomon Ultra Guide trail running shoe. Photo courtesy of Mike Ambrose.

Mike wasn’t born into the outdoor mountain lifestyle. “I didn’t see a mountain in person until I was 19 or 20 years old,” he says. “I grew up in suburban New Jersey. We did vacations at Disney World when we were lucky. I worked in a mall. I wasn’t this connected to nature as a kid or anything. I played baseball and basketball, but I never really ran. Running was punishment.”

Like many people who’ve found their passion in ultrarunning, Mike started running just to stay in shape. Running a 10k around his Deptford neighborhood in 2008 was monumental. From there, things progressed quickly. He ran his first marathon in 2010, and in a moment of serendipity, came upon a trail running video of ultrarunning superstar Krissy Moehl on the Patagonia website while looking for a new wetsuit. Immediately interested, he dove into whatever he could find on the sport of running in the mountains, learning of Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek, and Anton Krupicka.

Intrigued by the idea of trail running, he signed up to run the JFK 50 Mile with a friend. “I just wanted to go on an adventure and get my feet wet and try it. I thought it would be a challenge, and just be a journey.”

He was hooked. He ran his first 100-mile race, the Umstead 100 Mile, the next year, and with a steady diet of Salomon TV episodes as fuel and inspiration, he fell in love with the brand and hatched a plan to head west. “I saw what Colorado trail runners were doing. I just felt like I had to do it. It just seemed like the best thing in the world, to live this life that was simple and based around just being in the mountains all day.” It was an exciting time in ultrarunning in the U.S., and Mike was seeing it all for the first time. He watched as Anton Krupicka shaved down his shoes for the Western States 100 and as Kilian Jornet emerged as a running phenom.

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Mike (left) running the 2019 Transalpine Run with friend and teammate Josh Korn. Photo: Klaus Fengler

In 2012, a train from Penn Station in Pennsylvania to Denver, Colorado delivered Mike and two friends to the base of the Rockies. Hitchhiking and walking around Colorado that summer, he immediately fell in love with the mountains. He invited Stephanie Lefferts, his then girlfriend and now wife, out to meet them, and they spent a few weeks driving around the West. The draw of Summit County was strong, and after finding an affordable place to live in Frisco, they got jobs and decided to stay.

It wasn’t long before he moved over the pass to Leadville, finding work at the City on a Hill coffee shop and becoming fully immersed in the running culture of the small mountain town. He became friends with Bill Dooper, ultrarunning’s super fan who passed away in 2018, and built a strong community of people around himself. Listening to Mike talk about Leadville, his love for the town and the surrounding mountains is apparent.

“I remember a few early shifts, 5:00 a.m., where we’d just grab our puffy jackets and go stand outside and watch the alpenglow on the mountains. I always said it’s really great to live somewhere where you just want to go outside and take a picture of what you see every day.” And the trails were endless. “You’ve got the Boulevard, you’ve got Turquoise Lake, you’re a short drive from Half Moon Trailhead and the Colorado Trail, and obviously Mounts Elbert and Massive are there.”

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Mike and his wife Stephanie eating a tart mid-run in Europe. Photo: Giles Ruck

Slinging coffee, running, racing, and living at 10,000 feet in the shadow of Colorado’s tallest mountains all fit Mike well. With his growing knowledge of trails in the area and reputation as a runner, he helped the organizers of the Ultra Race of Champions design a race route from Breckenridge to Vail. Through this, he became friends with the then owner of Vertical Runner in Breckenridge and was offered a job. He jumped on the opportunity. “At the time, I was like, it doesn’t really get any better than this.”

Still a Salomon fan, both of their shoes and company as a whole, he relished being able to sell their products and get others out on the trails, his passion for the sport contagious. When a job opened as a tech rep for Salomon in New England, he was quick to apply. He had firsthand knowledge of how shoes performed through his own running and racing, and now he’d seen the sales aspect of the running industry as well. Plus, he still loved the Salomon videos that had helped him get into trail running in the first place.

While his stay in Colorado was short, it’s obvious he packed a lot into that time. “We lived a lifetime in those three years. We were 25-year-old kids living in a beautiful place and had jobs that supported it.” He raced ultras often, finishing the Leadville Trail 100 Mile twice during his time there, but it was the San Juan Solstice 50 Mile that left the deepest impression. He’d driven down to the start with friends, including Bill Dooper, camped on someone’s lawn, and woken up at 3:30 a.m. to freezing temperatures to run. While he raced well, it was clearly the people who made the race special.

“[Bill] Dooper was a half mile from the finish line and walks out, doing a little walk, and that was a huge part of it. Having a good day, and having a good day for Bill. To me, that’s the high point of anything I’ve ever done in running. Afterward, we took Bill for ice-cream sodas and milkshakes. He said, ‘I’ve never had a $5 milkshake before, let alone two in a day!’”

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Bill Dooper cheering Mike as he finished the San Juan Solstice 50 Mile. Photo: Stephanie Lefferts

The move to Boston, Massachusetts to work for Salomon in 2015 was another dream come true. He spent a year there, learning everything he could, and when a marketing specialist job for Salomon opened up in Ogden, Utah at Salomon’s U.S. headquarters, it was a natural progression. The same way Mike’s passion for the sport and gear had him moving from running 10ks around the neighborhood to 100-mile races in a relatively short period of time, it now had him taking on increasing responsibility at Salomon. Surrounded by a solid team, he found success at the company that he’d admired since he first started running.

When the global headquarters of Salomon in France wanted to bring a distinctly North American perspective to their product design, Mike was an obvious choice for their new product line manager for trail running. Trails in the U.S. are different than those in Europe, as are the markets for shoes. Few brands have been successful in both places.

After years of running and racing in Salomon shoes, selling them, and talking to retailers and other runners about them, he now had the opportunity to design them. He has a simple goal for all of the shoes that he designs. “I want someone, every time they put on a pair of Salomons, to feel like they can fly, that they can do anything.”

Mike designed the new Ultra Glide trail running shoe to do exactly that. Mike wanted a shoe that would fill out the Salomon line with a model that is both high performance and comfortable for ultramarathon distances. He wanted something for the runners who found other shoes too narrow, or too firm, or too overbuilt. He wanted to design a shoe that anyone could love running in.

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The Salomon Ultra Glide. Photo: iRunFar

Under Mike’s watchful eye, Salomon created a shoe that is soft, responsive, light, and stable. Taking a three-out-of-three approach, they aimed for a shoe that would fit well by striking a compromise between width and foothold, that would be soft without being mushy, and that would have good grip. The result is a performance-oriented 274-gram shoe for a U.S. men’s size 9 with the cushion to provide comfort over long distances.

For a Salomon shoe, the stack height is tall, with 38 millimeters at the heel and 32mm at the toe, making a 6mm heel-to-toe drop. The ultra-soft Energy Surge midsole is paired with a modern rocker design for a smooth and responsive feel. Extra foam in the forefoot as well as Salomon’s version of a rock plate, Profeel Film, provides additional protection against rocks without adding excessive stiffness.

Built on a road running last, the Ultra Glide is a higher volume shoe than many other trail offerings from Salomon, but thanks to the SensiFit wings and the Quicklace system, it still fits snugly to handle technical terrain. With 4mm lugs and a full Contagrip MA outsole, it’s ready for anything. The Ultra Glide will be available for order on August 1, 2021.

It’s clear from talking to Mike that he’s proud of the end result. “Our athletes love it, runners love it, everyone loves it.”

Mike’s love of running is apparent in his approach to design. “You know that feeling when you feel like you can go anywhere, you feel like you can do anything? That’s the best feeling in the world. I think that’s what I aspire for all trail runners to do and feel.” From watching videos of Krissy Moehl to designing the Salomon Ultra Glide, the passion for running and the places two feet and a pair of shoes can take you has been a constant. And in talking to Mike, you get the impression that his dedication to the sport is as strong as ever.

[Editor’s Note: This article is sponsored by Salomon. Learn more about the men’s version and women’s version of the Salomon Ultra Glide trail running shoe.]

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Mike running in his current home of Annecy, France. Photo: Bryson White