The Salomon S-Lab: A World of Possibility

With my work, I’ve hung out with Kilian Jornet numerous times over the past few years and I always enjoy catching up with him personally. He’s one of the nicest, most humble folks I know. However, if Kilian’s been running, I’ll often take a quick glance to check out what shoes, apparel, and gear he’s wearing. Why? No, not because of a compulsion to dress like Kilian. Rather it’s to see what the future of trail running gear looks like years in advance.

Two years ago, I paced Kilian during his Tahoe Rim Trail FKT. After running together for the second time, Kilian sat down for dinner, which turned into show and tell. The subject? A grippy pair of Salomon S-Lab shoes that look like the Salomon S-Lab 3 Soft Ground that hit the market this year, but with many Kilian-specific features.

Kilian Jornet Salomon S-Lab Soft Ground

Kilian Jornet with his custom S-Lab Soft Grounds two years early.

When weather halted UTMB and its elite runners in Les Contamines in August 2010, I ended up taking refuge with Kilian along with some other top runners. While we hung out, our attention turned to a featherlight jacket Kilian was wearing. None of the rest of us had seen a 40 gram (less than an ounce and a half) windbreaker before. I’ve yet to see a Salomon production model of this jacket, but this was my first look at a type of jacket that others will have on the market in 2012.

Kilian Jornet 40 gram jacket

Kilian Jornet showing his 40 gram jacket. (It

This year, Kilian again had custom gear when I saw him at Western States and UTMB. At States, it was loose, highly vented apparel to keep him cooler in the race’s heat that he wore along with custom-made gloves with integrated half-liter bladders. Fast forward two months and he’s standing outside the Hotel Mercure in Chamonix, France with a minimal, sleeve-like pack that was just big enough to hold the race’s required equipment. Whatever the race, Kilian has exactly the gear he needs for success.

Kilian Jornet Western States gloves

Kilian Jornet wearing his waterbottle gloves and cool clothing at Western States 2011. The shoes are custom, too.

I’ve twice visited the S-Lab facilities. Both times I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Rolls of varied fabrics, skilled technicians, all the machinery needed to make nearly anything I’d want on the trails. Give me a day to ponder the possibilities and two days with the staff and I could have the pack of my dreams… or at least of whatever my dream was that day. Exo apparel based entirely on my own measurements could be made from start to finish in the same room. Measurements could be taken, hand-drawn patterns made, Exo overlay heat adhered to the fabric, and all stitched up in front of the eager runner. If I had time to get my foot cast and my own shoe last made (as I’d seen had been done with nearly 20 Salomon runners), I could have a Crossmax upper on a S-Lab Soft Ground platform or any of dozens of permutations with this or that tweaked to suit my needs.

Kilian Jornet shoe last Rickey Gates

Rickey Gates chilling with Kilian

The S-Lab project is amazing in its commitment to Salomon’s athletes. The products are designed with specific athletes and their goals in mind. Products, even shoes, are not designed with “markets” involved. Sure, products that hit the shelves of your local specialty running retailer are likely tweaked to be useful to more runners and created in a manner such that a pair of shoes or a pack don’t cost $500, but this S-Lab is about the athletes and their dreams. Here’s a quick video of the S-Lab facilities in action.

There are 29 comments

  1. Jeff Faulkner

    You know, prior to this article I would have thought it a dream beyond my wildest imaginations to have access to anything that Salomon produced in mass. Now I see that my dreams were short-sighted! Oh the possibilities…

  2. David

    I've noticed Killan's custom XT Wings *appear* to have a lower heal drop than what's available to consumers. This is my one small complaint for Salomon's lineup, the heel drop on most of their shoes (save the fellcross) remains around 11-12 mm. Even the new XR Mission's have a 12mm offset: [broken link removed]

    I would really love it if the future XT wings 5 had a heel drop in the 8mm range. Maybe I'm buying into the hype a bit but I do feel more stable in shoes with a lower offset (not ready for zero drop yet).

    1. Alex

      I don't think this is hype at all. When you want to run fast, a lower heel typically helps. See every racing flat ever. I too would really love to see Salomon produce a 3-4 mm drop shoe – not a "minimal" shoe. They are, perhaps, the most consistently comfortable line of shoes I've tried, and durability is never a question. But I just can't run in anything that high off the ground any more.

    2. Anonymous

      I'm under the impression that in May of 2012 Salomon will be releasing a 4mm drop racing shoe called the Sense (which is very similar to what Kilian wore at WS). I read 4mm drop and 195g.

      1. Alex

        Then I look forward to it. The fellcross, though low, is limited in its use. Even trail ultras frequently venture on to pavement, where its a fish out of water.

      2. Bryon Powell

        I'll be talking about the Sense soon enough. I've known about Kilian's S-Lab version and, later, its public release for quite a while. As with most products, I keep 'em quiet until the time is appropriate. :-)

  3. Doug (aka Snurfer)

    I love my Salomons going back to the old grey XA Pro and having access to their customization would be amazing…

    For racing and poor traction conditions I'd love to take the arch support from the XA Pro + more durable SPDX3 outsole + SL4 upper and minimal speed lace = lots of smiles over many miles…

    For training and the occasional road run the Xmax upper on the Slab4 mid and outsole would be a comfortable ride.

    My only issue with their shoes is inconsistency in sizing… I picked up the S-Lab 4 online based on a perfect fitting Speedcross 2 and was disappointed to discover the SL4 to be nearly a full size too big… Conversely I wear a much bigger XA Pro…

    As far as heel drop I'm fairly certain the next S-Lab will have a lower heel to toe profile than the current models… I just wish they'd bring back gortex to the Speedcross. A Clima-shield overlay on the toe box just won't cut it in the Utah snow…

    Context for size complaints

    XAPro: sz 11

    XMax: sx 10.5

    SPDX2: sz 10.5

    SLab4: sz 9.5-10 (based on a sloppy fitting 10.5)

    1. Jon

      Totally agree, Salomon makes great products, but my local stores dont carry them. This means I order products form online retailers. The sizing is SO inconsistent that I often have to order 2 or 3 pairs at a time just to figure out what size I am.

      Not to mention that I have ended up selling a couple of barely worn pairs to friends because I don't figure out they are too small until its too late. Seems like with such a high-tec lab they could get this fixed.

      That being said, once youve got the right size, party time.

  4. Ben Nephew

    While the S-Lab project is a great mechanism for pushing R and D, it may not be relevant to the vast majority of runners, as you point out. I am more impressed with something like Nike's wear tester program, which I shamefully failed out of years due to my lack of dedication to their intensive requirement for feedback. They gather an incredible amount of data from their wear testers, and everyone is supposed to return all the shoes.

    The ideal development program is to combine an elite athlete program with an intensive wear tester program. When I read about athletes wearing custom shoes, it makes me wonder what is wrong with the standard models, and it can be misleading to the general running public. The feedback from a pair of custom shoes may only be relevant to a single athlete. I'd much rather see top runners putting tons of miles in standard models (or at least developmental versions of standard models) to provide an extreme test of durability, and even this may be irrelevant to most runners when taken out of context. What a top runner can get away with (custom or standard shoe) during an ultra may be totally inappropriate for the majority of the field.

    I often see runners in the wrong shoes for their specific needs, probably due to noted hype.

    David, you are not speculating on hype. That is a common experience, and it is amazing how much difference 2-3mm can make to a shoe's stability. Even without changing the midsole height, a small increase in the midsole density can turn a shoes that rolls over every 10 steps to one that rarely rolls over at all.

    1. David

      Clearly Killan's new red/white shoes have a low heel drop offset ~ 4-6mm? What I like about the photo is the appearance of substantial forefoot foam (hey). Now bring these shoes to market!

      1. Emre

        Salomon will release a limited edition with a package including a voucher for another SLab shoe of your choice, a book hand signed by Kilian, relating the WS100 and the UTMB with exclusive non published pictures.

        There will be 106 pairs available worldwide by the end of December (106 = the distance of the WS100 and the UTMB, plus 6 miles corresponding to the +2 he's done at the WS when he got lost and the +4 additional the organizers of the UTMB added because of weather conditions).

        Regarding the stats, there will be a release later on, but the shoe feature innovative technologies which make the natural motion experience in trail running… quoted from Salomon running Web site from JEAN – YVES COUPUT who is the marketing executive in Salomon

      2. Anonymous

        See above — May 2012. Kilian and Salomon both have posted about it on their Facebook pages and I believe somewhere the great Bryon Powell commented on a photo of the design of the Sense (might have been on Twitter or Facebook)

        Like you, David, I'm dying for a Salmon shoe that has less of a drop. May can't come soon enough.

    2. Panos from Greece

      200 euro/usd ??????

      are they serious ?????

      i can buy 2 pairs of an excellent trail shoe

      from any other brand with that money!!!!

      sorry salomon i won't buy your shoes or any other product you make

  5. Marcus Warner

    I am very impressed with the way Salomon engage with their whole running community. I was lucky enough to be invited to the Pyrenees by Salomon earlier this year and whilst I am easily described as a middle of the pack runner, I was asked to provide in-depth feedback on their products. On a number of occasions I was able to discuss and share my views often with Kilian present who added his own thoughts. I recorded the experience on video here

    and it is clear to see how as a company they really do listen.

    The new SpeedCross 3's have a reduced heel drop compared with previous models, now nudging 8.5 mm I believe.

    Great post Bryon and keep up the good work.


    Marcus Warner

  6. Justin

    Thanks for the article Bryon. While I've not always liked the heel to to drop on most of the Salomon shoes, their quality has been impeccable. I like many others can not wait for the Sense to hit the market. Come on May!

  7. Spencer

    I really wish they would charge 500 dollars for the legitimate stuff. Why? Because then we would be forced to fix it.There would a huge drive to taking care of it, of fixing it, and using it until the utter end and one could not fix the upper, or get it resoled. Rather its put out lower quality stuff so people buy more, and then can get rid of stuff and put it in a landfill, and then buy a new one. Also that would then put the emphasis on durability, rather than just making light and cheap. I have had a rain jacket for 4 years that I got for 20 bucks, works decent, I just need to patch some stuff here and there. But, if I had a 500 dollar jacket, that thing would be fixed, and fixed until I could get no more out of it.

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