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.