Happy Trails: How Salomon Went From Slopestyle to the Kings of Sportstyle!
Whether it’s sending extreme skiers hurtling down the Alps or propelling hikers to the top of the gnarliest peaks, Salomon has long been devoted to solving the ups and downs of an adventurous life outdoors. With more than 80 years of loyal service and innovation behind them, the brand’s quickest ascent yet has been reaching the upper echelons of the fashion and sneaker worlds.
Salomon’s next chess move is reinventing their OG trail models for a new generation of off-roaders, catwalkers and Archivist gear geeks. Buckle up your boots for the untold story of how the pioneers of slopestyle became the kings of Sportstyle!
Georges Salomon was born in 1925, in the picturesque French village of Annecy. He joined the family firm making steel saw blades in 1947, but as Georges toiled away in the family workshop, his dreams of hitting the Alps proved a major distraction. A passionate debate with his father soon convinced Salomon et son to pivot their business and focus on the emerging industry of ski tip sharpening. The family name soon echoed throughout the Bornes and Bauges massifs.
In the 1950s, mountain equipment was agricultural at best and skis looked more like primitive death traps than the slick carbon wunderbars of today. The traditional leather straps used to connect feet with skis were a dangerous and precarious mechanism. Sick of compound fractures and busted skis, Georges pondered a more foolproof and elegant solution.
In 1955, Georges applied his engineering knowhow into development of the innovative ‘Skade’ ski bindings that allowed toes to swivel for quick foot release. Two years later, Salomon’s ‘Le Lift’ concept set a new international safety standard. The big S grew even bigger after the 1966 Alpine World Ski Championships in Portillo, Chile, where the innovative bindings proved unbeatable. Global distribution beckoned and in 1972, two-thirds of their million-units-plus production was earmarked as exports to Austria, Italy and the USA.
Emboldened, Salomon launched their first ski boot in 1979. The SX90 Equipe was an instant hit with devout snow bunnies, including multiple World Cup champion Marc Girardelli. Thanks to its unique rear-entry system, the SX91 upgrade became an icon of 1980s Day-Glo ski-gear and accounted for most of the 15-million-plus pairs sold that decade. Salomon finally made their mark in ski manufacturing with the S9000. The all-new monocoque construction set another benchmark in downhill performance.
The rise of extreme sports in the 1990s swapped ski blades for snowboards. Despite being at the dawn of a glamorous golden era, Georges knew this was a new frontier and after 50 years at the helm, the company was sold. Traversing new terrain, Salomon 2.0 dipped their toes into hiking boots designed for off-season skiers, but it would be almost a decade before the idea reached maturation. The turn of the millennium triggered an uptick in trail running, and like their pioneering snow boots, Salomon was once again poised at the precipice.
The XA Pro story begins in the early 1990s, when Gérard Fusil created a modern adventure race known as the Raid Gauloises. The event was conducted over 10 days and required teams of five competitors to charge through 1000km of nitty gritty terrain. There was no set course and racers had to survive using their outdoors skills and mental stamina. Conserving energy was the key to conquering this hardcore ultra-marathon.
Salomon’s first hiking boot, the Adventure 9, was purpose-built for The Raid, as the race later became known. The upper was lifted from the existing cross-country Ski Boot, which was then attached to a hiking sole unit and released under the Action Line sub-label. As the race and athletes evolved, competitors requested lighter and quicker footwear so they could sprint sections of the course. Inspired by these rigorous demands, Salomon designers Vlad Zinovieff and Martin Laberge produced the Raid Wind and Raid Race respectively, equipping them with space-age materials like Kevlar. Fast and light were the new axioms in extreme cross-country hiking.
In 2006, the first Speedcross model was launched, an investment that is more than paying dividends 15 years later. The original forecast for this idiosyncratic masterpiece was an optimistic 1000 units, but today, Salomon sells more than one million pairs every year in Europe alone. The XA Pro line continues to this day and is the backbone of the Salomon lineup.
Enter the S/LAB
Like the daredevil skiers who field-tested prototypes, Salomon’s extreme athletes were the ultimate guinea pigs. Ultra-endurance racer Kilian Jornet’s penchant for multi-day events over mixed terrain made him an invaluable footsoldier to showcase the Speedcross as the champion’s choice. A bitter defeat for Kilian at the 2010 Western States Endurance Run – a 100 mile stroll across the Sierra Nevada mountains in the treacherous Squaw Valley – became another catalyst for developing lighter and faster shoes.
A year later, Kilian returned to seek vengeance in a bright red pair of Salomon S/LAB Sense – which tipped the scales at a featherweight 170g – and dominated just about every high-altitude race. Today the S/LAB category is reserved for Salomon’s highest performing products like the multigenerational XT series, which was eventually championed by an unlikely urban advocate.
Salomon’s bright neons and cutting-edge manufacturing was originally designed to deliver the ultimate in high-vis performance, but the high-end fashion world was also paying attention. In 2015, the brand appeared on the radar of uber-cool French boutique The Broken Arm, who embraced the Snowcross as an on-foot symbol of the then-embryonic GORPcore aesthetic. An ongoing collaborative relationship has since inspired searing colourways of Salomon’s greatest hits, including the XT-4, XT-6, XT-Quest and a herd of campsite-friendly mules.
Avant-garde designer Boris Bidjan Saberi joined the squad with his own line of garment-dyed Salomon space boots in 2017, following up with annual collections that built on the theme. Co-signs from And Wander and BEAMS, two Far-East retail heavyweights, were reserved for fashionable Japanophiles perpetually ahead of the curve. Palace Skateboards proved Salomon’s trail-mix style could also embrace British kick flips, while a partnership with Comme des Garçons was arguably the pinnacle of Salomon’s haute runway presence. The establishment of an Advanced line in 2018, modelled on the limited-edition seasonal release cycle, ensured Salomon is hot property everywhere from the Matterhorn to Melbourne and beyond.
Rise of the Archivist
Aside from link-ups with ‘traditional’ industry players – and their loyal athletic followings – Salomon have earmarked the ‘Archivist’ as another integral market. A geeky group who generally discovered the brand mid-scroll before taking their Internet inspiration to the trails IRL, self-confessed Archivists have been vital in Salomon’s retro revival, largely thanks to one enigmatic digital presence.
Unofficial spokesperson for catalogue reciters and trail footwear fetishists, the Instagram moodboard @organiclab.zip inspired a chorus of online chatter that attempted to decipher the obscure unicorns found in musty mid-2000s magazines. Salomon officially acknowledged organiclab’s cachet by anointing them with an official collaboration in late 2020. A toned-down execution of the XA Pro 1, one of Salomon’s earliest trail runners, unlocked their dusty vault and inspired the next phase in product ideation.
Salomon Sportstyle XA Pro 1
The @organiclab.zip XA Pro 1 was perhaps the perfect symbiosis between nouveau nostalgists and a brand keen to retell their authentic ‘origin’ story. The partnership also rolled out the red carpet for Salomon Sportstyle, a new category launched in 2021. Consisting of a mix of yesteryear’s favourites – thankfully reissued with minimal intervention – the line-up also includes all-new styles designed to satisfy the dual demands of legit adventurers and style-conscious city slickers.
The XA Pro 1 continues its reunion tour with two OG bringbacks in period-correct form. Originally launched in 2001, the XA Pro 1 laid the foundations for the trail vibes that followed. Salomon’s mad sneaker scientists possibly had the Y2K bug on their mind as they designed a technical marvel equipped with enough analogue features to survive a global digital disaster. The midfoot metal speedhooks are a relic from the halcyon days of clunky mountain boots, but their continued use today proves it’s not just a rusted-on nostalgia trip. Locking down the two-tone mesh and hi-vis welded upper is Salomon’s proprietary Quicklace system, which overrides pesky knot tying with a simple toggle.
Two decades later, Salomon still rate the XA Pro 1’s ‘stability and protection’ characteristics with a 5/5 score, a perfect number achieved without all of today’s gait-friendly gadgets, though some components like 3D Mesh, EnergyCell EVA midsoles and Contragrip MA tread have been retrofitted to prevent throwback fatigue.
Still the King
From saw blades to ski slopes, Salomon’s rise to the top of the pops has been a slow and steady uphill journey. As the brand’s footwear department plots the next steps in their all-conquering all-terrain takeover, the distinctive S logo remains a common sight everywhere from Patta to Paris Fashion Week and the Pyrenees, proof positive that Georges’ spirit for adventure lives on. All hail King Salomon!
Grab your copy of Issue 45 now via the Sneaker Freaker shop!
The Salomon XA Pro 1 is available now! Head to Salomon's webstore to check out the colourways.