Cover: Hunter Henderson
For the past three seasons, Völkl has turned to the collective wisdom of its athletes when it came time to develop and design new freestyle skis for the lineup. A unique project, Built Together, was designed to create innovation through inclusivity, taking feedback from the best in the world to produce high-quality and specialist ski designs. The first two iterations of this project saw the Revolt line up take a more backcountry freestyle direction, with the birth of the Revolt 121 and Revolt 104. Völkl has also used the new skis to provide a canvas for artists in the community to work on. The trifecta of the best athletes, most experienced engineers, and renowned artists have created some of the most fun and beautiful skis we have seen from Völkl in many years.
It can often seem like the big ski companies are far removed from the concept of ‘core’ skiing but Völkl’s flows contrary to that assumption. It’s great to see them pushing high-quality, functional, and innovative ski designs through Built Together. The inclusion of riders in the bigger picture of the brand has produced an array of benefits for the Völkl team. Product and team manager Jean-Claude Pedrolini, otherwise known as Schinka, told us more about how Built Together came to be:
“We've always had product testing with the athletes but it was somewhat frustrating getting the feedback implemented... this was back when I was just the athlete manager. Then I got the opportunity to work as the product manager as well and Built Together spawned from me being able to do both roles. I was already traveling with the team a bunch and I just added prototype testing to our schedule, I was already on photo shoots and film trips. It worked really well and meant I could do both jobs at the same time; it’s been great to have that trust from Volkl to do things this way and with that kind of freedom.
The latest iteration of Built together sees the Revolt 87 (aka Wall), which had been more or less unchanged for more than a decade, split into two skis with more specific purposes in mind. The Revolt 90, for slopestyle and the Revolt 84, ideally suited to the icy walls of the halfpipe. The former has created a more versatile ski in the 90mm version, designed to maximize performance on the world stage of slopestyle courses while generating versatility through a wider waist. Innovation has come in a few areas for the Revolt 90, primarily using a Light Swingweight Woodcore, trimming weight in the shovel and tail and placing it underfoot as a part of a tougher sidewall construction; creating stability and increased durability, while reducing swingweight. Adding tip and tail rocker ensures that butters and presses remain in the locker of anyone who rides the new, improved Revolt 90. The 84 is a burlier ski, featuring full camber and a Race Base as well as the same Light Swingweight Woodcore as seen in the 90. It's aimed at being a true pipe and hard snow tool, ready to tear up any stunt ditch on the competition circuit.
Birk Ruud eyeing up the Prime Park booters in the run-up to Olympic gold
Athlete involvement is what makes these skis really unique, and with a rider list including Andri Ragettli, Birk Ruud, Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, Alex Ferreira, Kevin Roland, and Nick Geopper you know their combined knowledge is a force to be reckoned with. Working alongside lead engineer Lucas Romain, and Schinka, the squad produced these freestyle tools and they quickly started showing up on podiums worldwide. Their involvement is what makes Built Together special for both the athletes and consumers. Alex Ferreira, one of the world's most formidable halfpipe forces describes the Built Together project as an incredible opportunity, now that it’s made its way to his discipline saying, “this ski was built by athletes for athletes and opens up new opportunities,” Nick Geopper, slopestyle rider, adds “Built Together is a unique approach to making the best skis in the world. I trust in all my Völkl teammates and am proud to develop and test these skis together with them.”
Kings work on display on the Volkl Revolt 90
As well as hearing from Alex and Nick we spoke to Paddy Graham to get some insights into how athlete input as a part of Built Together affected his skiing and the team mentality to their skis. Built Together is now in its penultimate year (yep, there’s one more ski to come), so we took a look back at the inception of the project and what it meant to Paddy and the rest of the team:
“When Völkl first gave us the opportunity to design and test the new models I was a little skeptical… we’d tested skis before but the implementation of our feedback was somewhat minimal. So when Jean-Claude approached us back in 2017 to develop new models and shared his plans we were all stoked. Being able to shape the new models was huge. It’s a huge collaborative effort between the engineer, product manager, and a handful of athletes.
Funnily enough, we got a surprising amount of agreement out of a group of 7 skiers, all with all different skiing styles and physiology. Naturally, we all have different tastes but nobody is wrong in these discussions.”
Schinka has echoed this too when asked about what surprised him the most from the last three years of Built Together was the fact that despite contrasting styles, all riders at the end of the test chose the same ski as their favorites. And, during the testing selected the same characteristics from each prototype to move on to the next phase of testing.
It seems self-evident that being a part of the design process puts you more in touch with the skis and generates an understanding there but even Schinka seemed surprised to quite the degree with which this happened:
“The skis are now their baby, not just skis they ride - they’ve never had a bad word to say about the skis, of course, but you can see in their eyes how much they’re behind it and proud of these recent skis. They also understand them way more and have a new-found respect for the process.
I think there’s been a huge benefit to the athletes, it gives you confidence at the top of your run. Markus [Eder] told me that he felt this with the 121 when he was on the top of his FWT run in Japan that he won; before going on to become world champion that year (2019). It’s a different thing to be there and feel a part of the ski, to have a level of trust in the product he’s never had before.”
It’s clear that this project has radically affected the performance of the skiers on the team and also their satisfaction with the brand. Paddy concurs:
“Built Together gives us as athletes a voice in the brand and also helped us all realize the value in our knowledge and experience. I think that’s so important, it’s shaped the team mentality over the last few winters. Nobody presumes that they know best, there’s a level of humility that comes with being entrusted so deeply in the process of ski building. I know that next year’s Built Together skis were meant to be the final run of the project so I’m really excited to see where Völkl turn next in terms of innovation, I think we will stay involved in the process. Völkl has always been an industry leader on innovation, quality, and service and they’re only going to build on that.”
The way we see it, keeping those that ski involved in skiing will always be key to creating excellence. All too often it seems that core principle can be eroded. Völkl has made a concerted effort to uphold this tenant by giving their fleet of world-class athletes the driving seat on product testing and it shows. From the most highly regarded podiums to the feet of your regular rider the difference of expert knowledge has been felt.
Built Together: A Story Of A Ski
Straying from tradition has been a key factor in the success of the Built Together project. Some of the most eye-catching designs we've seen from Volkl have arisen from the collaboration with artists; putting unique art on platforms designed with the best riders in the world is a recipe for success. King Rhomberg was handed the torch this year and has smashed the topsheets with some truly stunning designs.
An array of techniques was used to create a varied and interesting selection of graphics, including oil marbling on the Revolt 104 and an etched abstract poker scene on the Revolt 121. The new models of the Revolt (84 & 90) are done in watercolor and mixed media with a heavy splash of red to nod to the Beijing Olympics alongside a calligraphy style that doesn't obviously state the Chinese influence.
King's story is more one of skateboard, snowboard, and wakeboard culture than skiing, yet when the opportunity arose to work with Volkl he jumped at the chance:
"It was always a huge thing in those sports to be sponsored and I'd always aspired to that even though I was never an athlete. I was super stoked on the chance and it offered me a unique canvas to work on. Skis are a very different format for me, so there was a lot of back and forth but in the end it came together really nicely I think. It's crazy to me that the skis were on podiums at Beijing and are all over Instagram and in edits."
Freedom of expression runs centrally to both art and skiing, from the backcountry to competition courses, King elaborated:
"With painting as well as skiing there's no specific way to go. In art you might not know which direction you're going until you're doing it and only by doing it do you figure out the next step. In skiing, you're always progressing through little things that you do; you don't get to the finish line straight away. It's a journey because of that and I think that relates to art nicely, the bigger picture unfolds as you move through it."
The full lineup: L to R Revolt 81, 84, 90, 86 Temple, 86, 95, 104 & 121
The bigger picture often called "overall impression" is as important as the finer details interwoven into competition runs and this related nicely to King's words about art. He goes on further to discuss how from an external perspective both skiing and art in a professional capacity can often mask the realities of the work that goes into both; the bigger picture often tells only some of the story.
Volkl giving a voice to both athletes and artists in the Built Together project has opened up one of the most traditional companies in the industry to influence from those in the know. The value this adds to the industry is hard to overstate, progress comes from innovating and taking chances - as in skiing, art and business alike. Next year is the marked final year of the Built Together project yet we hope this is just the beginning of the story. With many sick skis out and at least one more round to come Volkl continues to shape their place in the industry for the better.
Produced in partnership with Volkl Skis