Freeskiing is, by far, the olympic sport I am most excited to watch during this winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Freeskiing is brand new to the Olympics for 2014, and the three disciplines involved, half-pipe, slope style, and skicross, are going to be a thrill to watch. I get downright giddy with visions of chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! while pounding my beer glass on a ski resort bar, watching Tom Wallisch throw down on slope style.
The North Face designed the U.S. Olympic Freeskiing team uniforms and unveiled them last Monday. The North Face worked closely with athletes Tom Wallisch, Maddie Bowman, and Devin Logan and kept production and prototyping within a few miles of their Alameda, California, headquarters. The end result looks cool, but there is also a compelling tech story underneath the style. Jasmin Ghaffarian, Product Director of Action Sports for The North Face, broke it down for me.
According to Ghaffarian, The North Face conducted over 1,000 hours of color testing to decide how they were going to configure the red, white, blue, and stars on the uniform. This was as much a choice of function as it was style. "They are judged by how they are seen," said Ghaffarian. The right color ways are going to accentuate the tricks that a skier is throwing in the half-pipe which can sway the judges to give them a better score. Ghaffarian told me that they focused on how the colors affected the way skiers looked during both day and night because much of the half-pipe competition will take place at night.
On top of styling for the sake of form, The North Face also has compelling textile tech stories in these uniforms. Ghaffarian told me that The North Face made the shoulders of the half-pipe uniforms, where athletes would be carrying skis, about 200 percent more durable than the body with a woven in technology they area calling Fuse Form. The uniforms for slopestyle and skicross are cut from a new waterproof jersey fabric that is lighter than The North Face's three layer waterproof fabric and the skier cross bib and jersey feature ceramic dots which give them dimples and are supposed to aid athletes' aerodynamics—in the similar manner as dimples help a golf ball fly—while they are in a tuck.
In keeping prototyping local The North Face was able to move quickly on changes based on athlete feedback. "We got to see prototypes and work hands-on day to day. Being able to see things over night was a pretty big deal," Ghaffarian said. "It enabled us to create the best products."
Let's hope this ability to innovate will help our athletes dominate. USA! USA! USA!