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PartnerNews | Valhalla Skis

Boutique ski manufacture from Freiburg

by Olav Schmid 01/21/2021
Frederic Andes and the Valhalla team build high-quality skis by hand, which are manufactured entirely in Freiburg. The shapes are aimed at the freeride touring sector and are correspondingly light, with particular attention paid to a durable construction during production. I took a look at Valhalla and asked Freddi a few questions. I also took a ski with me to test, you can find my impressions after the interview.

OS: What does Valhalla stand for in three key words?

FA: Sustainability. Lightness. Fun.

How would you describe the market niche you serve with your skis? The market already offers almost everything...

In general, I can see a trend in part of society towards owning and consuming less, but with correspondingly high quality. In contrast to short-lived mass products, people are placing more value on durability and sustainability, coupled with a passion for the product or a passion for their own skis. It's about the personal value associated with it.

Look to the past. The ski store used to put completely new bases on your used skis. Now it's no longer worth it. New skis are cheaper than repairs. That's not what I want - it's kind of stupid, isn't it? I've also noticed at various test festivals that there are still many people who don't know any lightweight, wide powder skis that are suitable for touring.

So your skis are relatively expensive but also particularly durable. Isn't it uneconomical for you to build skis for eternity?

Such a small company doesn't need huge numbers of customers. I'm more interested in reaching and convincing buyers who want to ride my skis for a long time. And if something does break, there's an amazing amount that can be repaired.

And people pay for the quality?

In fact, I was initially met with a lot of surprise when I mentioned the price to interested buyers in the testimonials. Now that my skis have been out in the mountains for several years, I believe that the added value has been recognized. Buyers support local craftsmanship, sustainability, stability and the philosophy behind Valhalla. I would even say there is a certain enthusiasm among customers!

What exactly makes your freetouring ski so special?

First of all, the shape is special. You don't see this very often. The focus is on a 'surfy' feel. It is super light and yet very stable in terms of handling. And also durable. Ski tourers and ski mountaineers should not even notice the ski on the ascent and have fun on the descent in all conditions.

In recent years, you have focused entirely on one shape with two widths in three lengths each and different materials. Now you are developing your product portfolio further. What's happening at the moment?

In the long term, it's about appealing to other preferences. I'm currently working on three more products. In line with my philosophy, I have already finished a prototype of the existing shape, which is produced in an even more environmentally friendly way. It has a recycled ski base and a reduced primary plastic content. Apart from that, it has wood veneer and a higher proportion of flax and sidewalls made of bamboo. But the whole thing is a bit more special than just another ski with a wooden look. The ski is currently undergoing endurance testing to ensure its durability.

In addition, a snowboard with an equally unusual shape complements the product portfolio. It is based on the trend of directional powder shapes: Long nose - short tail. However, it is relatively stiff. It is customary to guarantee buoyancy via a soft camber. My Tabula Rasa guarantees this via a long rocker. The hardness also makes it stable at speed. As with skis, powder surfability is the first criterion. Just provided differently here.

In addition to the skis, there is a freeride-racecarver hybrid for lots of fun in and around the ski resorts, for hammering through the turns at high speed. And finally, a 92 shape in a more affordable version, designed as a playful, surfy all-mountain ski that you can also rock through the park.

How do you see the future in terms of current trends in the ski market and the impact of coronavirus?

I think that the big players in the ski business will certainly feel a significant slump. They have to remain profitable with incredibly high volumes. Of course, this also applies to Valhalla - just to a much lesser extent. We are a small company and therefore very adaptable. I even believe that we could benefit. Our core products fit very well in these times of social distancing. In addition to all the challenges that are hitting society out there, people are moving out. They want to take care of their mental health and recharge their batteries while ski touring. That's exactly what our ski is for.

Do you think you're helping to shape a new trend?

Ski touring is booming, even if the alpine ski industry is probably on the decline in general. Many people are fed up with the whole ski circus. More and more are discovering ski touring for themselves. Many of them don't come from alpinism, where there is a strong focus on summits, but from freeriding. They want to go up as relaxed as possible and want the perfect slope instead of the most famous summit. In my opinion, there is also a trend towards preferring small local brands to large mass products. So I think so!

What do you personally like most about skiing? Presumably your skis match your preferences?

I love being outdoors, surrounded by fresh powder with my buddies. There's nothing better. And then a perfect descent... So I definitely come from an alpine skiing background and my focus is definitely on having fun downhill. It's perfect when you've earned it yourself. Which doesn't mean that I don't also go freeriding in the area or sometimes do a summit. I'm flexible in that respect. Even if the conditions aren't ideal, I still want to have the best possible ski with me that guarantees me fun. I have achieved this perfectly with the SMOC 104. I can strap it on every day and be sure that I have the right ski under my feet. And I'm proud of that too.

A few impressions from the Valhalla workshop in the video:

On the next page you will find my impressions of SMOC 115 --->

Short test Valhalla SMOC 115

My first impression: As soon as Freddi put the ski in my hand, I noticed the low weight for the not insignificant width. In 178cm length, one ski weighs 1650g. When flexing the ski by hand, it feels rather soft in the shovel area. As it is supposed to be a surfy, ascent-oriented powder weapon, this feels right for me. With a radius of 17.5m, an early starting rocker and a slightly offset center of radius, the ski also seems to be equipped for maneuverable action in dense forest. What's more, my need for high-speed turns has long since adapted to my ageing bones, so I don't need a ski for speed records.

Let's go

Snow has been announced in the Engadin - we're off to the Maloja Pass, Forno hut! What awaits us is not the dream of a Plaisier ski tour - but it couldn't be more perfect for a ski test. The first day we have (broken) hard snow, ice, sastrugi deserts and rutted snow. Then comes the Big Dump. A day of the finest powder. We leave the basin a few days later and head to the Lenzerheide ski resort. The sun and high temperatures quickly turn the snow into heavy wet snow. With just a few meters of slopes, the ski test snow menu is complete and I was able to test the ski described above in pretty much all conditions: from fat powder turns to icy slopes, everything was included.

The low weight of the ski felt like hiking with heavy shoes on the first few ascents - very, very light. Even when edging up close to the summit in icy conditions - danger of falling, no-fall terrain - and while the wind tries to throw me off balance, I feel comfortable and safe with the still unfamiliar ski.

Then it's downhill, quite often, quite a lot! The downhill summary in a nutshell: Light-footed samba dancing in the snow! Even if I can't samba or rumba: the ski is more playful than anything I've ever skied before.

Okay - here's a little more detail:

The additional flat reinforcement in the shovel provides cushioning and good stability in tracked snow, hard snow and ice. The harmonious flex (soft shovel/tighter under the binding) keeps the ski stable at all times, even at higher speeds and on uneven terrain. The ski can be skied with little effort. It likes a lot of forward pressure and is therefore forgiving of too much forward lean.

On the piste, you first have to get 115mm under the binding onto the edge. Once it is on the edge, the ski holds bombastically at (medium) large radii. It stays on track very well. Even though it's not an 80mm piste ski, I can make short turns just as smoothly as medium and large radii. Even at high speeds, the SMOC is quite stable for an off-piste/touring ski.

In powder: lean back and enjoy. This is where the ski is at home and shows its core competence. I haven't skied a better powder ski in the corresponding width - and that as a lightweight ski. Fat!

So: To all ski touring, powder and off-piste freaks who want to ascend quickly and with little weight and at the same time aim for racy, steep descents. To all those who fall in love anew every winter and are also a bit 'crazy' and appreciate collector's items in terms of price: Go for it!

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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