The Atlas snowshoe product team can honestly say that they have arduously and personally field-tested the snowshoes they are selling consumers, and that's one of the key reasons the company is a leader in the snowshoe category.
On the heels of completing a technical and arduous six-day, Trans-Sierra snowshoe trek from Symmes Creek near Independence, Calif., on the Eastern side of the range, to Wolverton Ski Area in Sequoia National Park through the John Muir Wilderness on the Western slope (the infamous winter route is typically completed wearing alpine touring or backcountry skiing gear), SNEWSÂ® caught up with Atlas General Manager Daniel Emerson.
For Emerson, getting his product team out on the gear the company manufactures is critical to its current and future success.
"One of our big pushes and mandates for the company is to have the product team out once a week through the winter," said Emerson.
Along with Emerson on this latest adventure were Peter Chapman, development engineer; Cameron Martindell, marketing coordinator and staff photographer; and Teri Smith, women's workshop program manager. Over the 45-mile route, the team tested the men's 10 Series, the women's Elektra 10 Series, the 12 Series and 36 Series snowshoes with fully-loaded packs during the six-day trek.
"The trip was planned so we could put our snowshoes through the same terrain and conditions a backcountry skier might, and show that snowshoeing in the backcountry is a viable alternative to skiing," Emerson said. "Our snowshoes didn't give up anything to a ski, except the ability to carve turns."
Emerson told us the team learned a few things that they hope to incorporate into future snowshoe designs, and had a number of "ah hah" revelations.
"We used snowshoes everywhere with the exception of one pass which required us to climb over rocks. Certainly, the snow conditions were ideal for snowshoes in steep terrain, but we found the snowshoes could hang on some very steep terrain that others would have likely used crampons for -- we didn't carry crampons at all in fact," he said.
The difference in how a skier and a snowshoer approach ascents was underscored in the way Emerson, a snowshoer, and Chapman, a backcountry skier at heart, approached choosing routes at the start of the adventure. Emerson told us he would pick routes that were steeper, but infinitely shorter, while Chapman would instinctively contour.
"Our styles started to blend as the trip progressed," said Emerson.
As a result of what they learned, one product you will not see coming off the assembly line from Atlas is a snowshoe with a molded deck, even though that is something the company had been considering prior to the trip.
"We found that a soft deck creates a pocket that stabilizes the shoe, especially during steep downhill descents, and that helps to keep the nose of the snowshoe from diving to one side or the other and catching an edge," Emerson said.
Emerson and team were very pleased with the way the spring-loaded binding that is unique to Atlas snowshoes performed.
"When going up, the spring-loaded binding allows the wearer to kick into the slope and effectively make steps, which was critical for our comfort and safety during steep climbs," he said.
Two areas that Emerson sees as opportunities for the company are improving downhill traction and tweaking frame shapes.
"On very steep downhills, we did not have the traction we wanted and we will be looking at ways to allow the heel of the wearer's shoe to pass through the deck and be able to dig into the snow so you can create steps, just like when climbing," said Emerson.
In addition, Atlas will be looking to adjust the taper in the tails of the company's snowshoes to improve comfort during a long trek.
Emerson also believes that for snow conditions, like those found in the Sierra, oftentimes the Midwest, and also the East -- heavier and wet -- recommending smaller snowshoes for consumers might be best.
"I am 195 pounds and was carrying 65 pounds of gear and when I was wearing a 30-inch shoe I had more than sufficient floatation. I would have done better, and been more maneuverable and had less weight to lift on each foot in a 25-inch shoe, and that was very enlightening to us," Emerson noted.
"Going forward, we'll be working with retailers to help them assist customers by reinforcing the regional differences -- what works in the Sierra will not work as well in the deeper powder of the Rockies," he added. "It is a regional market and within each market, the focus needs to be on smaller sizing (with a size range that is appropriate to the region) to ensure customers have a more enjoyable experience with lighter weight and more maneuverable snowshoes."