One of the defining points of outdoor specialty retail is that it is where customers can go to discover what’s truly new. Local shop owners are the ones who often take the risk to bring in a small, start-up brand, differentiating themselves from the big boys. In this reoccurring series, SNEWS will identify and highlight the new kids on the outdoor block vying for a place on those shelves.
The town of Trysil, Norway is known for its interconnected, quadruple ski-mountain resort. Families seek winter getaways on those sparkling wide slopes. For a group of Trysil natives, that taste of outdoor adventure from childhood became a lifelong endeavor to do more in the industry. In 2002, they founded Sweet Protection to make fresh tracks in the engineering of head protection.
Sweet Protection’s ski and snowboard helmet category — launching in the United States for fall/winter 2015 — offers close-fitting, low volume, streamlined profiles that are designed to minimize g-forces and lower the risk of rotational torque.
“Some helmets seem to rest on top of your head; these lock down on the vital areas of the head,” said Stale Moller, head of design and development.
Among the co-founders, Stale and Atle Enberget, head of global sales, grew up exploring the wilderness in their majestic Norwegian hometown, which boasts the country’s largest ski resort in the mountainous Osterdalen region.
“We were into the more extreme sports — snowboarding, freeskiing, whitewater kayaking — but we were annoyed that equipment could limit progress, so we started playing around with gear in my parent’s garage and grew the idea for the company,” Moller said.
From the beginning, Sweet Protection has offered three categories of skull protectors (amongst the co-founders favorite pastimes): whitewater kayaking, ski and snowboard, and mountain biking.
In 2004, Sweet Protection introduced the whitewater kayaking helmets, perhaps, prematurely — simply because the team didn’t have the resources to provide their dealers with adequate support, according to Enberget. Now, Sweet Protection is prepared to “properly” debut the other two categories including mountain biking on the horizon in summer 2016.
Sales and Marketing Director Hans Gunleiksrud is based in Park City, Utah, but Sweet Protection is establishing another office in Denver for the upcoming 2015 category launch.
The 35 helmet lineup includes the Grimnir, a freeride snow sport head-shield that’s handmade — versus poured into a molding device — from a carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CRP).
“The shell itself is a pre-preg carbon fiber — which is used on race cars and fighter jets — and it allows a production process that let’s us finely tune the properties of the shell, so we can have some extremely rigid areas and other areas that are more elastic,” Moller explained.
Sweet Protection approaches each helmet with the same process: The hand-constructed shell shape is based off the “strange” geometry of the human head. To optimize protection, the shell is more rigid over the skull’s sharper sections and more malleable over the flatter sections. As needed, four to six layers of carbon fiber — plus top-secret fibers — are stacked to create the shell. Inside, the three-piece liner includes a shock-absorbing EPS (expanded polystyrene) and front and rear impact shields that relieve impact without adding volume or weight. Each helmet also has MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), which reduces rotational forces that are instigated by angled impacts by up to 50 percent.
Every task is done in-house from the prototypes and design to engineering, testing and creating the finished product. Plus, Sweet Protection’s goal is to exceed the ASTM F2040 standard specification for helmets used for recreational snow sports in the United States. The prices range from about $150 to $650 at retail, and swing depending on the specific materials used in each model.
Up next for the brand. Technical apparel, which they previewed to retailers at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and SIA this January.
Business hasn’t gotten in the way of those childhood friendships. “We're all still friends ... and we still enjoy a day of skiing or mountain biking,” Moller said from a cell phone while sitting on a sundeck with Enberget and Gunleiksrud, post gear test runs at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado.
-- Morgan Tilton
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