SNEWS Qs: Jon Johnston founded Billy Goat Technologies to ascend higher on the mountain

Find out how Jon Johnston gets higher and steeper on the mountain without postholing in his crampons. The Canadian developed his own product to solve a problem and is looking to expand through retailers.
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The most innovative new outdoor and wintersports products come from those in the field.

Jon Johnston and the late Jack Hannan came up with their idea for Billy Goat Technologies Ascent Plates while climbing and skiing “a lot of big, steep, spiney faces” in British Columbia.

“We wanted the security of a crampon but needed a bit of floatation and support to allow us to climb what we wanted to,” he said.

Johnston tells SNEWS how his homemade product — which fits in-between the crampon and boot — quickly gained popularity among friends and now is finding its way into specialty retail stores in Canada and the United States.

How did the first Billy Goat Ascent Plate come about?
The first model was created out of a couple scraps of laminate flooring at 11 p.m. the night before a big climb. The flooring didn’t last long, but it was long enough to show us that the idea worked. They have shown to be amazingly versatile — anytime you would normally be ‘postholing’ in the snow, the plates will make your travel much more efficient.

How did the product evolve from there?
We made various shapes over the years, until Jack was killed in an avalanche in 2010. I kept using the plates and refining the design. In 2012, I applied for a patent and partnered with Lance Edwards to found Billy Goat Technologies. We produced 100 pairs in early Jan 2013 and were sold out by mid March. We plan to have a much larger production run ready for market by late summer 2013.

What type of terrain is the Ascent Plate intended for? What type of consumer is buying?
They are designed primarily to provide some floatation while still allowing a crampon to provide security. They are intended for climbing steep terrain in soft of variable snow. They are also helpful as an approach tool for ice climbers, reducing their trail breaking effort while not forcing them to carry much extra gear. Most of the interest so far has been from skiers, but we expect the mountaineering community to embrace the product.

Are there different models? What footwear does it work with?

There are two models — a rigid-heel, bale-crampon compatible and a full-strap crampon compatible, also referred to as "hard boot" and "soft boot". Each will be available in small and large next year. Between the small and large size we plan to be ale to accommodate boot sole lengths of 255mm-340mm. They work with any type of boot that a crampon can be attached to. We have tested the plates with most popular crampons.

Have you been working specifically with any boot or crampon manufacturers?

We haven’t. Our goal is to keep this product compatible with as many different manufacturers products as possible in order to allow customers to purchase this product to use with equipment they already own rather than having to buy a special boot or crampon to go with it.

BillyGoatTechnologies_AscentPlates.jpg

Where is the product available and where are you planning to expand distribution?
They are available at billygoattech.com, getpow.com, and several retailers in BC. We hope to have them in retailers in the U.S. this fall and also hope to engage another online retailer in the U.S. Any backcountry oriented ski shop, climbing stores, and large outfitters such as REI would be suitable to sell this product.

--David Clucas

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