Behind the Brand | Rab

Sophie Nicholson chats to Amber Heath – Product Designer at Rab – about the British brand’s ski-specific Khroma collection

man geared up with skis straped to back reaches summit of mountain on foot. looks like norway with sea and mountains rising out of water, with small mountain islands. snow is coming down out of a blue sky

Sophie Nicholson: After decades of making top-quality climbing and mountaineering apparel, Rab finally bit the ski bullet back in 2020 with the launch of the Khroma collection. What persuaded you guys to expand in this new snowy direction? 

AH: At our core, we make hardwearing clothes for mountain people; and mountain people not only climb mountains, they ski them too. So, Khroma was a natural extension of our existing range.  

With so much expertise in our team, with excellent technologies already present in our range, and with a true understanding of the mountain people as our core users, it felt right to develop a ski-specific range with a focus on ski touring and big mountain days.    

SN: Every winter the Khroma collection grows and expands both in terms of popularity and the number of products in the series. Can you tell us what’s new in terms of apparel for winter 2023? 

AH: We have revamped the whole Khroma range for winter 22/23. We are constantly learning and evolving to meet the demands of our ever-changing environment and to incorporate new technologies. So, we felt it was time for an update. 

We have updated the fabrics used for the Latok series, as Gore-Tex technologies have improved their most breathable range to be super durable but more lightweight, which has really given us the opportunity to enhance these styles. We have also updated the fit of the whole range to tailor it more accurately for the items’ end purpose.  

Our new Khroma Kinetic pieces are designed for ski touring. The breathability and added comfort of these shell styles make them perfect for long days touring in the mountains.  

These have also had an upgrade with a new aesthetic and enhanced fit, specifically designed for ski touring. We have completed extensive consumer and user research around the fit of our ski touring pants and have tested them thoroughly to provide the best freedom of movement for touring and ski mountaineering. Another addition to the Kinetic range are the new Khroma Kinetic Bib Pants. These are designed to offer more protection, with extra ventilation in the legs for the up and an extra pocket on the chest large enough to hold a transceiver for the down. The women’s and men’s styles have been designed with a drop-seat function to enable an easy pee solution without having to de-layer in alpine environments! 

SN: The split of male/female product is fairly even across the collection, which can be rare when a brand is developing a new range. Presumably this means the female ski touring market is a priority for Rab? 

AH: There is a 50/50 gender split for our Khroma range. There is nothing that we make for men that we do not make for women too. You’ll also see in most, if not all of our ranges, only a handful of items being unisex.  

We designed this range specifically for ski touring and ski mountaineering with the women’s range as important as the men’s. We believe that women go wherever men go and they should be able to do that in the same quality and fit of kit as men do, so you’ll find each piece in the Khroma collection available in both male and female versions with the fit tailored to each. 

SN: It’s not just about the apparel though, there’s some wicked touring gloves in there too and a new Khroma pack to look forward to this season. Tell us a bit more about the Khroma 30L Ski Pack… 

AH: Our new Khroma pack comes in two volumes, a 22 and a 30L, and is designed for ski touring and mountaineering with a snow shedding Tri-Flex carry system and back panel entry to the pack for easy access, a large front avalanche pocket for your kit with emergency zipper, and easy-release buckle on the hip belt.  

The pack can be set up for a diagonal carry using the base strap and the concealed top strap or in an A-Frame using the reinforced compression straps. You can also carry an ice axe and helmet when using the A-Frame set up making it ideal for the ascent as well as the decent. 

One of the coolest things about the pack is its ultra-tough Spectra fabric. Spectra fibres are 15 times stronger than steel for their relative weight, and on the Khroma pack are woven into a ripstop grid with Cordura Nylon to create the highly abrasion-resistant and incredibly tough fabric.   

SN: You recently signed a partnership with Glenmore Lodge, the Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre based in the Cairngorms. Tell us a bit more about this… 

AH: The partnership with Glenmore Lodge is such a simple one because we just fit together. Our kit is designed for exactly the weather the team are out in every day and it gives up a whole team of outdoor professionals to work with from a design and development perspective, which is incredible.  

Us designers had the privilege to go up to Glenmore last year at the start our relationship to spend time with the guides and partners. We spoke the guys about their kit, what they need and the demands not only themselves but also their clients need to enable them to perform their best on the hill.  

The Cairngorms is a great testing ground for our products as often the wind chill and precipitation is high and freezing temps are low. They have often been compared to arctic conditions and we see why! It allowed us to gain really in-depth research.  

SN: How closely do you work with your sponsored athletes when it comes to design and development of product ranges?  

AH: The great thing about our athlete team is the fact that they are out there testing the gear and putting it through its paces every day, which helps us gather information quicker on what is working and what we could improve on. Once we begin this process we stay in contact through-out the season, often getting them to test prototypes and asking them their thoughts on certain aspects of the design or fit. 

We are constantly learning through them, but it needs to be a balance, as they don’t always use kit in the same way you or I would as they are often in such extreme environments. We also use our test teams at the AMI and Glenmore Lodge plus consumer research to support the development of our products in addition to the athletes – this allows for a really well-rounded feedback process. The design and development process has to be right because at times our products can be a lifeline. 

SN: And what advice would you give to any talented young ski mountaineers looking for a spot on your athlete team

AH: Come talk to us! Drop us a line and tell us about yourself. We try to support our athlete team and enable them to push the boundaries of their sport and we look for people who are not only doing this but share our values and passion for the mountains too. If you tick these boxes we’re always open to hearing from you. 

SN: And finally, what’s next for the Khroma range?  

AH: Sustainability is always on our agenda and where we are able to make changes without impacting the products’ performance. We’re excited about the introduction recycled face fabrics to our Khroma Latok GTX jacket and pants and, partially recycled fabrics on our Khroma Packs, which is a great step for some very technical pieces. In 2021 63% of our fabrics and 53% of our down purchased was recycled tipping the scales on virgin Vs recycled for both.  

We continue to push forward with these advances, but you will already find many of our pieces have already moved to recycled liner and outers with recycled insulation inside, which is absolutely fantastic. There’s too much to cover here but you can find out more about what we’re doing behind the scenes at Rab.