WE SPEAK TO NATASHA WOODWORTH, THE DESIGNER BEHIND PATAGONIA’S BACKCOUNTRY SKI TOURING COLLECTION
Fall-Line: Patagonia has always been in the backcountry, but this kit is the first specifically built for ski touring. Can you tell us how the idea for the backcountry touring collection came about?
Natasha Woodworth: Back in February 2018, I did a trip over to Europe, to St Anton, Garmisch and Chamonix, with Glen, who leads product innovation for Patagonia. That is where my eyes were opened to the European ski touring scene – and I was so impressed.
I have always loved the mountain culture in Europe, because I have experienced it from the perspective of my ski racing. But seeing the amount of people touring, ranging from tourers going up in the dark after work to long multi-day hut trips, made it an inspiring trip.
Clement, who heads up product merchandising for Europe, was instrumental in the collection, as he was hammering us to build products for the European ski touring community. It was actually really easy once we had seen it in Europe – and had met the people we wanted to support doing human-powered adventures in the mountains.
This is what Patagonia is all about, so it was easy to come back from that trip to Europe and make some things for those people to wear!
FL: What did that initial trip to Europe equip you with?
NW: A lot of it was about coming back and working on the fit and articulation with the team and in the Forge, our advanced research and development centre. The developer on this project Morgan is the silent hero because she nailed the fit, and everything which was specific to the European ski tourer.
A lot of this was built in-house. We made all the patterns and our first round of prototypes here. Then we went to South America to test the early concept ideas. We were able to come back knowing what worked, and, from there, develop prototypes: all sorts of different fabrics and different cuts for many people to test. That really set us up for the big European testing trip in 2019!
FL: Can you give us a short overview of the collection and what’s on offer?
NW: We designed two kits: the Upstride, a softshell for fast, uphill missions and the Stormstride, a fully waterproof shell kit for inclement weather and longer days in the mountains. The softshell kit features two highly breathable, knit fabrics that are bonded together for comfort. The face provides protection and the backer is super soft with an embossed pattern to feel really nice against the skin.
This fabric development is innovative with lots of stretch and two differing breathabilities. We discovered, through testing, that the super breathable fabric, which we use on the jackets was just too cold for the pants. But, on the top, it is perfect for uphill!
The Upstride softshell was fun to build because we re-interpreted what a traditional softshell is – much of the market focuses on heavy, bulky styles that have been around since the 80s.
The Stormstride waterproof kit features a super nice, slick backer with a lot of stretch for all day moving comfort. The face of the three-layer is 100 percent recycled nylon, with two big chest pockets for storing skins and a low profile powder skirt for keeping out snow drift.
The pants have a new cuff design that fits a wide variety of touring boots and with a snap closure so you can slim it down for use with crampons. We also streamlined the waistband to feature a new internal, low bulk belt system.
FL: Three years in the making (and maybe more) – why did it take so long to develop this collection?
NW: It was because of the testing – we spent a lot of time because it was a new market for us and we wanted to get it right. It all started with Chamonix!
That first trip there was almost three years ago, then we came back and built stuff for the second trip and then took a lot of time to build even more prototypes for the next European trip. So yes, a lot of testing was built into the process!
FL: What is your ambition for the kit?
NW: My hope is that, when people are wearing it, they will feel that every step they take, the product is not fighting them – the fit is really built for walking uphill with them. I am proud of the softshells being really different and that we pushed technical innovation with what a traditional softshell could be.
FL: So you went back to France and Austria for a final big European research trip with the prototypes in 2019, what is the story of that trip?
NW: I had been to Europe before, growing up ski racing, but every day you would move and wouldn’t have a lot of time to soak up the vibe of each place. So it was nice to go with the Patagonia snow team and explore a little bit. We had tonnes of prototypes and fabrics to test: jackets with lots of different pocket or hood configurations – it was a grab bag every morning with all these prototypes to try.
The trip started with a bang as we arrived at this little mountain town in Germany at night and everyone put on their headlamps and started skinning up. Right away, we understood the culture. It doesn’t really happen in North America – the afterwork, putting on ski boots and skinning up to the top of the mountain to a hut with your friends. It was a true indicator of how touring was embedded in people’s lives. That was the start, then we went to the Dolomites in Italy where we had longer days and different types of touring, seeing lots of families, everywhere, which was cool.
We ended back in Chamonix, which brought in more freeriding and the chance to really put the Stormstride to the test. We started with the Upstride, high endurance quick laps after work, then brought in the Stormstride in Chamonix, for longer days and sleeping in the hut. We got to see the whole gamut in Europe and were constantly blown away by the amount of people touring.
There was something about that first night in Germany that was very special as it was such a different cultural experience to be up in the hut, with a soup and pretzel. I felt like it was an indication of how ski touring is such a part of life in Europe. It is not a single trip you do, or flying some place to do it, it is an ‘everyday health and fitness, and being in the mountains’ type of culture.
FL: Sitting in Ventura, California, what is it about the European touring scene that interests you?
NW: At this moment in the US, everyone is getting outside so much. In Europe, I was really inspired by how broad a range of ski touring there was and the different types of tourers there were; from little kids and families, to super aggressive, all day enduro folks.
It is all the same thing – getting people out into the mountains and appreciating the outdoors. Bringing some more of that energy and excitement to North America would be an awesome thing and I think it is already happening.
FL: Tell us about where you grew up and how you came to be backcountry savvy?
NW: I grew up on the East Coast, and, while we would tour, there was no avalanche danger as it was tiny mountains and not a lot of snow. The ‘snow science’ side of things I had to learn when I moved west. I have been impressed by that in Europe – how snow safety and knowing the weather systems and avalanche conditions is such second nature to people.
My parents had skins and would do walks in the woods, so I was always aware and going with them. Then I got lucky working with Patagonia to have some great mentors, like Glen and Linden, my colleague in Alpine, who was a guide for a really long time. I ski with him but I also learn from him, watching him to see what he does.
I think mentorship is so important and I lucked out being with people who want to teach and learn, like Zahan Billimoria (watch his new film Solving for Z here) and our other ambassadors, who are passionate about the safety aspect of the backcountry. I have been lucky to be around a lot of great people who taught me well and taught me to stay curious and always learning!
Find out more about the collection here: https://eu.patagonia.com/gb/en/snow/