Designing gear can’t happen in a cubicle. Sure, there’s a lot of computer work that goes into creating CAD drawings and engineering specs, but the real solutions—the big ideas—come from the field. Chris Barchet, category director for MSR Water & Winter products, is a perpetual field tester. He recently headed to the Andermatt region of Switzerland on a snowshoe R&D trip to reacquaint himself with the terrain and chat with mountain guides and users to find out what works best for them. Here’s a quick look at one of the many professional recon missions Chris takes in the world’s most incredible places.
The Andermatt region is an alpine winter playground for skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. The Andermatt Snowshoe Trails are a series of marked snowshoe hiking routes that traverse this great swath of terrain. The extensive trail network is well-marked and local guides update the association’s website with daily avalanche information and trail closures.
When he got back, we asked Chris what he learned.
What was the goal of the trip?
I wanted to better understand the European snowshoe market. To effectively design product for this market we need to understand how people snowshoe in Europe and what equipment best suits their needs.The Andermatt trip emphasized the type of terrain that is common in that area of Switzerland, and in-depth discussions with the guides yielded very important details as to what works best in these mountains.
What impressed you and/or surprised you on the trip?
I am always impressed by the infrastructure in the Alps. Our trip began on a train that took us to the base of a ski area in the heart of a huge alpine zone. Then, our route climbed to a pass and traversed several ridges where we met a second trail. This trail eventually led back to a chairlift which you could ride down, grab an espresso at the café and wait for the train to take you back to the valley. We don’t have anything like that in North America.
Come clean, was this trip for business or pleasure?
This trip was strictly business but, ok, under the guise of a boondoggle. I spent one week in Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria visiting various snowshoe destinations, both in the mountains and equipment shops in town. And of course I got to enjoy some of the finer things that Europe has to offer along the way.