All roads lead to Ischgl

All roads lead to Ischgl

Fischer’s team athletes converge in Austria to test gear, talk shop and ski pow, with the occasional schnitzel break.

Photos: Ethan Stone

The high-alpine skiing playground that surrounds the small Austrian town of Ischgl is boundless. It beckons skiers to ride until their legs are screaming and to track-out whatever terrain piques their interest. Steep shots, cliff drops and fresh snow—all with lift-served access—place Ischgl on the shortlist of places to take an entire roster’s-worth of professional skiers. 

Fischer’s annual athlete and product design summit landed in Ischgl in March 2019, bringing together more than 20 of the brands most talented freeride and big-mountain skiers, as well as the longtime gear-maker’s most senior product designers. It’s meetings like this that first spawned the thought of adding a “freeride” line—the FREESKIER-favorite Ranger Free series—to the brand’s already impressive lineup of skis.

For years, the annual summit has been considered by those who attend it to be one of the most important few days the athletes and designers will have all season. Focusing on athlete-driven skis and boots, product engineers listen intently to the suggestions and feedback of the skiers who spend hundreds of days in the field each year putting the equipment through the ringer. 

“The whole idea is, basically, talking about what we want to do with product development,” explained Fischer team athlete KC Deane. “Instead of just getting to speak up at the end of the year, you get everybody doing a huge round table at the end of each day after skiing, talking about what we love and what we don’t love.”

It may seem obvious, but coordinating the schedules of skiers whose job it is to globe-trot and chase deep snow is easier said than done. Only once in a while is every athlete able to make an appearance—and the meeting in Ischgl last year was one of those rare occurrences. 

“We had everybody on the North America team—myself, Kyle Smaine, Lynsey Dyer—and the entire European team, Sverre Lilliquist, William Larsson, Sandra Lahnsteiner.” said Deane.“We even had [downhiller], Steven Nyman, in attendance, which was wonderful because he knows so much about [ski construction]. He does a lot outside of racing… and he skis the Ranger Free 130 boot. It’s really good to get somebody like that to test the gear because he can put so much power into a boot and can really determine where the points are that need to be worked on.”

Having everyone in one room immediately following a day skiing on the gear surely expedites the feedback process, but it also allows for the conversation to focus on the minute details that can make-or-break a product. “I remember testing the Ranger Free boot… and it’s just so crazy because [Fischer’s product designers] took pretty much all of the bullet points that we had laid out and all those points were addressed,” recalled Deane, noting how an in-depth conversation at a team summit three years ago in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, helped shape the Ranger Free 130 boot to become a do-it-all daily-driver for the most demanding backcountry freeride athletes. 

“They just made the most ultimate freeride boot out there. It’s light, it’s extremely strong and stiff and, last year, it was wild for me because, while I was filming with Level 1, I hit probably some of the biggest cliffs I’ve ever tricked—and I did it on a pair of PIN bindings with FR 115s and the Ranger Free boot. I didn’t even question flipping off of a 60-foot cliff.”

Beyond roundtable conversations, the Fischer athlete summit in Ischgl was also a chance for the team’s stars to actually ski together, something that doesn’t happen all too often. Just as the rest of us, the skiers on the pro roster gain inspiration from the rider next to them, learning how to read the mountain in a different way, see a new line, try a new trick or, maybe, a new dirty joke for the chairlift. For athletes like Deane, these shared experiences skiing with the team are forever etched into the memory banks. 

“Kyle [Smaine] and I had the most insane jump session at the end of the trip,” he recollected. “We were done filming and there was this [snowmaking] reservoir that was a perfect 30-foot high or 25-foot high wall, and we were like, ‘Well, if we’re done, we should go build a jump there.’ So, we built a step up, a huge in-run and we just had a jump session on that thing ‘till we got kicked out by patrol at the end of the day. During that session, Kyle landed his first-ever dub-backflip to snow.”

For a few days in 2019, all roads led to Ischgl, Austria. Fischer’s top athletes from its North American and European rosters put a hold on the regularly scheduled film trips, photo shoots and pow-chasing adventures, and it’s most experienced product designers left their workbenches unmanned. At the annual athlete-designer summit, skiing took precedence—as if it didn’t already—in a different way. With a product-oriented, collaborative attitude, the professional skiers and veteran gear-tinkerers that converged on Ischgl were helping shape the next generation of Fischer’s legacy, fueled by schnitzel, espresso and the bountiful skiing of Austria’s high-alpine.