interview by R.E. & Ben Dolenc
Tele ain't easy. The garage is our soul, but business
is business. Armond works hard for tele progression. This is the
story of the UTB binding.
Descender: Armond, in the PNW, we've seen
the UTB around. Most core tele skiers are aware of your work. But
damn! It's been in dev for years. Obviously, your ideas have influenced
binding progression. Last spring, "news" hinted at litigation
between you and major binding manufacturers Voile and Rottefella.
In your own words, what is the real story?
Where to start?
The beginning. Let it roll brother!
AD: It has
been very much a progression. It probably all began in the days
of living in my 1984 Subaru station wagon. I had been a true fun
hog, trying hard to work less than 4 months out of the year, and
playing the rest! AHHH life is good that way. I would sometimes
daydream about what I would do for work when my early retirement
was over. I knew I wanted to be involved in the ski industry in
one way or another, I just didn't know how. I had very much fallen
in love with teleskiing shortly after making my first good tele
turn, and went through the same progression that a lot of teleskiers
probably went through.
Once I scrounged
up enough money to buy some boots and bindings, I couldn't resist
tearing my alpine bindings off of my favorite skis (K2 TNC 210cm),
and mounting some Riva classics in their place. I was stoked on
the idea of possibly being able to ski all the same terrain on teles
that I was able to ski alpine style. It didn't take long to start
going through the dilemma of destroying bindings on a regular basis,
and for a few years I just joked to friends about making a burlier
binding. I never really thought about it much until I wrecked my
ACL in my left knee in 1995. Sitting on my ass with a broken knee,
I thought to myself "I better figure out something to do other
than just sitting around being pissed
", so I got a machinist
job. While working there, I started to design a new, better, tele
binding. I knew I wanted to make something that was SUPER BOMBER
first and foremost. After talking to my good friend Scott Wicklund
about my plans, he said, "you have to make it a step-in",
and I liked the sound of that.
At first, the only thing I was thinking
about was how the hell do I make the step-in interface? I thought
about the step-in snowboard bindings. They all had mechanisms that
latched onto pieces of metal that were bolted onto the boots. I
got to thinking of all kinds of variations of similar applications
to tele boots, and it just hit me while having a beer with a friend
. Make the parts that latch into the step-in
mechanism crampon points!! That way they would be good for something
other than just pieces of metal bolted to the boot for the sole
purpose stepping in
It just seemed too perfect in my head
not to try. So the step-in crampon idea was born out of a bottle
of Obsidian Stout!
Drop testing the UTB. Photo: Scott Wicklund
to say that the rest of the UTB binding has evolved around this
concept. I made a couple prototype renditions of just the crampon
interface alone, with simulated points screwed onto a piece of flat
bar to test. I had no idea that I was opening a huge can of worms.
After about 6 or 9 design changes, I decided to make a few pair
to try out. I made 6 very crude bindings. I decided that to get
a true toughness test, I would mount the prototypes on a pair of
213cm Super G skis (Black Smokes), and skied them the entire next
I also decided to see about patenting
my ideas. I spent several weeks in the fall of 1996 doing a patent
search, before finally applying for one. The wait was on. It can
take up to a year and a half to hear back from the patent and trademark
office. That season, 96-97, I skied like a bug on acid on the 213's,
and went through some more design tweaks. I made a better version
in the spring of 97, that I mounted on a pair of borrowed skis from
my friend Doug Ingersoll. They were a pair of 198cm Wild Widows,
and seemed like a more realistic alternative to the 213's for touring.
The binding was still in crude form, but was actually functional.
That spring I logged several excellent tours in the north and central
Cascades, ending with one of the truest tests of the binding yet,
climbing and skiing the Edmunds headwall route on Mt. Rainier's
Mowich face. On that trip, at the trailhead, I decided to leave
my Charlet Mosier crampons in the van to save weight (smart eh??!!).
After that trip I convinced my dad to loan
me enough money to make a batch of 45 binding pairs. This proved
to be far more work than I was anticipating. I figured that I'd
be done in a month or so, but four months was more like it. This
was a true "beat down" for a guy that doesn't even like
to say the word "work". After spending more money and
time than I was intending, I had to choke down a bad batch of toe
plates, and make another because of an oversight on my part. By
the time December came around I was finally done with my first batch,
and did not want to repeat the process any time soon. The finished
product came out nice, but my design was too complex and difficult
to manufacture. It seamed very appealing to me at that time to try
to convince a larger company to take on my idea with a license agreement,
collect royalties and go skiing
.. PHAT CHANCE!!
My friend Doug Ingersoll has ties
with Rossignol and thought they might be interested, so he arranged
a meeting. I wanted to see if K2 was interested first, since they
are WA local, so I set up a meeting. I met with K2 and didn't get
any bites, but did leave with a new pair of skis (thanks Mike).
Same story with Rossignol, but they looked at it quite a bit longer
before declining. I decided to hit the upcoming outdoor retailer
trade show in Salt Lake to approach potential manufacturers.
The UTB. Photo courtesy A.D./UTB
I met with
Wally at Voile and got no hint of interest there either. Everyone
could see that it was going to be a big job to take on along with
their current workload. I went back to my contact at Rossignol and
asked if he thought Rottefella might be interested, they said there
was a chance and gave me the contact information. I wrote Rottefella
a letter asking them if they would be interested in seeing my new
binding, and they said they would. After they signed a non- disclosure
agreement (NDA, as did all the other companies before seeing it),
I sent them a demo pair in Aug of 1998. They had the binding until
the following winter OR show, where we met and they said that they
were not interested, and gave me my demos back. I then asked if
they thought the rigid rod and enclosed compression spring part
of my idea would benefit their Chili binding. Reconsidering, they
said that could very well be an option, so I let them borrow one
of my rod and compression spring heel bail assemblies to further
examine. I thought to myself, "right on, at least there is
some hope!" To my dismay, I started going the runaround with
Rottefella through the rest of that winter until that spring, when
I finally requested my parts back. I received them a few weeks later
with a letter that says, "Hello, here is the heel clamp I borrowed.
We will be back to you if we decide to use a combination of steel
rods and compression springs." I had been almost sure they
would go for it.
Oh well, same story different day. Shortly
after that a friend of mine hooked me up with the kind people of
Mountain Safety Research in Seattle. They were actually interested
and took a ninety-day look at it. I got a nice tour of their facility,
and got to sit down with their engineers and get their input on
how to simplify the binding and make it lighter. They are the ones
that tuned me onto the idea of the cast titanium toe plate. They
definitely have the manufacturing capabilities, but it would be
a stretch to bring a telemark binding into their line. After a very
considerate look, they decided it would not fit into their agenda.
Once again I was deflated and wondering if I might just give up
The 1999-00 ski season was fast approaching
and there would be no bindings this year. I got fairly depressed
about the situation and could do nothing but revert back into a
powder monger for therapy. I didn't want to think about the binding,
I just wanted to ski, so I did. Shortly into that season my friend
Doug Ingersoll informed me of his new prototype Cobras that he just
received through Rossignol. "Dude
They just knocked off
..You are gonna shit!" he said. Apparently Rottefella
didn't get back to me like they said they would! Doug sent a binding
to me and sure enough, rigid rods and encased compression springs!
Hmmmm, I think I can feel something slowly running me over, It is
squeezing me and I'm getting PISSED! I dig the last letter that
Rottefella sent me out of my file, the one that said they would
get back to me, I can't help but think about kicking the shit out
of those assholes. Knowing that wouldn't be the answer, my only
option was to find a lawyer. Thanks to another good friend on the
Stevens Pass ski patrol, who referred me to a patent attorney, an
old friend from high school . I hooked up with my saving grace.
A patent attorney that actually tele skis!! We met, I showed him
my binding and we went over my situation. He took interest right
away. But, It would take a while to research and prepare the case.
The winter outdoor retailer trade
show was coming up shortly and we were not quite ready to file the
complaints yet. When I showed up at the 2000 winter OR show, I got
more interesting news. It appeared that Voile had a rendition of
a rigid rod and encased compression spring binding now as well.
This I had to see, so I went to the Voile booth and sure enough
there it was, the Hardwire. I explained to them that I had a patent
pending on that technology and that I'd even showed it to Wally
a few years back. Wally was not there at the time and the guys there
at the booth were definitely concerned about my issues. They suggested
that I get back in touch when Wally got back from Europe to discuss
North Cascades, WA. Photo: Scott Wicklund
I informed my lawyer of the news: Yet another company producing
a rigid rod and compression spring binding. He says this will definitely
affect our case with Rottefella. Although it seamed like the runaround
was in effect, I was under the impression at the time that I was
going to be able to negotiate a deal with Voile without having to
litigate, and that was definitely the way I wanted it to work out.
Business, however was not my strong point, and I had been learning
the hard way, so I decided to follow my lawyer's advise, and sue
Voile as well. It is going to take several more weeks to prepare
everything. We finally filed the complaints, and because of some
Norwegian law, it took about a month and a half longer for Rottefella
to receive their complaints. Voile however, got served right away,
and they were very interested in getting things settled out of court,
as was I. It took a couple weeks of going back and forth with negotiations
and we came to what I feel is a fair deal for both parties. This
was a very nice boost of energy for me to finally have a royalty
agreement. Once Rottefella eventually got served the complaints,
they did a bunch of bickering, but finally decided to a one-time
payment agreement instead of a running royalty. Another great boost
of moral, and no more angst ridden feelings when I see Hardwires
or Cobras on the hill.
Seeing yet a second binding with parts
of my technology ended up being a huge motivation to follow through
100% with my own UTB binding. Anger can be good motivator if channeled
correctly. It was the winter of 2000 and there was still a huge
amount of work to do with the final refinements of the UTB. I was
in the middle of some titanium toe plate design refinements and
testing my newest prototype step-in mechanisms, and heel lifters.
The design was very close to being nailed down and outside of testing
the toe plate changes; I was ready to start making the form tooling
for all the sheet metal parts. The toe plate changes proved to work
out and so came the (6 month) project of designing and machining
the toe plate molds. The molds for the toe plates are the most complex
things I've ever made by far!
All in all, it has been about a six-year
project and counting, and I have learned tremendously. I know II
still have much more to learn, as well as more ideas brewing. This
binding comes to you from the heart and mind of a truly passionate
skier, and has been a grass roots project from the beginning. It
is my offering in hopes to help further this soulful sport.
Descender: Anything else you want to say
about the binding?
A: Just that it has been rigorously tested
by me and others, and that it is a real grass roots project from
a real telemark skier. I basically married this binding and I hope
people like it.
Descender: Tele could use more people like
Learn more about the UTB, or order a pair:
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