When Perry Klebahn presented his innovative snowshoe design as a graduate engineering thesis at Stanford University’s product design program, he was awarded the first patent for snowshoes in more than 40 years. On the basis of that patent, Klebahn founded the Atlas Snow-Shoe Company with Jim Klingbeil in 1990, a year before he graduated.
Klebahn’s core technology suspends the binding from the snowshoe frame instead of the standard method of connecting the binding right to the frame with a rigid bar. Known as Spring-Loaded Suspension (SLS), the footbed of the binding is able to articulate and accommodate a more natural stance for the ankle while the frame of the snowshoe settles with the contour of the terrain. Atlas engineers have continued to build off of this technology and in other aspects of the snowshoe. “We believe that better technology delivers an enhanced experience for outdoor enthusiasts,” said Connor Folley, Marketing Manager for Atlas.
Since its founding, Atlas has been awarded 19 patents for making lighter, stronger and more comfortable snowshoes. Some of these patents are in response to feedback from Atlas users. Joining the original SLS system is the new Free-Rotating Suspension (FRS). This was developed to diminish “snow flip”, the primary complaint against Atlas snowshoes. The spring-loaded nature of the SLS binding causes the tail of the snowshoe to flip up after each step. Much like how a flip-flop slaps against the heel. Any snow on the tail of the snowshoe would get flipped up onto the snowshoer’s rear. While this was of little concern for the arduous mountaineering snowshoer tackling extreme terrain, the casual snowshoer was put off.
Atlas also builds snowshoes designed for racing by shaving ounces off with superior materials like titanium cleats. Atlas sponsors a racing team of 38 athletes, ranging from tax lawyers to high school teachers all across the country. Odds are you’ll find at least one of them at every major snowshoe race.
Atlas was also the first snowshoe company to seriously consider the difference between how men and women walk. Atlas invested in a two-year biomechanics study of the female stance, gait, stride, and foot anatomy to develop the Atlas Elektra Collection of snowshoes. To introduce this line and to get more women involved in snowshoeing, Atlas developed the award-winning Explore Winter Women’s Workshop. These were held at REI stores across the country, providing basics in choosing the right snowshoe, appropriate snowshoe attire, nutrition, route finding and more. This program no longer exists, but Atlas is starting up a new program with REI, the Snowshoeing 101 Clinic and with a collaborative online effort at Snowshoes.com.
Atlas continues to pair innovative technology with innovative promotions to build the sport. It launched moonlight snowshoe tours with Ben & Jerry’s, has promoted snowshoe trail centers, and founded National Winter Trails Day with the Snowsports Industry of America (SIA). The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) recognized Atlas’ Explore Winter women’s workshop series with an OIA Ambassador Award and Atlas programs are also focusing on youth outreach. Looking ahead, Graham Gephart, the Global Brand Manager for Atlas comments: “There’s a lot more room for technology and change in snowshoeing, but there’s equal or greater opportunity in hikers, walkers, and newcomers to wilderness who have never snowshoed. Both are keys to where Atlas is headed in the next 20 years.”
In 1999, Atlas merged with Vermont based competitor Tubbs Snowshoes to form WinterQuest, LLC. Klebahn continued with the company through the merge as a consultant and left shortly afterwards to go on to work with Patagonia and Timbuk2. WinterQuest was then acquired by K2 Sports in 2005 and all manufacturing moved to the K2 facilities in China. In 2007 the Atlas offices moved from the San Francisco Bay Area up to K2 in Seattle, Wash.
For more information on Atlas Snow-Shoe Co., visit www.atlassnowshoe.com.