Despite the bomber-quality products Patagonia has always churned out, there used to be a disconnect between the brand and us—POWDER's readers. A younger demographic of committed skiers who weren't rich and who didn't want to look like a bratwurst stuffed into alpinist-fit gear while skiing could appreciate how good the Patagonia product was, but we wouldn't rock it.
It seemed like the skiers donning Patagonia in the liftline were either crunchy diehards bedecked in their 10-year-old jacket (the stuff lasts forever), or Manhattan I-bankers and Chicago hedgefunders wearing their "Pata-Gucci" threads (the stuff costs a lot).
But, nowadays you'll see park-rats spinning 270-on, shop-rats spinning slack-country laps, and skiers boosting backcountry features all sporting Patagonia. They just added Kye Peterson and Pep Fujas to their team. The brand has morphed from "my dad's old gear" to legitimately cool.
While the design process is a quintessentially communal effort, Glen Morden, Senior Product Designer of Snowsports at Patagonia, has been at the epicenter of the brand's recent trajectory into freeriding, big-mountain, backcountry relevance.
Hailing from Ancaster, Ontario, Morden's route to his gig at Patagonia began at HoliMont Ski Resort—a classic "Ski the East," ski town in western New York. From there, Morden moved west in pursuit of a degree and softer snow, studying Industrial Design at Vancouver's Emily Carr Institute of Design and spending ski days between Mount Baker and Whistler. Morden's backstory comes to life in the functionality, usability, and aesthetics of Patagonia's snowsports line.
"I always try to relate the garments we're designing to the end use," says Morden. "I definitely see the backcountry becoming more of an arena for the progression of the sport, and technical outerwear is becoming more and more important. It's not necessarily a trend, but it's a fact that outerwear is gear."
When you talk to Morden it's impossible to ignore the royal "we" that he uses to discuss the design process. It's clear that it isn't a one-man operation. People like Paisley Stout, Product Line Manager at Patagonia, and Carston Oliver, a Utah-based pro skier, are as vital to the products coming to fruition as the tinkering mad scientists in the design studio like Morden.
"One thing that is different at Patagonia is that if we identify a problem or we get feedback that there's something wrong with a product, no matter how far along we are, we'll fix it," says Stout, whose job is to keep her finger on the pulse of the industry and know what's going on "out there."
Another fundamental part of the Patagonia design process is the belief that design balances between crafting products in the studio and in-the-field product testing. Morden spends a lot of time fine-tuning new gear on trips with Patagonia's athletes and ambassadors, returning to the design studio to refine the ideas from the field. From brainstorming sessions with "American Dave" Rosenbarger in the Alps to long chats on a skin-track in the Andes with Carston Oliver, there's a direct correlation between the field-testing with Patagonia's athletes and the garments that are hanging in your local ski shop.
"I'm always pretty OCD with my gear, always tweaking and changing things," says Oliver. "There are always these little things you come across while field-testing—what was working, what wasn't, what might work a little better. There's more fluidity to the 'R-and-D' process when you're right there with the designer and you can just bounce ideas back and forth."
Morden agrees: "The whole time we're talking about gear makes for a really cool environment where ideas can easily come to the surface. It's a way to tap into the athlete's needs."
From pockets that are easily accessible when wearing a backpack to high-back bibs to prevent snow from seeping in, the feedback from Patagonia athletes is evident in the product. "The relationship between designer and athlete is so important," says Morden. "It's really fun to see their ideas hit the market. For me, the most rewarding aspect of my job is to help translate their needs into commercial products."
"I honestly feel like my input matters and people are actually receptive to what I have to say," says Oliver.
From the field with athletes to the design studio in Ventura, California, Patagonia's process appears to be working. This year's PowSlayer kit has garnered a devout group of followers, praising the kit's functionality, fit, and style. But Morden and his team aren't resting on the new product's momentum. British Columbia, Japan, Chile, France, and numerous spots throughout the U.S. are on the design team's itinerary this winter, as Morden and his crew work to get next year's line dialed.
"This stuff is going to continue to evolve," insists Morden. "We're always looking at the different ways people access snow. Building powder-riding gear is our mantra; it's all about pursuing powder."