Black Diamond Equipment
From Humble Beginnings to the Highest Places on Earth
In 1957, an ambitious, young climber, fresh out of high school named Yvon Chouinard (He also went on to found Patagonia) bought an anvil, a coal-fired forge and a book on metal-working. He started making his own hand-forged chromoly steel pitons and sold them out of the trunk of his car in climbing areas like the Yosemite Valley. His pitons were especially popular because they could be hammered into the rock, then cleaned and reused. This was especially appealing to the early pioneers of American climbing in Yosemite because it was a cost-efficient and reliable option for protecting the big granite routes that they climbed everyday. As his small business grew, Chouinard expanded to forged aluminum carabiners of his own design and, after a tour in Korea with the Army, moved production to a tin shed in Ventura, California. Out of this shop came a variety of groundbreaking innovations; from carabiner shapes early on to the revolutionary positive curve shape that has become standard on nearly all mountaineering axes.
The Chouinard-Frost Piolet ice axe. BD’s mountaineering axes share the same pick shape.
Chouinard Equipment and the Clean Climbing Revolution
One of the lasting legacies of Chouinard equipment that has carried on into the Black Diamond era is the devotion to clean climbing. Ironically, since Yvon Chouinard built his business on the production of the kind of piton protection that damaged the rock, Chouinard Equipment was the first American company to manufacture artificial chockstones and nuts to serve as low impact, sustainable forms of protection. In 1972, the Chouinard Equipment catalog contained an article called “The Whole Natural Art of Protection” by climber Doug Robinson, which was essentially a manifesto on why a new mindset had to be adopted lest the great routes in America and elsewhere become destroyed from piton use. Chouinard designed Hexentrics and stoppers, both of which are still used today as effective forms of passive protection. These pieces can be placed in cracks securely and removed easily, all while putting very little, if any, wear on the rock. A few years later, Chouinard Equipment designed the first tubular ice screw, which allowed for low impact protection for ice climbing as well. These innovations and an unwavering commitment to clean climbing ushered a paradigm shift in the climbing world.
Yvon Chouinard With a Rack of Hextronics and Stopper Nuts
Chouinard Equipment to Black Diamond
By the mid 1980s, interest in climbing increased rapidly and Chouinard equipment grew into one of the leading manufacturers of climbing equipment in the world. Simultaniously, Yvon Chouinard’s clothing venture, Patagonia, was also becoming immensely popular. Since climbing’s popularity also meant that more novices were trying the sport, user carelessness and a lack of instruction lead to tragic accidents, and subsequent lawsuits, which forced the Chouinard Equipment into bankruptcy in 1989. A few months later, 40 former Chouinard Equipment employees formed Black Diamond Equipment and purchased the assets of the company, while Yvon Chouinard turned his focus solely on Patagonia. The newly established Black Diamond Equipment adopted the old Chouinard logo, which eventually evolved into the prominent cutout-diamond logo that Black Diamond still uses today.
The evolution of the Chouinard logo into the modern Black Diamond logo on the BD Evolution shirt
The company then relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah, which also facilitated the exponential growth of the backcountry skiing segment of Black Diamond. By 1991, one-third of the company’s sales came from skiing gear. Black Diamond has continued in the pioneering footsteps of Chouinard Equipment by focusing on cutting-edge innovations in skiing and backcountry safety, while maintaining a strong commitment to outdoor ethics, a low environmental impact and sustainability.
Innovations For Today and Tomorrow:
Today, Black Diamond Equipment is a leading manufacturer of climbing equipment, backcountry skis and gear, as well as performance headlamps. Technology like Magnetron locking carabiners, the large size range and offset options of their Camalot spring loaded camming devices for a variety of placement options, and the ultralight Vapor climbing helmet are just a few examples of how Black Diamond continues to innovate and push climbing to new places.
In addition to the strong commitment to climbing gear, Black Diamond has maintained a strong focus on backcountry skiing. They utilize cutting edge technology and design in their skis, like carbon fiber layups and terrain specific rocker patterns, and have released the first ultralight tech ski touring binding with a defined safety release value, similar to the DIN value of an alpine binding, in the Fritschi Vipec.
Black Diamond has also introduced a revolutionary avalanche safety device that comes optional on all of their ski-touring and backcountry packs. The AvaLung is a system that allows a buried skiier to breath through a hose on the shoulder strap that connects to an intake box on the exterior of the pack. The intake box draws oxygen from the snowpack around the body when the skier breaths in, while CO2 is expelled through an exhaust port on the backside of the pack. In an avalanche, a buried person has around 15 minutes before they will no longer be able to breath. With the AvaLung, survival time increases to over 58 minutes!
(Photo: Black Diamond)
Starting in the Fall of 2013, Black Diamond introduced a new technical clothing line. Black Diamond approached clothing with the same tenacious innovative spirit and commitment to quality, performance, and sustainability that they have brought to the production of climbing and skiing gear over their history. Utilizing Schoeller® stretch softshell technology, hybrid softshell and hardshell design, cutting edge synthetic insulation from Primaloft, Polartec Power Dry and Power Stretch fleece, as well as a climbing and backcountry skiing specific performance fit, Black Diamond’s apparel line is as innovative and reliable as all of the other products that they make. The future is bright for Black Diamond, as their clothing line will continue to expand in 2014/2015 to include Gore-Tex Pro and Active shell products, taped-seam Windstopper softshells, and other design advancements. If Black Diamond’s history is an indicator, the company will continue to be at the forefront of climbing and skiing technology and innovation for years to come.
(Photo: Black Diamond)
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