Simon Jacomet – highflier against the odds
Garish and gaudy skis crossing our path on the slopes – or scraping over our own skis as we stand in line at the ski lift – have made us forget that, beneath all that bright varnish, a ski is essentially a wooden slat. Zai skis are no different, except that zai chooses to not hide its prime material underneath a layer of flashy marketing, preferring instead to reveal it. Which is why on some models the wood is left bare, sometimes even unvarnished. Model “Spada”, which, true to its name, cleaves the snow beneath it like a sword, even features a granite core.
Typically a zai ski is characterized by its understated elegance in brown, black or grey hues. Simon Jacomet, the ski-maker, suspects his alpine heritage is the reason underlying this – that is to say, his – choice in design. Underneath the fluffy white layer that coats his native Disentis in winter lies a stony, rugged mountain landscape. As far back as he can remember, the raw, natural colors of the rocks, soil and wood have dominated and influenced his aesthetic taste. Jacomet, who studied art in Florence, Italy, worked in the development department of ski manufacturers, Völkl and Salomon, before going independent in 2003.
Our creed is the reduction to the essential in our quest for natural balance. A zai ski consists of everything a good ski needs – and nothing more.
This concept, which translates into simple, natural elegance, has meanwhile created a much higher resonance than Simon Jacomet ever anticipated. The higher the demand, the more he feels compelled to emphasize that design is not the end to the means. What really counts is optimizing the ski’s performance. But first impressions are generally formed in a brief glance, much faster than the time it actually takes to test the skis on a slope. And so, despite Jacomet’s tireless repetition, he has a hard time getting his message about inner values across. Therefore, he was doubly delighted to be chosen as the official supplier for this year’s Fis Alpine Ski WM.
Our supplying the world championship is raising public awareness that underneath the attractive design lies sophisticated technology – the design alone would not have brought us this far.
Two or more brands market a joint product, e.g. McFlurry (McDonald’s ice cream with Dime or M&M’s).
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Only companies with a clear philosophy are taken into consideration as potential suppliers. Zai is not a large manufacturer who could sponsor part of the event. It has, however, a distinctive appeal that sets it apart from its competitors. A relatively short history as a small-scale manufacturer in Disentis and its technological innovations make it attractive. Where other producers are nearly indistinguishable, sometimes even sharing the same investors, zai works independently. The drive to continually improve and experiment with new materials and processes plays a crucial role. The co-branding with Hublot led to utilizing for the first time on a ski the same type of rubber that Hublot uses for their watches. And, during their cooperation with the Bentley designers, a new carbon fiber composite material was created that now carries the name zaiìra®. This material not only weighs less – it also contributes to the skis’ longevity. Due to the use of carbon, the surfaces can be reworked several times, thereby significantly increasing the lifespan of the ski. The newest ski model in development, the “nezza”, is shaped from a blank of the state-of-the-art material. Zai’s continuous quest for technological improvement is an outstanding feature in the company’s history and constitutes, says Jacomet, a significant asset to the brand.
Today, Simon Jacomet and his team are hardly able to satisfy customer demand, but that was not always the case. The cost of choice materials and the handwork as well as the limited production numbers added up to an unusually high price tag that needed time to justify itself. Looking back, Jacomet muses that it was probably his refusal to compromise that helped them to overcome this hurdle. Knowing that prices were based on hard figures, he dealt with the raised eyebrows of skeptical clients by explaining the costs in a calm, businesslike manner.
Quality to me means that a product retains its thrill and continues to give satisfaction for a long time. The product has to have a long life span, and you need to use the right materials. Fulfilling these criteria comes with a certain price.
Each year, new models are developed with the aim to create the perfect equipment to dominate the slopes and to enable each skier to ratchet their skills up a notch. In order to achieve this, Jacomet takes each prototype and, after personally sanding and filing it down to his satisfaction, skis on them for days on end, honing the model until he is sure that he has created something that will stand up to his team’s valued and crucial judgment. Only then does it go into production.
To me, every yes that is not a one-hundred percent yes is a no.
This attitude is mirrored in the product’s name. “Zai” is the word for tough and resilient in Rhaeto-Romanic, the tongue of the mountain folk in Jacomet’s region. (The official fourth language of Switzerland, Rhaeto-Romanic is still spoken by some ten thousand people today.) The word “zai” also symbolizes a conviction: The aversion to any form of compromise.
It is, then, no great surprise that Simon Jacomet feels a strong admiration for people like Marcel Duchamps, John Lautner or even Tom Waits. He is fascinated by individuals who are driven by an inner compulsion and not out of a desire to please others. Their common denominator is that they remained true to their convictions and did what they thought was right, even though public approval and the accompanying commercial success only vindicated some of them at a much later date.
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