Kolin Powick has been the Category Director at Black Diamond for 14 years and the Director of Quality for 11. Having climbed for over a quarter of a century, he does everything from sport, trad, ice and alpine, to mountaineering, though he claims to be an expert at none of the above. We sat down with him to get a behind the scenes look at Black Diamond.
The Clymb: What’s your favorite thing about working at Black Diamond?
Kolin Powick: Being a part of a team that is creating innovative cool new products that allow us and our friends to go out into the mountains, push the limits of climbing, and have a great time. It’s super fun working on new product — starting from having an idea when climbing out in the field, to working on concepts with the designers, testing prototypes, getting it into production, seeing it on store shelves, and then seeing folks out using the gear in the field — it’s pretty rewarding.
TC: Black Diamond was one of the original manufacturers of climbing equipment, what about the company has allowed you to maintain such a high level of respect and authority in the industry over the years?
KP: We’re a company of climbers that is passionate about our sport and gear. I think when you get a group of folks together like that, you can’t help but want to create the latest and greatest gear that helps everyone enjoy climbing and take it to the next level. When your ultimate motivation is that, and the results are positive, I think people appreciate it.
TC: Some of the best climbers and skiers on the planet represent Black Diamond, what role do these athletes play in shaping your products?
KP: We have a pretty solid group of internal employees that climb at all different levels that really help us shape our products, however, we also have a broad Global and Grassroots athlete team that are constantly giving us input, design ideas, and feedback from testing prototypes. The athletes are getting out on big expeditions and climbing a lot — so we’re always tapping into their knowledge and expertise to help when creating new products.
TC: What trends in the outdoor industry are you guys excited about?
KP: Climbing is growing — and that’s a good thing. The bottom line is that climbing is fun — so if you have more people in this world having fun, then ultimately the world will be a better place.
TC: What’s your advice for people who are just getting into more technical outdoor activities, like climbing and backcountry skiing?
KP: I have two totally diametrically opposed answers to this — and I think they’re both valid:
1) Get out there and figure it out. Back in the day, you went out with your friends and just figured it out. If you came home alive, it was considered a success. You read books, or maybe were lucky enough to have a more experienced climber take you under their wing and act as a mentor. There is a lot of good to be said by learning this way: Hard lessons learned are those remembered, etc. However, you may have learned bad habits, incorrect techniques, etc…
2) Hire a guide or take a course. Just because you have a mentor, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re learning the best ways to do things. There are many experienced guides, universities, clubs and associations putting on courses for all levels of climbing and backcountry skiing. These experts can really pinpoint the critical items you need to know to be get out and have a safe and enjoyable time.