Behind the Scenes: Peter Slatnar

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Peter Slatnar. The name worth remembering. The man worth remembering. The man of many talents. The man who took over his father’s company and was firstly known for his bindings, going by the name Slatnar Carbon. The man who took over Elan’s ski jumping skis when they decided to stop manufacturing them. The man who is also a former ski jumper. The man who loves working. The man every athlete can count on. The man who is first to help when something goes wrong. The man who’s invested so much in what he does. And at the end of the day, he is a family man.

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Tell us something about yourself, how did you start with all this?

It started with Jani Grilc (coach assistant of Goran Janus) and his persuasion. We had some German bindings and there was a lot of problems with it. »Do something so it won’t be breaking, so it’ll be more safe.« So we were playing with it, developing them for 2, 3 years, with occasional inspirations. Then there was a breaking point »Either you’re gonna do it right or throw it all away – go big or go home.« That’s when I decided to really do something and soon the first bindings were out. Some heel part, which proved sucessful very soon. The Polish athletes were the first to try it on, they started winning and after that, everything escalated very quickly.

So the Polish were first, before our team?

Yes. Our team was watching. The grass is always greener on the other side. When they figured it was a good product, they started using it as well. I offered it to some German who had the monopoly over the binding market. I said »We have something really interesting. You have the market, the sales, we can work together.« But he wasn’t up for it. His bindings were the best, or so he claimed, so I said okay, then nothing. Not long after that legal prosecution started, he attacked us with lawsuits. When his patent was time-barred I decided to hit him where it hurts. He took our money, I took his spot in the market. This was a punishment for him, but remember, there’s always someone in some garage, trying to do the same thing we did. If you fall asleep, if you do not improve, you can be out of business very quickly.

So at first you started with bindings, then the whole Elan thing happened. They stopped manufacturing ski jumping skis and you had to decide whether you take over or not.

I wasn’t forced to do so. It was a huge opportunity. Either take it or let it be forgotten, like cross-country skis. Since it’s too big of a deal for an individual, we’re designing our skis at Elan’s. They helped us out with the needed equipment, but we’re doing it under our brand. We’re slowly getting ready to take it over completely, so everything will be ours. But there’s so many factors, machines…

Money, after all..?

Of course, everything depends on the money. You have to invest a million EUR and then a million and a half so you can start designing skis completely by yourself. And selling them to cover the investment…I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to witness that.

Are test skis for free?

Yes, the athletes use them during the season and they return them after it’s over. Either that or they give them to team B or sell them for some symbolic money. Other than that, it’s our expense. We’re currently looking for a partner. The skis wouldn’t be Slatnar anymore. It can be something else, someone who wants to promote their company, it doesn’t matter as long as our sponsorship is covered. Our skis and service guys paid. Also, we want all the bonuses for the athletes, bags, beanies, all of that. You’re not obliged to do so, but it’s an unwritten rule.

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But you’ve just started, it’s nice to see your name on the skis. And you still want someone else?

Hm, we’re not really emotionally attached to our name. If we’re doing some business and we profit from it, it doesn’t matter what the skis say. Everybody knows where to get them, who’s designing them. It’s different for some grandma, making stew at 6pm, who doesn’t even know or care about us, even if she lives next door (laugh). Professionals know who’s behind all that and if someone puts on their name for marketing, why not?

Like Cene, who promoted your skis in an unusual way (laugh).

Well, some celebrities take off their clothes and show their organs…

And some take off your skis (laugh).

Even Walter Hofer was in the spotlight.

What a better advertisement, for both of you. Perhaps you know what actually happened?

The skis were leaning against the billboard, somebody hit it from behind and all collapsed. As you know, skis have no brakes.

So you’re saying you should start working on ski brakes (laugh).

You wouldn’t believe it but somebody really designed something like that. He came to me, explaining that when a ski falls, it stops (we all started laughing). At first, I tried to explain that this is a no – go, FIS doesn’t allow it, then he wanted one of my skis to test it on and it was another no from me, »either you take one Elan ski or nothing. Take an old ski and then do your experiments«. Long story. A funny one, at least now. You should’ve seen what sorts of scientists I’ve met, we could make a movie (another laugh). They’ve been bringing me patents of all kinds. But you have to pass FIS first, then you have to earn athletes’ trust. Before you achieve all that… these atlethes are risking their lives, they have to trust you 100%, there’s no other way.

Of course, they have to know you. Trusting is everything.

Exactly, you can’t abuse it. That’s why we’ve been working on our carbon shoes for 5 years. Maybe it was already good enough – but not for us. We’re just developing the last shoe mold. We thought it would be ready for the World Championship but Planica sounds better.

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Yes, this is understandable. You want to do, to give the best, if you’re not content and 100% sure of it, you won’t do it. And I think it’s worth the wait. I mean, even Peter chose your skis because he trusted you and was absolutely sure of the bindings in the first place.

Exactly, there was so much competition. No secret that for me Fischer is the best, they have the newest machines, their skis are perfect. As a product. How it behaves…that’s a different thing. Our skis, they have to fit the athlete. Sara Takanashi, Peter Prevc, they both said these are the best skis they’ve ever had. Domen Prevc…he couldn’t have achieved all of this with his previous skis. We got him our skis, he went nuts (laugh). Our goal is to create a ski for others to come and say »how much does it cost«, to lift it on such a level. That’s why we’re researching, looking for different coating systems. We’ve just started developing a carbon ski. Nobody has done that before, with different functions inside. I’ve tried to do it a long time ago but FIS wouldn’t allow me, they are worried the speed and the length would increase so much they would run out the gate.

It’s great that it’s actually Slovenian. It’s »ours«. You represent one of the best skis, beside the Fischer that you mentioned. Peter said he likes your style, your equipment, because you’re constantly improving.

And there’s no other way. Other companies do one thing, one model and then just…manufacture it. Always the same. Same with the shoes, bindings, skis. A few years ago, there were 8 people, trying to put their bindings out on the ski jumping market. One even brought a knee in a jar full of formaldehyde, he brought it two years in a row, saying and showing what a wrong binding can do to a person (laugh). They tried to force their bindings which were already designed by us but FIS forbid it at the time. Now we’re also designing new skis, we’ll see how it goes.

How about the speed, what is that makes the athlete faster? Height, weight? Most athletes that use Slatnar skis are about the same size.

It actually depens on the coating, the way you go down the in-run, position, balance, shape, aerodynamics, it also depends on how you turn your hands. It shows, even in 0.5 km/h. We should use our wind tunnel more, to practice.

What if the skis get lost while travelling, what can athletes do?

There’s an extra pair for every athlete so we can deliver them later if needed. It can quickly happen they get lost, damaged, don’t arrive on time. We try to help the athletes as fast as possible, taking care of the equipment when they’re in trouble. It’s our job. It’s something I can’t just turn my back to. And they appreciate it. So do we.

If we go back to that partner you mentioned…

There’s no rush. We’ve had chances, but none was appropriate. Bad timing maybe, for both of us. But when we find one reliable partner, one that will last for 4 or 8 years, at least two Olympics.. that’s what we’re aiming for. We had some good names on our skis during this Summer Grand Prix, some athletes were testing them, but as soon as someone’s waved with money, they were gone. I’m not worried. Once we’ll have the best skis, they will return, asking for the price. And then we’ll see how bad they want them. Also these carbon shoes – only the athletes with our skis will get those. Everybody’s nervous now, everybody wants to have them. But I tell them no.

And you can afford to do so, it’s your choice, your shoes anyway.

Yes. It used to be different. Once you put something on the market, you had to share it, everyone was entitled to it. But with certain rule changes from certain countries now I can decide who gets what. If they want carbon shoes, they’ll have to have our skis as well.

Have you tested your own bindings? The shoes?

Bindings, yes. Carbon shoes, no, the size is not right. Not yet.

What about the size? Climbing shoes, for example, have to be smaller.

Here you have a special measuring system. The shoe can be longer than the foot for a centimeter and a half. Carbon shoes are really tight. Some athletes even wear shoes that are too tight. There go their toes… our shoes have this special part where toes simply fit and there’s no pressure. No shoe is too small, too tight. It has to be comfortable and yet tight enough, that’s what we’ve been aiming for. The upper part of the shoes is flexible, no stiffness anymore.

And the price for carbon? It’s rather expensive. Have you ever had any trouble supplying it?

No. But there’s also no massive manufacturing here. These shoes are meant for certain people, each custom made, they are meant for the World Cup, maybe Continental too. There won’t be a couple of hundred shoes. Also, everybody’s expecting a lot from these. We have two options, either we succeed, fulfilling the promise we gave, either we fail. We have a patent, actually a couple of them, so nobody can come close. Our shoes are the only shoes with soles attached to the shoe itself. You can’t separate it.

We looked up carbon shoes. The only thing we found was some Hop shoe.

That’s not carbon, it’s not what we have. We designed that shoe, some Czech is working on it now. He just couldn’t enter the market so we helped him out, giving him some advice, tips. And then he got stuck. He loved that shoe, he wouldn’t even try to make some improvement. That’s why you can’t find it in the World Cup. Kids have it, it’s popular and good for them. We (Slatnar) decided to do something different. It’s a whole new level. Slovenians are too self-sufficient, we have the Gorišek brothers, responsible for Letalnica, we have a company, taking care of plastic that covers the hills, we have clothes, underwear, bindings, shoes, ski…everything but helmets.

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Yes, how’s with that? Can we look forward to Slatnar helmets? Carbon helmets?

Somebody’s already been working on that. They have a carbon prototype, but you have to have FIS certificates, approval, all the documents. We won’t be designing any carbon helmets until they let us make an aerodynamic one. The one athletes are wearing now, a basketball ball cut in half, that’s not the best option. We tried changing it, we used glue and two pieces of cardboard, it really helped with the speed. All we’re making, even the shoes, we’re trying to make it more aerodynamic.

How much time did it take to develop the first pair of carbon shoes?

It took us 2 years to actually use for ski jumping. We had to develop special bindings. One is theory, other thing is to actually make it come true. You have to predict mistakes, test them, but there were no special surprises after all.

Has Peter already tested them?

They all have but his jumping wasn’t that good at the time so we decided to wait and not risk it.

It’s amazing how the equipment has improved. If you think of the suits, shoes, skis… last year, right before Planica, there was a documentary, showing the history of ski jumping.

We used to wear those bobble beanies. Then some weird helmets and now… well here we are. Same with skis. The ones I used for ski jumping were twice the current weight. 10kg even.

We’re in the middle of this season, are you satisfied with the results?

Yes, we’re pleased and satisfied, our skis are doing their job. We were a bit concerned at first, wondering if we’ll be able to cover the sponsoring part. We’re good now, but it was also tough 6 months to get everything ready, from the start. Currently we’re working on some prototypes, tests.

We’d like to thank Peter for taking his time for us, telling us his story and the story of Slatnar/Slatnar Carbon. Also thank you for showing us around, how it all works, the shoes, skis, designing. It’s been an honor talking to such a dedicated person.

For more pictures from Slatnar visit our album on Flickr.

Pictures: Newsskijumping

Dolores Lazić & Eva Majdič

 

 

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