Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Interview > Ice Holdz

Do you ice climb? Do you have an indoor wall? Well it looks like you can get your training on with these holds. We were interested so we asked a few questions :)

Name and job?
Jules (Jay) Marchesseault – Site operations manager for a clean energy wind farm. Received a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MBA. Began the IceHoldz company under the name of Off-Belay, LLC in 2007.

Terri Parham – Currently tending to a two year old son and works on the IceHoldz business part time. Received a BS in Civil Engineering. Partnered with Jay in 2006 in hopes of turning the ingenious idea of IceHoldz into a reality.How long have IceHoldz been around?
The concept began in 2005 with product launch and e-tail in November 2007.

Where are you based?
Off-Belay, LLC is based in Campbell, California – 20 miles NE of Santa Cruz and 12 miles S of San Jose.

How many people work on making the holds?
Indirectly there are a number of folks who do a first step process of making the outer shell for the IceHoldz. Once that process is complete, just Jay and I do the finishing touches including cutting and pouring of the glacier blue backing.

You make holds to simu-ice climb, how long did it take to get to this product? What’s the inside made of?
The evolution of IceHoldz was in essence, a two year project. Prototype after prototype proved that more manipulation was necessary to get a product that ‘felt’ like ice. The glacier blue backing is the key to success as it serves two necessities, 1) it acts as a shock absorber allowing your pick to set. When you have good pick placement, you’ll know it by the sound and the feel of the hit (just like ice) and 2) it allows your pick to penetrate only the 1/4- inch shell since the backing is non-penetrable. As with real water ice, you don’t need much penetration for secure placement. The glacier blue backing is proprietary so you’ll have to use your imagination as to what it’s made of!

Any particularly spectacular failures when you started making the holds?
No spectacular failures but we did have some problems with tool bounce - this was before we started making the IceHoldz three dimensional and filling them with the glacier blue backing.

How hard was it to start a climbing company? Did it take long?
I don’t know if it was ‘hard’ to start the company but it is definitely very time consuming. Organization and patience are key. You ask ‘Did it take long?’ and my answer is that we are still building it after two years.

Right now your lineup is limited, what's on the cards with regard to new shapes?
Currently there are four series with four models in each for a total of 16 IceHoldz. We’ve got a sweet dry-tooling piece coming out and we hope to release it in January 2010. With it will be two mid-size and possibly two smaller sized pieces with an abundance of dry-tooling features. Unlike some of the resin dry-tooling holds that you may have seen, our dry-tooling holds won’t split or break when introduced to the sharp end of an ice axe. Our pieces are designed to withstand 600 lbs + of pulling strength.

The market is getting flooded with new companies, but you're the only one that's making holds you can hit into... are you going to make dry tooling holds as well?

See above. We are also working with two well known rock climbing hold manufactures to offer a more complete mixed climbing wall package.

There's some talk that's had people confused about your holds, they have to be "refurbished", care to explain what this is and how it works? How many times can you hit a hold before it's recharged?
Let me first talk a bit about the longevity of IceHoldz. Most customers ask ‘How long are these going to last?’ or ‘How many times can you swing an ice axe into these before they become unusable?’. Our answer to them is that we have tested an early hold from the North American series that has been hit well in excess of 400 times and it’s still usable. Our athletes have found that once IceHoldz become this worn, it offers even more dry-tooling features. Of course, each customer will have a different idea for what they feel is unusable. With that said, we prefer to use the term re-furbished rather than ‘re-charged’ since the shells can actually be sent back to Off-Belay, LLC where we use an in shop process that closes the holes. Customers who send their shells back for refurbishment will receive a discount toward the purchase of a new replacement shell. In fact, we have been selling IceHoldz for two years now and not a single customer has asked for a replacement shell.

You seem to have a fairly diverse group of people that are buying your holds... like really quite diverse, who are buying your stuff?
We are selling IceHoldz to individuals with home gyms, commercial gyms, universities, YMCA’s, mountain guides, US Navy Seals, Canadian Armed Forces, other gear manufacturers and retail stores. Our IceHoldz have shipped to countries in Europe, Eastern Europe, Japan and North America. Doors are beginning to open up for us in New Zealand and Australia. We are beginning to tap into the Asian and South American markets.

Do you see IceHoldz turning up more in gyms?
Many people climb indoors but never touch rock, or it takes them a while. With the advent of indoor ice climbing walls I can see the interest in people wanting to climb dry tool routes more often especially as winter sets in. We do see IceHoldz in more gyms. Now that the word is spreading that we’ve got a pretty cool product, orders have picked up. Some are using it to train before setting out for the winter climbs and others are using it as a teaching aide before taking their clients out for the weekend.

How environmentally friendly are the holds?
They do seem from an outsider’s perspective to be big hunks of rubber! They are actually made of a composite plastic material which can be recycled in two ways – one of which I mentioned earlier where we re-furbish the shell and re-sell it. We are currently looking into using recycled plastics for future generation products.

We assume that you climb indoors... are there any particular hold company's product that you like?
We like products by Nicros and El Dorado Climbing Walls who also sells Franklin Climbing holds.

What does the future hold for IceHoldz?
We’ve gained a huge amount of experience and success in co-sponsoring indoor ice climbing/dry-tooling competitions. We expect to see these comps increase in popularity. We are currently working with the UIAA (Union International Alpine Association) in Switzerland to promote and assist in the first North American series of indoor ice climbing/dry-tooling sanctioned events.

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