More than anything else, Blue Ice founder, Giovanni, is passionate about the mountains. So it’s not surprising that the Choucas idea was born during one of his alpine adventures. Flash back.
He knew he was in for an extremely long day when he planned a traverse of the south ridge of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, so he wanted a harness that would be light, functional, and comfortable. He didn’t find a product that matched this description in the shops, and so the idea for the Choucas harness was born.
The very first Choucas harness saw the light of day in 2010, after numerous prototypes and lengthy field-testing. Ultra-light but quite comfortable, the harness was immediately a hit among alpinists and skiers, amateurs and professionals alike. And since it meets the same standards as a regular climbing harness, they knew they could trust it completely.
What’s more, you can put it on faster than you can spell the word “Choucas,” even while wearing crampons or skis, and it can be stored easily in a pocket when you’re ready to go have a drink at the end of the day.
In order to understand the development process, we interviewed Blue Ice founder Giovannibattista Rossi, as well as Maxime Franck, the man who knows all the technical ins and outs of the Chamonix valley production of the Choucas harness.
Giovanni: The Boss
How did you go about developing the Choucas?
At the very beginning of the adventure, it was just the two of us, the designer Irène and myself. We had already produced packs but this was our first harness. For us, the challenge was to find the right expertise. It was hard to find subcontractors who could match our high level expectations, that’s why we ended up buying the proper sewing machines and learning the necessary technique. This way we could control the manufacturing process internally, and thus optimize the quality of our harnesses.
What improvements have you made since 2010?
We decided to modify the webbing density in order to improve comfort. We also added a double back buckle to prevent user errors and make the harness even safer. Our products evolve thanks to our ambassadors, who test them in the field on a daily basis and provide us with important feedback.
One day I bumped into mountain guide Sébastien Laurent, who is one of our ambassadors. He was wearing his Choucas harness and he had two little elastics around the leg loop. I asked him what they were for, and he explained to me that once he had fallen into a crevasse, and had had a very hard time removing the cap from his ice screw (which he had left on in order to avoid damaging his pants) before placing the screw and clipping in. From then on, he left the cap off and threaded the screw through two small elastics that he could easily tear if he needed to. We then decided to create a more durable solution, and that is how in 2013, the Choucas became the first harness on the market equipped with ice screw keepers on the leg loops.
Maxime: the artisan behind the scenes
How long does it take you to sew an entire harness?
It takes me about 20 minutes. Literally speaking, every Choucas harness sold has been in my hands at one time or another.
What part of the harness is the most technically difficult to make?
When it comes to the stitching there is nothing particularly difficult, the automated machine does almost all the work. On the other hand, the marking of certain pieces is done by eye or by using a pattern. So in a way, every harness is unique since it is constructed individually and not mass-produced. You could say that we’re the artisans of harness making!
Is it a big responsibility to manufacture a product in which the client must have total confidence, since the wearer trusts his life to the harness when hanging in it?
It’s true that it’s a big responsibility, but at the end of the stitching process a quality control inspection is carried out for each harness. Regularly, we also take randomly selected samples and subject them to further testing. The process is well established. That’s why the Choucas is CE certified by the APAVE. The Choucas harness is as safe as any other climbing harness.
Some climbers have sometimes trouble packing the Choucas back into its pouch. Word has it that you know how to fold a Choucas better than anyone else. Could you give us a demo?
And you what’s your speed record ?