A shoebox

by Bob Culp

I glanced at these old pictures once again. They take me back forty years or so, to some happy memories, chiefly a dinner I had with Francesco. I always valued his warm hospitality and the one of Lorenzo towards me. That dinner was outstanding. We visited a very small restaurant in a village close to Tesero, I cannot recall its name, and that was my introduction to Italian cuisine. The owner of the restaurant was a good friend of Francesco’s, perhaps a relative of his, I couldn’t say. Be as it may, it was an extraordinary meal.

When I saw the Mariacher climbing shoes for the first time, I immediately realised that a big step forward had been made, as far as the vision and design of climbing shoes are concerned. My dear friend, the Mountain Guide Aldo Leviti, paid a visit to me in Boulder, Colorado, every now and then, and he had already shown me some other La Sportiva models and prototypes. Those first few shoes were good, but they didn’t quite cut the mustard and were not dissimilar from other models you could find on the market back then. I had nonetheless bought a few pairs for my shop, The Boulder Mountaineer. Then, one day, I received a parcel from Val di Fiemme and I was taken aback: it contained a shoebox with a pair of state-of-the-art Mariacher shoes. A glance was all it took to see that they were a whole different ball game. I took them out of their box and immediately went climbing to try them, doing some bouldering. I used them and was stunned. As soon as I went home I called the university to see if there was any Italian-speaking person who could help me make a phone call. I was desperate to find an interpreter and luckily I did. We called La Sportiva and we managed to speak to Francesco and Lorenzo; I had the interpreter ask them if they were keen on having a US distributor. They were indeed. I bought a flight ticket to Italy and went to Tesero.


That first pair of climbing shoes was where it all started. As I’ve said, I received a warm welcome in Tesero. At the time, the first Boreal Fire had appeared; they were still somewhat sketchy, but their sole had a very good grip. You could also find the French EB, which were equally popular, but also really uncomfortable and their sole was hardly performing. The Mariacher were breaking new ground, and other models would follow. La Sportiva took hold of the market and was at the forefront of a revolution in the climbing shoes domain, I would say in the climbing world altogether. That was only the beginning. Today, after nearly forty years, I see the best climbers in the world wear them, you find them on rock walls the world over and on prestigious trade magazines. This brand has made it big.


Being part of all this was awesome. And working with the Delladio family was equally terrific.

Francesco Delladio e Bob Culp durante la cena che sancirà l’inizio di quello che diventerà La Sportiva North America.


Mi aggiro nel seminterrato della ditta trascinandomi dietro un borsone azzurro e fucsia con la scritta La Sportiva, cammino un po’ spaesato tra gli scaffali, non so esattamente cosa prendere con me. Nel furgone ho già messo delle scarpe nuovo modello e dei prototipi preparati per i nostri atleti di punta. Quando con mio padre ne abbiamo parlato sembrava tutto così facile e logico, ma ora? Abbiamo deciso di dare ai nostri atleti in gara un supporto simile a quello che ricevo quando gareggio nei rally: servizio corse, così lo abbiamo pensato. In realtà c’è poco supporto che io possa dare ai nostri atleti, me ne rendo conto adesso, qui nel magazzino. Cosa potrò mai portare con me, oltre alle scarpe? Infilo nella borsa un’infinità di stringhe - si potrà mai rompere la stringa di una scarpetta da arrampicata? Molto improbabile. Prendo anche delle suole di ricambio e le infilo nella borsa anche se so perfettamente che non mi serviranno mai. Sostituire una suola a una scarpa lontano dal nostro laboratorio è qualcosa che non abbiamo mai fatto per ora, ma magari, in futuro. Lì tra quegli scaffali in quel momento, tentando di riempire quel borsone, metto a fuoco il vero motivo per cui devo assolutamente essere a Bardonecchia a rappresentare la azienda di famiglia: per parlare con gli atleti, incontrarli, conoscerli e farci conoscere. Per farci vedere, dobbiamo esserci. Capiremo di cosa hanno bisogno gli atleti per poter arrampicare al meglio, su vie sempre più difficili e dovremo avvicinare i migliori campioni in circolazione.

LA SPORTIVA NORTH AMERICA

«Posters of Val di Fiemme hang in the corridors and on the walls of the La Sportiva headquarters in Boulder, Colorado; my dad had taken them with him during his first trips to the US. The connection with Val di Fiemme was always dear to Lorenzo, and our headquarters being in Boulder and nowhere else has a special meaning. Colorado is where the Alpine American tradition resides. Boulder is located at 5,430 feet and it is quite big - it has about 100,000 inhabitants - but also really compact. You’ll find paths within ten minutes from our headquarters and the city centre. It is a city, but it’s also at the base of the mountains; if you think about it, Boulder is not that different from our headquarters in Ziano di Fiemme, as far as the opportunities to be outdoor are concerned. Our seat is in Trentino, in the Dolomites, and you can reach a wood, run or walk within five minute’s drive from us. That’s exactly the same as in Boulder»


Giulia Delladio