Exploring Mittersill: Inside Blizzard’s Original Factory in Austria

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Exploring Mittersill: Inside Blizzard’s Original Factory in Austria

Images: Rick Sorensen

Not even two hours south of Munich, Germany, you’ll find yourself among vast farms built into hillsides and jagged mountainscapes growing higher and higher as you weave into the mouth of the Alps. Off the busy highway, a windy road takes you through the picturesque town of Kitzbühel, Austria. What exactly does skiing have to do with a medieval town home to less than 10,000 residents? It happens to be the gateway to one of the most exclusive ski resorts in the world which hosts arguably the most famous downhill ski race year after year — Hahnenkamm. Continuing south, I drove through a mountain pass via a series of switchbacks as the sun began to peek over the hill and shed light across the valley to the beautiful town of Mittersill. Looking down into the village, there are really only two buildings that call attention—the first, an old iconic clock tower chiming a bell with a mind of its own, and the second, the Blizzard factory.

Upon returning from serving in World War II, Blizzard founder Anton ‘Toni’ Arnsteiner returned to his family home in Mittersill. His father was a carpenter by trade who ran a small workshop alongside their home, producing wooden furniture. With the somberness following the war, Toni recognized the importance and longing for leisure sports and the outdoors in Austrian life. He asked his father if he could start using the workshop to produce wooden skis, to which his father agreed. The spark of interest in the sport of skiing sparked like a match and in no time, the shop had become a full-on wooden ski production factory.

In 1954, Blizzard became the first manufacturer to mass-produce polyethylene ski bases. This led the company to its first factory expansion in 1957 when metal and fiberglass materials were introduced into ski construction. Today, the factory remains in full operation and is one of the largest employers in the town of Mittersill.

This past April, the Blizzard team invited FREESKIER over to the brand’s Motherland for an exclusive look into the new Black Pearl and Anomaly skis for the 24/25 season. We spent the first day putting the Anamolys and Black Pearls to the test on the glacial slopes of Kitzsteinhorn. Sitting at 10,509 ft, our legs felt the burn while we chased professional skier, Marcus Caston, around the resort as he gave us the local’s tour, stopping for schnitzel and osta refuels along the way. On the afternoon of day two, we returned to town for a private tour of the Blizzard factory. As we approached the factory gates, we passed by Toni’s childhood home and his father’s original workshop — a true testament to just how historical the factory really is to the town of Mittersill as well as the sport of skiing.

Toni’s childhood home beside his father’s original wood furniture workshop

Blizzard’s International Product Manager, Gianluca Bisol, greeted us at the factory gates and led us up to the showroom for a quick espresso before walking us through a step-by-step demonstration of each material that that goes into the sandwich construction of both the Anomaly and Black Pearl skis. We continued on through a hallway lined with Blizzard’s ski models through the years, where Blizzard’s Marketing Manager for German Speaking Countries, Steiner Thorsten, explained to us how generations of ski construction, shape and material usage have changed by walking us through a model by model evolution through the years. Thorsten then painted us a timeline of Blizzard’s progression into the competition world which resulted in teams of highly decorated athletes and brand ambassadors worldwide.

Gianluca walking us through the Anomaly’s construction
Steiner walking us through Blizzard ski collections through the years

Following the history portion of the tour, Blizzard’s International Lead Engineer, Stefan Moser, welcomed us inside the active operations of the factory and witnessed materials passing through hundreds of hands facilitating the construction of each single pair of skis. Men and women of all ages work at the factory, many of whom are lifelong residents of Mittersill. It was a humbling experience to see how much extreme precision, extensive evaluation and rigorous approvals go into each pair of skis throughout the multistep manufacturing process.

From the initial Blizzard logo design to its current form, Blizzard has stayed true to its roots and stalwart brand practice— always managing to weather the storm through all the industry trends and the sport’s continuous evolution. After taking a closer look at the top sheet of the Blizzard Anomaly, Moser, explained to us the idea behind the topsheet design, which illustrates a single pair of tracks that stretch across the ski in large variable arcs over faded tracings of smaller, uniform lines. The Anomaly collection’s name, by definition and in line with Blizzard’s innovative brand character, emphasizes the grave importance of how taking the path less traveled, even when the risks may be high, can often lead to fulfillment that was once never thought possible.

We arose early the next day and loaded the vans for another epic day of pow skiing at Kitzsteinhorn. But clicking into the Black Pearl and Anomaly skis felt a little different than the day before — I felt not only more connected to the ski itself, but also to the glacier beneath me and the incredible surroundings of the Austrian Alps. What all started with a vision of hope from a soldier returning home from the global conflict and devastation of World War II, turned in to a legacy manufacturer of a tool for people to find joy in the world again through the sport of skiing. Eighty years later, Toni’s gift to the ski community remains as Blizzard continues to research, adapt and improve ski construction and design for generations to come.