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AustriAlpin Headquarters Visit

by , February 24, 2017

It was a perfect idyllic day when I landed in Salzburg, Austria.  Sunshine that felt like bathing in warm liquid gold, with a vibrant blue sky speckled with only a few pure white cottony clouds, the temperature in the high 70s Fahrenheit. The freshest air I’ve ever drank.  Late summertime in Austria.  Nothing short of magical. 

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Officially, the purpose of my trip was to attend and compete in the World Beard and Moustache Championships held in the tiny mountain town of Leogang, Austria (Spoiler Alert: I took 7th place in the World, with two of my friends in the Austin Facial Hair Club scoring 1st place in the World in their respective categories).

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However, I had some other plans in store for this trip.  In the weeks leading up to my journey, I was emailing with Katrin and Robert at AustriAlpin (makers of “the world’s highest quality safety hardware for military, SAR, fall-stop, para-sport and mountaineering”) with the crazy idea of a visit.  I was almost surprised when they quickly agreed to give me a private tour of the factory/headquarters while I was there during my only available window of time.  Yes, I plan for carry-related brand visits whenever I’m traveling, be it domestically or internationally. 

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AustriAlpin Cobra buckles adorn some of our very favorite carry brands’ products on the market (Mission Workshop, Bedouin Foundry, DEFY Bags, and more) and I’m a massive fanatic of the hardware and brand, so this pitstop was a must-do for me.  In fact, I’m so much of an AustriAlpin addict/junkie, that I modified my Triple Aught Design FAST Pack Litespeed to include a total of 9 Cobra buckles.  Yes, nine.
Maybe overkill?  Definitely.
Super awesome?  Absolutely.

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To be honest, I was extremely excited for this AustriAlpin HQ visit.  Maybe even more so than the World Championships…the primary purpose taking a backseat to this private tour.

“I’m so much of an AustriAlpin addict/junkie, that I modified my Triple Aught Design FAST Pack Litespeed to include a total of 9 Cobra buckles. Yes, nine.”

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For the purpose of carry geeking, the Alchemy Equipment AEL008 Carry On and AEL006 Daypack were my two bags on this trip and they were more than amazing for carrying everything I needed for 14 days in Austria, Germany, Slovakia, and Hungary.  Plus, no checked bags since the AEL008 is carry-on size and the AEL006 acted as my personal item.  I even had enough room on my final days abroad to stuff in some bulky gifts for friends and family.

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Immediately upon exiting Salzburg Airport, I loaded my AEL008 and AEL006 into the small European rental car and started the drive from Salzburg to AustriAlpin located in the picturesque Stubaital Valley in the middle of the Stubai Alps. 

“For the purpose of carry geeking, the Alchemy Equipment AEL008 Carry On and AEL006 Daypack were my two bags on this trip and they were more than amazing for carrying everything I needed for 14 days in Austria, Germany, Slovakia, and Hungary.”

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To be honest, the 2-hour drive took well over 3.5 hours due to the countless repeating stops to marvel at the incredibly stunning vistas…and maybe pet an uber-friendly dairy cow or two.  This drive was a brilliant way to almost instantly see the famous countryside of Austria after having only landed in the country hours ago.  Though Austrian cities are charming and full of wonderful history, the outdoors is where this country shines.  Get out there.

“To be honest, the 2-hour drive took well over 3.5 hours due to the countless repeating stops to marvel at the incredibly stunning vistas…and maybe pet an uber-friendly dairy cow or two.”

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Following the GPS on the foreign twisty roads, I was a bit shocked when it had verbally announced that I had officially arrived in the destination village of Fulpmes, Austria (just south/southwest of Innsbruck if you’re familiar with Austrian geography).  I couldn’t believe that there could possibly be a manufacturing facility among these iconic beautiful cottages out here in these green-grassed mountain farmlands.  Where could this facility be hiding? 

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I mean, there was an actual glacier in full view, towering above the sun-soaked valley.  Absolutely no signs of “heavy industry”.  The only sounds were happy birds chirping through the rich air, the ambient bubbling of an unseen glacial-melt river somewhere down through the trees, and mellow gusts of wind which carried the paragliders who seemed to be floating effortlessly miles above me in the sky.  It was well beyond what I had imagined.

“I couldn’t believe that there could possibly be a manufacturing facility among these iconic beautiful cottages out here in these green-grassed mountain farmlands.”

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Just down a small road at the edge of town, revealing its disguise while in plain sight, there was a minimalist white structure with the AustriAlpin logo on the front.  It both stood out and blended into the surrounding architecture and landscape with ease.  This was it.  I made it.

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My email contact Katrin came out to the front parking lot, wearing a full and genuine smile, to shake hands and officially welcome me to AustriAlpin. 

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Still taken aback by the beauty of the surroundings, almost distracted by them, high on sunlight and the fresh air, my head on a swivel, I fumbled with my words and commented on the incredible weather and the paragliders soaring up above.  Katrin agreed with me on the superb weather they had been having, then took a moment to squint at one particular barely visible tiny ant of a human flying up in the sky.  “Ah yes, that one is my uncle. He’s using our hardware.” He mentioned this tidbit so casually, as a simple matter of fact. Of course Katrin was related to him and of course he was using their hardware.  It was comical how much sense that made.  Then we made our way inside.

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We entered the first of the two buildings, which is where the business side of AustriAlpin takes place.  Robert, another employee who would show us around, met us inside.  The interior is very Austrian in design; minimalist, beautiful, clean.  Meeting rooms, open air offices, full of cheerful workers warmly introducing themselves.  It screamed out “this is a place anyone with a pulse would want to work”, but in a well-mannered, polite tone.

“The interior is very Austrian in design; minimalist, beautiful, clean. Meeting rooms, open air offices, full of cheerful workers warmly introducing themselves.”

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Then, I was led downstairs to the connected warehouse portion of the office.

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This is where they kept the gold; all their products, ready to ship out to customers around the world. 

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Row after row after row of tall shelves stacked with boxes filled with Cobra buckles, GT Cobra buckles, Cobra FM buckles, carabiners, ice axes, ice tools, climbing helmets, crampons, and other hardware bits that I’m not enough of an outdoor athlete to even begin to identify or guess their intended purposes. 

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I’ll tell you, reaching my hand into a cardboard box with the words “Made in Austria” on the exterior and filled to the brim with Cobra buckles is a feeling like no other. 

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Better than a box full of precious valuable metals used for currency.  Nearly worth as much too.

“I’ll tell you, reaching my hand into a cardboard box with the words “Made in Austria” on the exterior and filled to the brim with Cobra buckles is a feeling like no other.”

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The different color options which I’ve only seen photos of online, were even better than I imagined.

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Though I always prefer the pure and simple black or silver clearcoat Cobra buckles… now I wanted one in every color that they offered.  Brilliant.

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I wish I had taken a photo of the blue Cobra buckle I spotted, but I was a bit overwhelmed and must have forgotten.

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I jokingly asked if there was another giant room filled with their buckles that I could dive into and swim through like Scrooge McDuck.  Perhaps behind a secret door?

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Sadly, there wasn’t such a room that existed.  But this experience would surely suffice.  Maybe someday they’ll build this room based on my suggestion. 

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Since I normally don’t get to handle the full collection of AustiAlpin’s gear, I was mentally shopping and taking notes for which set of ice axes and crampons I’d like to purchase for an upcoming adventure trip to Nepal.  Each version was better than the next.  Whenever I’ve saved up enough, it will be AustriAlpin-made products that I confidently trust my life with.

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Honestly, I didn’t want to ever leave this warehouse, as I could spend a lifetime fondling these high-performance and amazing bits of kit.

“Whenever I’ve saved up enough, it will be AustriAlpin-made products that I confidently trust my life with.”

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If I was a warehouse employee here, I’d get absolutely no work done.  AustriAlpin Hardware Fondler.  That could be a job.

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But, I was told we’d be leaving now, headed to where the magic happens…the factory.

“If I was a warehouse employee here, I’d get absolutely no work done. AustriAlpin Hardware Fondler. That could be a job.”

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Fully expecting a long walk “over to the factory” or maybe even a short drive, I was surprised to see the factory only 100 feet or so in front of us, just across the parking lot. 

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Here in the parking lot outside the factory’s back/side doors, I met the two owners of AustiAlpin.  Both were pleasant, welcoming, and more than willing to take time out of their day to join along in the tour.  I recall them both having a great sense of humor, language not posing a barrier whatsoever.  I will admit, their English is much better than my Deutsch.

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The very first thing you see upon walking into the factory is the giant display of Cobra buckles which makes up the AustriAlpin logo; 340 of them if I counted correctly.  That’s roughly $8,500 USD and nearly 50 lbs of Cobra buckles.  Awesome.  I want one.

“The very first thing you see upon walking into the factory is the giant display of Cobra buckles which makes up the AustriAlpin logo; 340 of them if I counted correctly.”

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Just through the main entrance is a sea of CNC mills, cutting away.  Running 24 hours a day (if my memory isn’t failing me).  This is Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for a gear geek like myself.  Here, I was able to witness Cobras and other high-end AustriAlpin hardware bits being made from scratch.  They all start out as massive bars of raw aluminum, brass, and steel.  Then manipulated into their final form via a variety of fabrication processes and high-dollar, high-tech, high-precision machines.  Start to finish, everything done right here in-house.  Even the super durable coatings.

“Just through the main entrance is a sea of CNC mills, cutting away. Running 24 hours a day (if my memory isn’t failing me). This is Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for a gear geek like myself.”

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Though this was the most exciting part of the visit, I’m not allowed to share much regarding the actual manufacturing details, as many of their processes are patented, patent pending, and/or just plain old confidential.  They are the best of the best, after all. 

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There were many times I’d ask if I could photograph a specific aspect, process, or detail of the manufacturing process and they would very kindly explain that it was not a good idea. 

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So, honoring their privacy, I won’t go into too much detail on these steps and I will only show the photos that they agreed to when I asked.

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I will say, from my professional knowledge and understanding of production, materials, and quality from many other factory visits throughout my Industrial Design career…this is one of the finest hardware facilities in the world.  The machine operators were all very happy, the inside was spotlessly clean, and the air was as fresh inside as it was outside.  This brand takes their people, their products, and their company very seriously.

“I will say, from my professional knowledge and understanding of production, materials, and quality from many other factory visits throughout my Industrial Design career…this is one of the finest hardware facilities in the world.”

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Once we finally wrapped up in the factory, which was the last stop on the tour, we made some small talk and some jokes out in the parking lot, soaking up the warm sunlight.  I’ll admit that I was dragging it out, I didn’t want to leave.  But, I had 5-liter beers and homemade schnapps to drink with my bearded competitor friends from all around the world…who happened to be well under way with kicking off the festivities, hours away in Leogang.

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With a generous gift of a very cleverly designed AustriAlpin “fifty:fifty autolock carabiner” straight from off the shelf at the warehouse clipped onto my Alchemy Equipment AEL006 Daypack, we all exchanged some handshakes and hugs, then I was off.

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To this day, every single time I use this carabiner, I think of my unbelievable day visiting AustriAlpin headquarters in that wildly gorgeous valley of the Stubai Alps.  I’m sure every bit of it is just as perfect there as the last time I saw it; the stoic mountains, the powerful glacier, and those weightless paragliders soaring up above…using AustriAlpin hardware, of course.

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Thank you to everyone at AustriAlpin, the makers of the finest hardware in the world, for allowing this once-in-a-lifetime tour to occur.  I’d wholeheartedly love to come visit again.  Until that day comes, I’ll be daydreaming on the idea that you’ve taken my suggestion and built a room full of Cobra buckles that I can swim through like Scrooge McDuck.

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