With it’s steepled brown roofs and off-white walls, arriving at Black Diamond is like stumbling across a quaint Swiss village. The large company logo displayed on the main building presents a not-so-subtle hint of where to start your visit.

Walking in, you’re immediately greeted by a young BD employee behind the front desk. Space is not wasted on the entryway and the waiting area is cramped with two short chairs and a narrow table. Here, the table and walls are covered in environmental accolades and service awards that Black Diamond and its CEO Peter Metcalf have personally received and this constitutes the sole decoration. Included in the mix is a photo of Metcalf mid-handshake with former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a tour with Kolin “KP” Powick, the new Category Director for Climbing Equipment. After 12 years at the company, his new role has only reinvigorated him and he exudes an intense energy when talking about gear and the processes that create it. He’s inspired by the magic of manufacturing and revels in the factual numbers from testing. KP’s last position had him swamped directing the Quality department which encompasses Testing, Quality Assurance, and Quality Control. After running tests during the workday, he would write all of the QC Labs Blogposts on his own time, a small indication of the passion he has for the gear and spreading knowledge.

Black Diamond Solo Climber

For a company ingrained in the outdoors, it’s fitting that the tour starts outside, with a bit of company history.

In April of 1989, faced with multiple litigations (including a climbing fatality due to a not-double-backed harness) and skyrocketing insurance, Chouinard Equipment Ltd., based in Ventura, California, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That’s when Peter Metcalf and a few other employees bought the assets and started Black Diamond Equipment Ltd. in December of 1989. Less than two years later, Black Diamond relocated to Salt Lake City in part because of the available workforce, the international airport, and most importantly, the proximity to the mountains.

The front door faces the Wasatch Range, and KP points out 3 popular before-work climbs: The West Slabs, a 10-pitch free-solo, Grandeur Peak (where you can find Metcalf 2-3 times a week), and the 5-pitch Great White Icicle that KP probably did that morning.

Black Diamond Ice Climber

When the tour moves indoors, try not to trip over the employee dogs as you stare up at the walls, covered in larger than life pictures of climbers looking utterly badass. They’re all hero shots. Some guidelines dictate how these prints are put up:

    1. All pictures contain only BD employees.
    2. The pictures are taken by BD employees. No professional photographs allowed.

There are a few minor exceptions, “that guy doesn’t work here anymore” or “well, that was taken by a pro, but he’s such good friends with all of us that he might as well work here,” are acceptable excuses.

Even the walls of Black Diamond’s China plant are covered in pictures of climbers and skiers. All of the Chinese employees know the gear they’re making and how it is going to be used. In fact, when anybody from BD Asia comes to SLC on business, they’re taken climbing or skiing (depending on the season) and are taught to fall on the protection and use the products they make. Immersing them in the Black Diamond culture helps instill in them the importance of their jobs and the quality work they do.

Aug 2015 Update: Since this post was written, Black Diamond has moved all of their rock climbing hardware production back to the US. Bags, poles, headlamps, etc are still made overseas, but the entire climbing hardware process is back in Salt Lake City, Utah, even the anodizing.

Black Diamond Manager Goes Ice Climbing

KP has a story about a manager from overseas who they took ice climbing for the first time in his life. The manager was surprisingly good at climbing but when they had to walk down steep ice with crampons, the little jaunt downhill quickly turned into a painfully slow affair.

A popular rumor is that you have to be a hardcore climber or skier to get a job here. But you can find examples of folks in finance or supply chain management who aren’t really climbers or skiers. Some positions do require employees to be a climber or skier, though. KP explains, “If you have a job that requires knowing what a piece of gear is used for (quality control, design, etc) you need to be active in the sport.” It’s just common sense. If you’re testing all the possible uses of a product, you need to know how it’s used. Or if you’re designing a new product, you need to know what improvements could be made.

The difference is, you don’t have to particularly excel at a sport. If you’re interviewing for a job at BD, you likely won’t be asked or judged on what grade you climb. They may ask if you climb, and if you respond that you only lead 5.10’s because there’s no local climbing in Michigan, but you drive 9 hours to the Gorge twice a month, that’s hardcore enough. But if they casually ask, “Do you ski in the resort or the backcountry?” and you answer, “Why would anybody ski uphill all day for one run?!”, you will not get a job here.

Black Diamond Employee Skiing

Passion is more important than skill level. And a cultural fit is essential. BD employees are always working. Even when they’re out for a pre-dawn climb or ski, they’re always testing new gear, or talking about ideas for new gear on the approach.

One’s passion to get outdoors only grows in this infectious culture and you get out a lot. It’s only natural to improve over the years and turn into a typical BD Mutant.

With all this time in the field, you gain experiences that shape and form a lot of opinions. Especially about the gear you use: how it could be improved, fundamentals that shouldn’t be changed, and features that should be added or taken away.

There’s a distinct delineation between elitist arrogance and judgments based on experience. KP’s proud to point out that, “there are people here with very strong opinions.” And that’s what keeps this company going. Constant debate and first-hand experience shape every step of manufacturing a Black Diamond product.

All photos in this article feature Black Diamond employees and are taken by Black Diamond employee Kolin “KP” Powick.

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Alison Dennis

Alison Dennis

Alison (she/her) runs WeighMyRack from her 17' travel trailer. She is currently touring the US and would love if you contacted her to meet up to talk about climbing, climbing gear, or if you have any fun and/or ridiculous adventure in mind.

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