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Molded by Mountains: Olivier Bernhard on his Alpine connection

Ironman wins, garden hose experiments, team hikes and a running shoe revolution. On Co-founder Olivier Bernhard has always had a connection to the mountains. In this alpine interview, he explains that it’s still as strong as ever.


As an elite endurance athlete, Olivier Bernhard would head to the mountains to test his limits in training. The rough terrain, unpredictable obstacles and changeable weather pushed him in ways that track and road running couldn’t. The result? Three world duathlon championships and multiple Ironman victories.


Today, the On co-founder still visits the mountains to test limits. But not his own. Now, he puts the performance shoes and apparel that he and his On Lab team create to the ultimate test. Nothing that fails to make the grade in the Alps ever makes it to market.


The mountains play a crucial role in the On story. Even though we’re still a young company, I know that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the mountains and the influence of the mountains.


“The landscape is actually the ideal testing ground for our products, as you’re often confronted with major challenges, so you have to be inventive," continued Olivier in the mountain-top interview above. "You’re forced to rethink things and redefine certain existing limits. I’m convinced that (the mountains) influence my work as a shoe developer very much.”



Hoses and Hikes


After retiring from professional competition, Olivier devoted himself to finding a running shoe that would give him the perfect running sensation. From his mountain home, he started experimenting by cutting up garden hoses and gluing pieces to the bottom of his shoes. 


Primitive, perhaps, but the idea was there and the On revolution was in motion.


Determined, Olivier continued the pursuit. Dozens of prototypes were developed and tested, but the principle of cushioned landings with firm take-offs was always crucial. It was this very idea that convinced Olivier’s fellow co-founders Caspar Coppetti and David Allemann to get involved. 


Together, while hiking in the mountains, they started building the first On business plan. In January 2010, the company was officially founded.


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From the Alps to the world


In the years since, things have started to pick up pace. Our technology has been significantly developed. Our shoes have topped podiums, broken records. And, with more than five million people around the globe wearing our shoes, the running revolution is well and truly On.


We are always on the lookout for innovative ways to improve our products and service, but as Olivier highlights, the mountains will always be our driving force. 


That’s why, this summer, we erected the On Mountain Hut as a symbol of our love for the Alps and our commitment to innovative design. It is our tribute to the remarkable terrain and our origins.  


A home for two, it is constructed from sustainable materials in keeping with the alpine setting and powered by solar panels. We wanted it to have everything you need to get back to your source – back to nature – and nothing you don’t.


Reduced to the maximum, distraction free. 


Back to the Source: The On Mountain Hut
On was born in the Swiss Alps. This summer, we are going back. Back to some of the most beautiful, challenging and rewarding natural landscapes on this planet. Back to the source.


“Each trip into the mountains is like taking a step back to the source, and that was the thought behind our initial ideas for the On Mountain Hut,” says Oliver.


“We were looking for ways and means to share this with people that aren’t able to enjoy, feel and experience this. A way to share it with the world.


“The mountains will always impact us. They influence our company and me personally, but they also affect our products. And that’s not going to change.”


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