Photo: Jean-Luc Grossmann

The Renaissance Man

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Like a modern-day da Vinci, Tobias Luthe routinely crosses the imagined disciplines of our world and follows his unquenchable curiosity down whatever paths it leads.

In stark contrast to the specialists that have come to dominate our era, Tobias Luthe’s hats are many and include mountain guide, inventor, photographer, entrepreneur and professor. Yet wherever his curiosity may wander, he keeps returning to find inspiration in the wild places that raised him.

“I grew up in the mid-mountain range of Germany,” explains Tobias, and continues, “It was a small town with not much to do, so I spent most of my time in the woods. I loved the forests, I loved the trees. It was this initial passion that drove my hunger to understand nature’s designs, balances, flows and materials.”

From science labs to hemp skis

It took a decade and no less than four university degrees in as many countries to begin satiating this hunger for knowledge, eventually attaining a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences from the German Sports University (DSHS) in Cologne.

“Gaining more and more insights into the theories of complex systems, I was thinking about how this knowledge could be put into practice in the socio-technical environment. One example is the design mentality behind skis, which I saw to be problematic and wasteful. I then came up with a question that peaked both my passion for skiing and my research interests: What if skis or skiing could be used to communicate sustainability? And so I got to work.”

This work culminated in a ski that would win the 2018 ISPO Award for Eco-Responsibility: the regenerative designed Grown MonViso Hemp Edition – a 100% industrial hemp fiber-Paulownia wood composite sandwich core construction ski. To discover whether or not Tobias succeeded in his goal to communicate sustainability through his ski, one needn’t look further than the ISPO Award jury’s own statement:

“Using systemic design to combine natural, locally sourced materials with innovative production methods and a scientific approach, this is a real inspiration for everyone within and beyond the hardgoods ski industry. The expectation for the jury was to judge a ski… we found both – a statement of the future and a beautiful product.”

Pushing – and ignoring – boundaries

While life has certainly gotten much busier since those timeless wanderings of his youth, Tobias still makes a point of regularly returning to wild spaces either privately or as a mountain guide in order to stay close to his primary source of joy and inspiration.

“Due to time constraints, when I do get into the wild it’s more intense, yet I’m also more aware. For me, it’s become more about observing complexity and systems in action, and how these relate to design needs,” he says, before quickly adding:

“But I still make sure to have fun and play! Not just to feel better, but because it also unleashes all sorts of creative problem-solving. I believe that our best bet in restoring balance with nature rests in learning from and within nature, biomimicry being one such practice. And for me, it’s important to find creative ways to communicate these complex ideas, to make them more tangible and accessible.”

Jonathan Fraenkel-Eidse
jonathan.eidse@norragency.com