SkiTrax - - Contents - By Steven Threndyle

by Steve Threndyle

There's a con­sumer revo­lu­tion hap­pen­ing in North Amer­ica right now. Whether it's the beer we drink, the toma­toes we eat, the shirts we wear or the way we dec­o­rate our homes, there's an em­pha­sis on lo­cally-de­signed, owned, grown and man­u­fac­tured goods.

In­deed, the most per­sonal and heart­felt gear com­pa­nies are the ones based in ski towns across North Amer­ica, where small, cus­tom ski com­pa­nies are pok­ing their heads up just like craft mi­cro­brew­eries and or­ganic food co-ops.

In B.C., Pem­ber­ton's Johnny “Foon” Chilton and Van­cou­ver's Oliver Stef­fen have also given mod­ern ski de­sign much thought. Chilton hand-builds his mar­velous-look­ing Foon Skis from lo­cally sourced western red cedar, while Stef­fen's team at Gen­uine Guide Gear in Burn­aby are in­no­vat­ing with fi­bre­glass and car­bon fi­bre.

Chilton came to ski de­sign through his Head skis spon­sor­ship. Whistler rep Robin Mcleish was look­ing to spon­sor a lo­cal rider who could help Head make a ski that would give it en­try into the pow­der/ freeride side of ski­ing. Chilton says, “Robin ad­mit­ted that Head re­ally had no idea about how to make a ski for the kind of ski­ing we did.”

The op­por­tu­nity to have in­put on the de­sign of the skis he would ride was the game-changer for Chilton. “A well-de­signed ski makes ski­ing well ef­fort­less, whereas a bad ski takes a lot of ef­fort and work. I felt that ski de­sign was di­rectly linked to how well I could per­form as a skier,” he says.

Chilton's decade-long ten­ure at Head re­sulted in two hugely suc­cess­ful skis: the Su­per­cross and Mon­ster­cross. But with a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in cabi­net-mak­ing and mill­work, Chilton branched out on his own in 2013 and started Foon Skis for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons.

Chilton strongly be­lieves in the en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity of sup­port­ing a lo­cal econ­omy and be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with western red cedar. All of the in­gre­di­ents for a suc­cess­ful ski were grow­ing lit­er­ally in his back­yard. “I know that ev­ery yel­low cedar that comes down in B.C. is sub­ject to the strin­gent for­est-prac­tices code and the econ­omy of that tree stays here in B.C., ben­e­fit­ing the forester, the log­ger, the mill I get my wood from in Squamish and me.”

Still, the ma­te­rial has to work to make it suc­cess­ful, oth­er­wise you might as well be on two-by-fours. Chilton says, “When I tried yel­low cedar, it was like, wow – [it had] in­cred­i­ble strength when it was flexed, but felt lively, snappy and damp.”

Gen­uine Guide Gear's pres­i­dent and CEO Stef­fen took a very dif­fer­ent ma­te­rial route, find­ing suc­cess by in­no­vat­ing with car­bon fi­bre. “We've de­vel­oped ways to re­duce the amount of resin and car­bon fi­bre to the ab­so­lute min­i­mum with­out com­pro­mis­ing dura­bil­ity. If you look at our ski weights and com­pare them to any other brand with com­pa­ra­ble ski per­for­mance, you'll be sur­prised. Al­most with­out ex­cep­tion, skiers will see no­tably less fa­tigue from the lower weight, while still main­tain­ing very good ski per­for­mance.”

Still, it's a jun­gle out there. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery com­pany makes a fat, rock­ered ski that you can slap a tour­ing bind­ing on. Both men agree on one point: it's very, very dif­fi­cult to go up against the ma­jor com- pa­nies with their large mar­ket­ing bud­gets and spon­sored free riders. Stef­fen says, “They just flood the minds of con­sumers with a lot of hype.”

Chilton says, “Al­though I was stoked to win Edi­tor's Choice in the Freeskier tests, that kind of mar­ket­ing is ex­tremely ex­pen­sive. I think my cus­tomers are bet­ter served by putting that money into equip­ment that will al­low us to make our skis even bet­ter.”

Spo­ken like a true ar­ti­san.

(above) Foon Skis were launched in 2013 by Johnny Chilton of Head skis de­sign fame.

G3 Gen­uine Guide Gear in­no­vates with fi­bre­glass and car­bon fi­bre to cre­ate lighter weight skis that out­per­form.

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