Al Ea­gle­ton: ‘We’re ex­cited about it and ex­plor­ing where we will go’

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - CAREERS - BRENDA BOUW This in­ter­view has been edited and con­densed.

A life­time of ex­pe­ri­ence in sev­eral trades led to the launch of In­stinct Killer five years ago

Al Ea­gle­ton is a wood­worker, car­pen­ter and founder of In­stinct Killer Ski Corp. Mr. Ea­gle­ton makes the skis by hand in his work­shop, from wood he chops from his 30-acre forested plot of land near Ross­land, B.C.

I love ski­ing and the moun­tain cul­ture and have been heav­ily im­mersed in it for most of my life.

A school ski trip, as a kid grow­ing up in Win­nipeg, got me ex­cited about ski­ing. I took les­sons and worked at a ski shop. I fled the Prairies as soon as I could. I went to be a ski bum in Lake Louise and then went to Ross­land in the heart of the Koote­nays, lived in Hazel­ton, B.C., and then came back to Ross­land.

Ski­ing be­came a life­style. I found em­ploy­ment in or­der to fa­cil­i­tate that. Ski­ing is a win­ter sport and con­struc­tion is in the off-sea­son. When I was young, I started work­ing for a car­pen­ter who was also a ski pa­troller in the win­ter. He was a re­ally great in­flu­ence and taught me a lot. It was a hands-on ap­pren­tice­ship. I started my own com­pany not long after. I’ve been self-em­ployed for years as a wood­worker and in gen­eral con­struc­tion.

Hav­ing the ski com­pany is rel­a­tively new. I started it about five years ago and re­ally only started sell­ing the skis in 2017. If we can hit our tar­gets for pro­duc­tion it will start to be a prof­itable lit­tle busi­ness but, for now, I still build houses, too.

The com­pany is called In­stinct based on how you feel on the moun­tain. You want a tool on your feet that does what you want it to do, but you don’t want to think about it. You just want to en­joy the ride.

We are hand-mak­ing skis in a very dif­fer­ent fash­ion. We only make about 150 to 200 pairs of skis a year, which is a small num­ber. That num­ber has to go up, but not dras­ti­cally. I don’t want to turn it into what ev­ery­one else does. I’d re­ally like for it to stay sim­i­lar and be humbly prof­itable. I also don’t want the fun to be ru­ined by busi­ness. We’re ex­cited about it and ex­plor­ing where it can go.

The de­vel­op­ment of our prod­ucts is also very heav­ily in­flu­enced by the ski­ing at Red Moun­tain Re­sort here in Ross­land. The moun­tain shapes the peo­ple who ski here. The ter­rain cre­ates bet­ter skiers and the gen­eral skier here is re­ally quite ad­vanced.

Ross­land is a fan­tas­tic town filled with ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple. Our lit­tle town has only about 3,500 peo­ple, but they are some of the best in the world. The num­ber of pro or high-level ath­letes along with Olympians and world cham­pi­ons who live here or come from here is ridicu­lous. I can name them all, but that would get long.

The process of de­vel­op­ing our skis was al­most serendip­i­tous. I’ve been in­volved in lots of dif­fer­ent projects over the years, many I am grate­ful for, but the ski com­pany has al­most fed it­self. When I needed help with 3D com­puter mod­el­ling, be­fore I could ask any­one my friend Patrick Fritch came for­ward. Ja­cob Jamin, a friend of a friend, also wanted to be in­volved; ex­cited about the project, he got to work. Since then he has been in­valu­able and has headed up graphic de­sign, web­site de­vel­op­ment and is now a part­ner. Many oth­ers with spe­cific skills have con­trib­uted as well.

When we fi­nally fin­ished our own test­ing and we knew we had a qual­ity prod­uct, we thought we’d try to get it in the hands of a ski mag­a­zine to tell the world, but how to do that? I started mak­ing calls and learned that Pow­der Mag­a­zine [an in­flu­en­tial in­dus­try pub­li­ca­tion] was com­ing to Red Moun­tain for its 18th an­nual Pow­der Week – pow­der snow ski test­ing. We be­came in­volved a month later and won a skier’s choice award.

I can do what I’ve been do­ing for­ever but to start some­thing new like this is a pretty ma­jor leap. It’s a bit scary. It does feel some­times like my back­ground – the dif­fer­ent jobs and skills ac­quired – have been all wait­ing for this to hap­pen.

I also be­lieve that the moun­tain cul­ture is what has helped breed such a pos­i­tive pro­gres­sive ven­ture. I re­ally do ap­pre­ci­ate the sup­port from the com­mu­nity and from ev­ery­one who has been in­volved.

DAVE HEATH/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

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