DIY


This is an all-mountain ski designed to be versatile in both the backcountry and inbounds.  To keep the weight down, pine was used as the core material.    Pine is typically too soft to hold binding screws, so metal inserts were added to prevent pullouts.  The stiffness was controlled with three layers of triaxial fiberglass.  A metal-viscoelastic-rubber-sandwich-jibberish was incorporated into the front end of each ski to improve damping.  Ben loves to put words on paper, so the topsheet sports a few words from a short story he wrote about Snowshoe Thompson (full version published in Front Range Review), and it goes something like this:

“On a winter day in 1856, a tall man with blue eyes and a blonde beard walked into the post office in Placerville, California and made a proposal to the postmaster. The rest of their conversation went something like this:

Postmaster: I don’t think you’ll make it.

The man stood across the counter, waiting. He wasn’t a talker.

Postmaster: Seriously. You’ll die.

The man waited.

Postmaster: Whatever.

The next morning, the postmaster handed the man an 80-pound sack of mail. The man shouldered it and set out alone into a snow-locked Sierra Nevada. Three days later he handed the sack to the postmaster in Genoa. He’d covered 90 miles and survived a white-out blizzard over Ebbetts Pass. The Genoa postmaster, by way of thanking this man for doing what teams of lesser men had for years died trying, handed over a new, 80-pound sack to lug back to Placerville. So the man went back into the mountains, completing the return trip in two days.

Snowshoe Thompson carried the mail back and forth like this for the next 17 winters, earning a total of $80.26 from the U.S. government. He died, broke, in 1876, still owed about $6,000 in back wages.  His real name was Jon Torsteinson Rui, from Telemark county in Norway, where people knew about skis. Snowshoe made his own skis. First he’d work up a design using CAD software. He cut the core layers out of wood boards from Home Depot; then, with an electric table planer he tapered the side profiles. Next he added the base layer—a thin sheet of extruded ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene, cut using a straight router bit with a customized bearing. Tempered steel edges and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene sidewalls came next.

The topmost layer featured graphics. My bet is that Snowshoe usually went with some mildly ironic, comic-booky image borrowed from the Norse mythology of his youth, and that his favorite pair of skis featured the Valkyries—that crazy-hot team of topless, Viking blondes on horseback.

Lastly, layup. A ski press was needed to sandwich the layers while the epoxies cured, endowing the ski with camber. So Snowshoe just built one. All he needed: square steel tubing, angle irons, threaded rods, assorted nuts and washers, and a drill press. Plus custom-made top and bottom wood molds. To exert the pressure, a fire hose. He cut the hose to fit, clamped the ends, installed air valves, sandwiched ‘er between the ski and the top mold, flipped on the air compressor and took ‘er to 60 psi. He just set it…and forget it. When Snowshoe took his skis out of the press, he’d trim the excess material with a band saw, bevel the sidewalls with a router, affix a set of your basic injection-molded, free-pivoting, touring bindings and give them a quick base grind.

Can you imagine tackling the mountains nowadays on such archaic boards? No one builds their own skis anymore. The process has become too complex, the tools and materials prohibitively expensive. You need two planks of wood, and that’s just the beginning. You’ve still got to dip those planks in boiling water to get the tips soft enough to bend. Which means you’ve got to figure out a way to boil water. And good luck finding straps of leather for the bindings.”

Read more of Ben’s work at www.readrogers.com.

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