Here’s the best part about [email protected]: you can’t leave the exhibit without catching the enthusiasm that drives the people who exhibit there. No matter which brand you talk to, not only will you see incredible innovation and the power of imagination, but you’ll also feel the raw passion these snow sports hardgoods makers are living every day.
For example, we caught up with two of the brands who will be exhibiting for 2016, Snow Gliders and Fairweather Ski Works. They could not be more different from each other – Snow Gliders is a one-man operation in Stafford, VT, developing a hybrid cross-country ski/snowshoe, and Fairweather Ski Works is a family run business making sustainably crafted skis in Haines, AK – but after talking to each of them, I came away equally awestruck and inspired. I know you will, too – so make sure you stop by the [email protected] exhibit, not only to see some of the latest handcrafted, small-batch skis and snowboards available, but also just to chat and hear some incredible stories about people following their dreams.
Snow Gliders look somewhat like a snowshoe, but have the ability to glide on snow. You can attach skins to the bottom of Snow Gliders for uphill ascents, and there is a “4×4” version that has cleats that ratchet down for a controlled descent.
Here are some fun facts about Eric Darnell, maker of Snow Gliders. Darnell is an inventor – 90% of collegiate lacrosse players are wearing his helmet design and 50% of the US Olympic equestrian team are using a saddle he helped design. His name is on 30 US patents. He is a 6-time World Champion in boomerang, and he is a boomerang inventor. After he launches Snow Gliders, his next project will to be produce a solar panel that produces 70% efficiency instead of the usual 15-20%. How cool is that?
Fairweather skis and splitboards are some of the most visually beautiful things you’ll ever see, made partly from naturally felled Alaskan old-growth trees and enhanced with amazing artwork. The company is owned by a husband and wife team, who spend their free time exploring the wilds of Alaska in some of the country’s most remote and beautiful landscapes.
Here are some Fairweather Ski Works fun facts: This year, Fairweather was awarded the P2P Grant from the Nature Conservancy and HaaAani to expand and grow their business. Half the wood in this season’s skis and boards was obtained from naturally fallen trees. All Fairweather skis can be shipped back to the company at the end of their lifespan to be made into lawn furniture. Fairweather’s shop at the Alaska State Fairground is a repurposed set from the 1991 Disney movie, White Fang.
We checked in with Snow Gliders’ Eric Darnell and Fairweather co-owner Lindsay Johnson to find out more:
Tell us a little bit about your company: how it got started, how long you’ve been in business, etc.
ED: Snow Gliders evolved because I got lyme disease and it threw off my balance. I was an avid cross-country skier, so I switched to snowshoeing but I found it boring. So I thought of making Snow Gliders – not trying to replace skis, but as a way to use the slipperiness of snow to glide on something as stable as a snowshoe. The sports model can use climbing skins and the 4×4 model has cleats you can ratchet down for a controlled descent. I’ve had 8-year-olds on them and 90-year olds on them – everyone thinks they’re fun and easy to use.
LJ: My husband Graham Kraft has been making skis in Alaska since 2008. When we moved to Haines in winter 2012/13 our new neighbor happened to be a wooden shipwright and timberframer with a big shop and enthusiasm for learning to build skis, so we set up in his shop and started trying to make a legitimate business of it.
How do your home bases in Vermont for Snow Gliders and Alaska for Fairweather influence your design?
ED: My shop is in the old cow barn, so it’s not anything beautiful but it’s been a creative space for me for years. The Vermont landscape is also very inspiring; it lends itself to going out and playing in the snow, and Snow Gliders are a great way to get out and do that. You can go hut to hut and use them instead of skis and snowshoes. They’re also great for accessing the backcountry – they’re four times faster than snowshoes going in and they’re easy to pack out. I think it’s good to keep a couple pairs in your trunk for any time you feel like heading out for a trek in the snow.
LJ: We spend as much time as possible in the backcountry (see http://fairweatherskiworks.com/adventures/), which undoubtedly influences our designs and ethos. Haines not only gives us phenomenal product-testing opportunities but provides the literal core and topsheet material for our boards as well. All of the wood we use is harvested in the Chilkat Valley (the big river valley that Haines sits in), much of it salvaged from trees that fall over in storms. We use Sitka spruce and/or paper birch for cores, and those plus hemlock and sometimes willow for topsheets. Our graphics come from artists around the state (this year here, Seward, Anchorage, Fairbanks) and British Columbia. I painted a spawned-out sockeye salmon and pressed rice paper onto it to make the Sockeye graphics; there are a limited number of original prints for that model.
What made you decide to participate in [email protected]? What are your goals for the Show?
ED: I feel like the Show is a great opportunity to show people what Snow Gliders are and to explain all of the uses. We’re working with Vibram to develop a winter boot adapter, and then you’ll be able to use any boot with a Rotefella or Salomon binding. Those should be ready for the Show so I’m looking forward to being able to display them. As for my goals for the Show, I’m an inventor – I don’t want to be involved in the production, so I’m looking for a partner to do that. Once I get this going, I can move on to my next invention!
LJ: We wanted to participate in CRAFT at SIA because we want to make more connections in the wild ski world outside Alaska and BC and were able to join because of a small-business development grant from regional non-profits. We hope to expand awareness of our company and meet suppliers, other craft builders and potential distributers face-to-face.
For more details about the [email protected] exhibit, go to SIAsnowhow.com/craft.