It was December and I was in Innsbruck, Christmas was in full swing with snow covering everything from the markets to the mountain tops and Krampus was terrorising the streets as he does every year in this neck of the woods. If that was not exciting enough, I was about to fulfill a dream of mine up a quiet little street in Innsbruck at Spurart. I was there to attend their two day workshop making my own skis. As a creative person who loves to ski, this had got to be the ultimate experience; to be able to hand make my own skis and then spend the winter season skiing on them, my Christmases had all arrived at once. Previous to this trip, I had spent some time discussing with Michi, one of the Spurart partners my style of skiing and preferences when it comes to ski selection. Michi and Peter (The other partner) have developed a selection of 17 skis from touring skis to race skis, from freeride to piste skis and a selection of 6 Snowboards from split boards to fishtails… there is something for everyone. After a phone call with Michi whom previously used to test skis for Rossignol and Dynastar, we decided that the ‘All Easy Spur’ would be the best ski for my requirements; the ski is like a carver on piste with short edges and camber creating a short radius that make for quick easy turns on piste, but the stiff tip and tail rocker and width of the skis make for a playful ski off the piste too. This would cover the very varied terrain that I tend to ski throughout the Winter season.
It was now time to start making my skis, early Saturday morning I arrived at the workshop to meet the rest of the group who would be making ski along side me. Amongst the group were Austrians, Germans and 1 Brazilian, and of course thankfully everyone spoke English, so the workshop would be delivered in English on this occasion. Everyone had opted for different styles of skis, from touring skis to carving piste skis and even skis that were not on their design list, for Michi and Peter’s knowledge of design means they can pretty much make any style of ski. As well as various ski designs there are various Ski top sheet styles to choose from; there are different wooden veneers that one can add graphics to with laser-branding, there are plastic top sheets that can be printed with any design and carbon series of skis that can have either of the top sheet design added to them. On this occasion I would be opting for a fine caramel bamboo top sheet with added laser graphics of my own design. Many of the different materials for our skis had been prepared; the P-Tex bases had been cut specifically to our ski designs and sizes, the ash wood cores had been laminated and had been tapered from the centres to tip and tail to give each ski their specific characteristics. Because Michi and Peter had pre-cut the bases and wooden cores it meant that the intricate, time consuming part of the build process had been completed, leaving us enough time to construct the skis over a weekend.
Now for the technical bit, my ‘All Easy Spur’ skis were to be 188cm long. The camber was to be set to 24mm with the tapered rocker at the tips measuring 34cm and 26cm at the tail. The ski width moved from 136mm at the front to 106mm under foot and 126mm at the tail thus creating a radius that would change along the length of the skis starting at 25 metres moving to 12 metres from the centre backwards, this would average at about 18 metres. The overall design would create a ski that would be most versatile across the mountain whether skiing snappy short turns, long flowing turns, floating over powder or bashing through crud. Once we had all settled in, got to know each other and consumed our first coffee of the day, it was time to get hands on. First up was bending and shaping the metal edges to the P-Tex bases by hand, once shaped and cut we superglued these in place. Next we attached the plastic tips and tails to the wooden cores with fibreglass tape and superglue to protect both ends of the skis. Once both of these integral layers of the ski were completed it was time to prepare the Ski moulds. Michi and Peter have a library of wooden moulds with differing shapes, camber and lengths. These were covered with non stick plastic sheeting and our P-Tex bases with edges were very carefully aligned and temporarily stuck in place. It was now time to collect together the ingredients for our ski sandwiches, with rubber tape to dampen vibrations, pre-cut triaxial fibreglass layers, the wooden cores and of course my bamboo top sheet.
Whilst we collated the ingredients, Michi had been mixing up the resin that would be binding together our unlikely mix of materials what would hopefully be a ski. First resin was poured over the bases which we spread with small painting rollers, then the dampening rubber tape were laid along the edges followed by a layer of fibreglass. Once again the roller was used to make sure the resin saturated the fiberglass; too little resin and the sandwich would not hold together, too much and the ski would become a heavy non responsive log! Next we introduced the wooden cores, aligning them perfectly into the sandwich, this was followed by another pouring of resin and by another layer of fibreglass which were rolled once again to make sure the the resin was evenly distributed through the ski length. Lastly, the bamboo top sheet was introduced to top the Ski sandwich off. Now that these materials had been put together, it was time to press them together whilst the resin cured; there are various ways to do this from giant heated presses to giant vacuum bags. On this occasion we were to put the entire skis and mould into long plastic bags which were sealed and had the air sucked out of them. This simple but clever technique causes the skis to be pressed together just the right amount to squeeze the materials together and push out just enough resin to make the skis light but whilst keeping enough resin in the sandwich to bind the skis together. These giant ‘Boil in the bags’ were then moved to the oven where they would slowly cure overnight.
The next morning the excitement had mounted as each of us pulled our skis out of the oven and removed the giant plastic bags. The skis were starting to take shape, though at this stage they just looked like long planks. The scary stage of cutting the excess material away from the sides without cutting into the skis or damaging the metal edges was upon us; however, this turned out to be a lot easier than one would imagine. Michi and Peter would then take this one step further by grinding the edges further into the shape on the Ski grinder. We could then finish of shaping the tips and tails on the sanding machine, altogether a very satisfying experience, bringing the final shape of the skis out by hand. All the skis were then put through the ski base grinder to prepare for waxing and the edges were tuned to 1 degree on the base and 88 degrees on the sides creating the best angle to bite into the snow or ice. Once the skis were shaped we would sand the top sheets to bring them to a lovely, tactile smooth finish with various grades of sandpaper. A small mix of resin was then applied to the tops and which we worked in by hand to give a degree of protection to the bamboo surface these were then cured in the latent heat of the oven; not too hot though otherwise the skis might delaminate or loose the camber! Once completed my skis were sent of to have my Alpine design lasered onto the bamboo followed by some wood oil to protect them further.
So how did they perform? I was lucky enough to first test them in Austria in the Arlberg region. The week threw every condition at me, the first day was a white out with strong winds delivering fresh windblown snow on piste. Despite the lack of vision these skis seem to know what they were doing, unrelentlessly they went exactly where I wanted them to go bashing through the chalky windblown snow and gliding through the soft powder giving a feeling of total control and confidence despite the crazy conditions. The following days I got to test through the bumps- snappy and fast; over the ice- grippy and in control, through the slush- the skis ploughed through at speed with total control and when the piste conditions were at their best the skis flowed like a dream through short slalom turns through to giant Slalom turns. The skis did have a certain stiffness to them that required that I worked them at all times and certainly helped through the crud or slush, which became particularly noticeable one morning when I was tired and lacked energy, nothing that a good hearty Alpine lunch and strong coffee couldn’t fix though.
There is a wonderful feeling to be there at the birth of one’s own skis; to have worked with all of the materials, to have spent time crafting, shaping and bringing together this sandwich of unlikely bedfellows to make an object that has character and charm that can provide the most amazing day riding around the mountain. Skiing is a crazy idea if you think about it, to charge down dangerous mountain slopes covered in frozen water particles on a pair of planks; so why not get deeply involved in this crazy process at the very beginning and craft those planks yourself under the excellent guidance of Michi and Peter. Their enthusiasm for making skis and snowboards is electric and infectious, and what they don’t know about the subject is not worth knowing. That weekend in Innsbruck was unforgettable, especially at that time of year. I see this as just the beginning, these will not be the last skis that I make at Spurart, I am already thinking about which ski design to go for next, will it be touring skis or perhaps a pair of the GS racing skis or maybe a pair of Telemark skis? Looks like I better move to Innsbruck.
Höttinger G. 26,