Wild and Free | An interview with Glen Plake

skier glen plake with his huge yellow and pink mohawk looks at a pile of his own designed skis that match his hair in colour

Nicola Iseard talks to the mohawked mountain goat about the magic behind his signature touring ski – our 2023 Ski of the Year

Nicola Iseard: First up, congratulations on winning our Ski of the Year award with your epic signature ski!  

Glen Plake: Yeah it’s awesome! Without boasting, it has been met with great review – which is really nice. Last time we spoke [Oct ’21] I was on about my fifth prototype and was about to can the whole project!  

It skis really, really well. It does everything that I wanted. There were certain things I wanted out of a ski touring ski – not a skiing ski, we already have plenty of those. It is extremely easy to handle through just about any terrain. And I don’t mean that as a compromise – I wanted them to be soft, simple skis. You’re ski touring, so you might have a pack on, you might be tired, the terrain might be terrible – there are reasons to want an ‘easy’ ski.  

We kept making jokes every time we tested it, we’d say: “Come on, let’s go find some avalanche debris!” The reality is maybe you will have to cross some avalanche debris when using it, so let’s see how the ski copes with that? Can I point it down the face of the Grand Montets and do one giant turn? No, probably not! You’re gonna out-ski it in that situation. But its versatility is all over the place; I’ve taken it from rock-hard wind scour to absolutely perfect powder, and it works great.  

NI: We know you were fully involved in the design process. How was it to be given such creative control? 

GP: I’ve been involved a lot in ski design, but for Elan to really give me the reins, not just say, “okay, you’re part of the test team” or “what’s your opinion on this?” but really let me take control – from graphic design, sidecut design, interior construction – it meant I was able to create something slightly unorthodox.  

In the past, Elan has looked at other people’s catalogues – like, “what are all these other companies doing for dimensions?” – but I never even tested this ski against any other skis. I didn’t even look at other skis. It’s 100% on his own. Whatever other companies are doing is eight months ago – I want to know what we’re going to do, when I enter into design. If I do something that someone has already been doing then I’m two years behind already. 

NI: The longer sidecut is pretty unorthodox – 23m for the 180 is long! Are you a fan of long sidecuts? 

GP: I LOVE long sidecuts, because they allow you to ski the ski. The shorter the sidecut, the more the ski takes you for a ride. I want to finish the turn when I want – especially with touring skis. Maybe I just wanna throw it into a side skid and never even put any energy into the turn, and just wash the whole thing out, because I’m on some broken snow or something.  

The other thing is I’m not a big fan of are those big bulbous tips. I don’t like ’em. Okay, so with a straighter tip you have to ski it a little more, but if you don’t mind putting a little bit of effort in, a little bit of direction, there’s more good than bad when you don’t have those big bulbous tips. They ski tour like crap too – you can’t glide with them. So yeah, tip shape and sidecut were really, really a big thing early on in the process. 

NI: What about the rocker. You’re a purist at heart – but do you appreciate some of the tech advances like rocker?  

GP: From a touring standpoint, there are reasons for camber. From an edge-hold standpoint, there are reasons for camber. So yeah, that was a big discussion too, and I think we got the levels right. 

Ski touring has changed a lot in recent years. The old hut-to-hut ski tours are not what it’s about now – you might go hut to hut but you want to ski everything along the way; you might stay at one hut for three or four days and go: “I wanna ski that, I’m tired of looking up there”. So that said, we need skis that can do that – go up and down in any snow. 

NI: Do you think you got the balance right – the uphill v downhill performance? 

GP: Yeah I’m thrilled. It’s lighter than the Ripstick but it skis great – I’m happy to ski it as a daily ski. We used to say: “Well, shall we take our touring skis, or should we take our real skis?” When I went to Turkey last year, I was like “Okay, I’m all in” – it was the only pair I took. I had no idea where I was headed, no information about the conditions. A friend of mine had more powerful skis, and I’ll admit I couldn’t keep up with him because ski my wasn’t stiff enough to get up that speed, and I was like “dude, you’re running away from me. I don’t have my charging skis on, I’ve got my touring skis on.”  But I was ok with that. 

And the funny thing is that we had these strange conditions as far as not having any base, and every person took out an edge, destroyed his ski. And here are my light little touring skis and I’m the only one that actually didn’t break an edge – and I had major hits, I definitely dry docked a bunch of times. So the durability of the ski was surprisingly good. We were all cracking up.  

NI: What are you most proud of? 

GP: One thing I think is really cool about this ski is how the interlocking Es are the texture [on the topsheet]. I’ve been asking Elan to bring back the interlocking Es since I got together with them –  they are Elan’s icon. But it was “oh, it’s too old. It dates the skis.” There was always reason not to have it. So when I asked for the interlocking Es as a tone-on-tone texture on top of the skis, they played with it, and now, lo and behold, you see that texture throughout the whole line.   

 I couldn’t believe they agreed to the two base colours too. When my first graphic prototypes showed up and I opened the box and could see there were two different base colours, I was like “you’ve got to be kidding me. No way. They did it as a joke, there is no way this is going production.” But they were like, “No it’s for real”.  I went for the moon – and I got it. 

NI: Hats off to Elan for trusting you – you nailed it! 

GP: Yeah they really listened to me. I was the sole tester, besides a couple of friends who I’d say “hey take a run on this”. There was some construction being introduced to me that I did not like for what we were trying to accomplish, and I was able to say, “I don’t like this at all”. I had to down-tune them a bunch. I took a lot of the stiffness out of it. There were five rounds of prototypes.  

I had an old pair of touring skis that I used to use a lot, the Himalaya, a simple old wood touring ski that Elan made – if there was a benchmark, the Himalaya was it. It had a weird tip, it was ugly, nobody bought it, there were all these things wrong with the Himalaya, but there was a ski aspect to it that I really, really liked.   

But here we were dealing with new materials, new sidecuts – the Himalaya is 10 years old – and I think Elan were trying to make more of a ski than we needed. I wanted them to be soft, simple skis. 

NI: Hats off to Elan for following your direction like they did – you nailed it! 

GP: I’ve got it hand it to the whole Elan team – the way we brought the ski forth has never really been done by Elan that way. And it gave everybody a real kind of uplifting feeling. So there’s a whole lot more that has come out of this project than just the ski. There are lots of really cool, let’s say, barriers that have been broken, and breakthroughs, and new operating modes, which is super cool. I think that’s part of a design process that you don’t think about as a consumer. You see the end product and think “oh that’s amazing!” There’s stuff that went on behind the scenes that will reflect how we do things in the future.  

NI: Finally, tell us about the graphics. We’re loving the retro vibe… 

GP: It’s so funny, because everyone says “Ah it’s so retro” – it’s not retro at all! That was never the idea. There is this weird theory – and certainly the US forestry departments are to blame – that everything in the outdoors is supposed to be this drab, brown/green – I can’t stand it. I hate mud! When we’re on expedition for two or three months, and we’re living up in the mountains, and all you see is grey and black, and nothing is living because we’re up above the tree-line, the first thing you want to do when you get off expedition is go sit in a rose garden – “whoa look at these colours, they’re amazing, holy cow!” To me, the real colours of the outdoors are the sunsets and sunrises – so that’s what the skis are: sunsets and sunrises. And if you look at them you’re like “oh wow they actually are”. Tequila sunrise.