It’s a pretty simple undertaking. All you need is a garage or shed, some web instructions, a flair for DIY… oh, and some mates to test them out
If you have been watching The Jump on Channel 4 you’ll have seen British pro skier Andy Bennett giving last-minute coaching tips and generally geeing up the celebrities just before they launch themselves off the big kicker. Nice gig if you can get it, you might think. But unfortunately for Andy there’s very little personal skiing time on the job, and while the powder piles up he’s teaching the celebs to jump or ski.
Of course, as a good mate, I left Andy voicemails to tell him what an awesome powder day I was having (and he wasn’t). Unfortunately, Karma’s a bitch and on the last run of the day I snapped my Achilles tendon (more about that on another blog). Anyway, back to Andy. He normally spends the whole season coaching for Warren Smith, but this year he became a dad, so very little skiing for him for now, for all the right reasons.
So what do you do if you’re Andy and you have lots of spare time on your hands other than changing nappies? You build your own skis of course, in your shed. This is easier than it might appear – you can buy kits of the basic materials for around €190; you can even have your own graphics printed onto the top sheet. Use your favourite skis as a blank and off you go, easy peasy.
Seasonnaire chef Dave Gallagher started making skis in 2011 in his parents’ garage; a mate had told him about a website which explained how to go about it. He told me his first few pairs were rubbish, though at the time he thought they were brilliant. He adds: “Eventually with each ski pressed and a load of money spent on materials I got the process down, so now I can replicate it time and time again.” Pressing the ski is the critical part and you can’t make skis (that work) without doing so. The cheapest, easiest way is using clamps to press the two moulds together – car jacks, ratchet straps, vices or bolts. Pressure control is difficult and results variable. The best method for the DIY ski maker is a pneumatic.
Dave initially had trouble sourcing the items needed to build a press – he managed to build one primarily made from odds and ends from “stuff that was being thrown away” such as old metal offcuts. The only critical item he had to buy was the mould. Although he designed it himself he had to pay for it to be CNC-cut by a joiner. He uses a program called snoCAD-X to design the shapes of the skis. There are also programs to simulate flex pattern but now Dave uses tried and trusted profiles, tweaking them slightly depending on the ski/skier.
Being a one-man operation Dave ‘only’ has one camber and one reverse camber mould, so there is little scope to adjust the actual camber by much. But what he can do is add different tip and tail rises and shapes, such as early rise rocker for pow skis or flatter for park. It’s also pretty easy to knock up a new tip or tail mould for different shovel designs. As for the shape of the tip/tail, that’s a personal preference most of the time.
If you use a pneumatic press that isn’t strong enough then once you inflate the airbags it will twist and you will end up with twisted skis. Or worse, the press will just blow to bits under the pressure. Dave has built a new custom press (and a shed to put it in) out of steel beams welded together with the lower layer raising once the mould is in the press.
So how do the DIY skis perform? I’ll let Dave speak for himself: “I’m obviously a bit biased… but they compare to ‘mainstream’ skis fairly well. They handle well and have a decent amount of pop even after a couple of seasons. A mate is still skiing a pair I built him three years ago! The skis that I build are all effectively prototypes, so until you ski them I’m never 100% sure what they will be like…”
That last point is critical: although he has a name for his skis, 9BB, which you can find on Facebook, he only makes skis for friends and family – it’s not a business.
Building on the dream
Another Brit, Andy David, took it one step further by founding his own ski company. Andy, a former freeride competitor and Europa Cup mogul skier, founded Storm Skis nine years ago aimed mainly at the freeride market.
Storm’s skis were pressed in the Czech Republic by a company that manufactured for many independent brands, but the designs for all the freeride skis were their own. Andy had control over design, shape, flex and rocker, from the design of the moulds to the lay-up of the raw materials that went into the press. He used his sponsored team riders’ input to refine and improve the performance of each model.
This could have been a major success story, but unfortunately post-financial crash it was impossible to obtain the credit needed to pay for the overseas manufacture. Hence the brand was put into extended hibernation.
Andy Bennett is looking to produce skis on a micro scale and has yet to produce his first pair, however he has already bought the materials, built his moulds and press and made the most important decision – what the top sheet graphics will be (Jelly Beans).
If you want to build your own planks, there are websites to guide you. Skibuilding.com runs seminars in Innsbruck; Skibuilders.com is an amazing resource; Junksupply.com can supply you with all the materials necessary to build your skis, minus the press, and has useful tips on how to go about it.
If you don’t want to build your own press I saw a nice one online for a mere £2700, although that would probably allow you to build them on a more industrial level. Whatever your efforts please send photos into the magazine: you never know, your homemade pride and joy could even make it onto the ski tests one day! FL