May 06 2012

Hand-rolled, Mean Green Fat Skis

It only took about 18 years but the light bulb finally went off for me about boutique skis. What did it was riding another pair of planks that, by outward evidence, were merely another pair of custom made skis that were undeniably beautiful to behold, but couldn’t possibly ski that well.

The ultimate backcountry boutique ski - personally built, one-of-a-kind custom ski

Roll your own boutique ski for the backcountry. The only thing really green is the binding.

Surprise, surprise, their bamboo topsheet, basted beneath a gleaming coat of polyurethane not only captivated the eye, but also lent a snappy rebound to this hefty pair of wood core planks. They tipped the scales at nine pounds per pair, which isn’t out of line with brand name skis in the same size range, nor should it be considered a lightweight backcountry ski. That weight was an indicator of the muscle they had to hold the line in funky snow, the wet and crusty variety. Truth be told, they cruised through that sort of junk. With a full 110mm waist floating in the soft is a foregone conclusion, as is their weakness on hard, icy slopes.

Brad shows off how well his home-rolled skis surf fresh pow.

That weakness on hard snow probably had less to do with ski performance as it did with an underpowered tele rig driving these otherwise superb skis. A pair of AXLs or NTN Freeride binders would be my first choice on a plank this big, but they came with O1s so I made due. With a fixed heel the lack of edge hold would undoubtedly disappear.

That’s all fine and good but you’re probably wondering exactly what boutique brand this is. Truly this is a one of a kind custom ski built by Brad “sustainable way” Rassler. When he first told me about them he referred to them as his “hand-rolled” pair of skis.

I figured he was just saying that to embellish his fondness for his skis but when we rendezvoused for a tour in the Carson Range I learned he wasn’t kidding, they really were done by hand, in fact, his own hands.

Reluctantly he admitted, “Well, yeah, I have a friend who has a ski press.”

Now it was starting to make sense. Not to deny that Brad picked the materials in an effort to minimize his toxic footprint in building them, did the layup himself, and then put it all together and finished them with real ski manufacturing tools. Indeed, he did “roll his own.”

Even more amazing, they skied pretty darn good too. Which still begs the question, why would you roll your own, or the next best thing, buy a pair of boutique skis with limited production numbers and a more customized look?

wood top sheet on custom boutique ski

Wood top sheets always have a special allure.

It seems to boil down to just being different. If all you want is a new pair of skis to romp in the mountains with then don’t waste your precious spare cash on anything other than the major brands. They’re all pretty good and as long as they have the shape you want and a weight you’re willing to live with, the preformance is pretty easy to predict. Stiffer and heavier does better in thick and hard snow. Lighter and flexier does better in soft snow. But if you can spare a few Franklins, you can define the ski that is right for you and the technology is mature enough these days that even if you chose to go all the way and roll your own, you probably won’t be disappointed.

Note: Brad is was pretty adamant about minimizing his toxic footprint while building his skis, and though he readily admits the process is hardly green with all the resins and glue, he suggests if we really want to be green in our skiing endeavors the best thing we can all do is car-pool to the slopes. Amen!

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The low down on how Brad built his own custom ski.

© 2012