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Learn How This Custom Ski Maker Turns Avalanche Debris Into Skis

"It is a wild process, milling out the wood, see how it goes from that very organic shape into 2x4s, and then it will keep going down and down until it functions as the energy in your ski."

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The 2019 winter and spring season saw massive avalanche cycles in Colorado. An atmospheric river sucked heavy moisture in from the Pacific Ocean, carrying it across the continent and slamming particularly hard into the San Juan Mountain Range in the southern part of the state. Giant, slab avalanches decimated wide slide paths that took out thousands of acres of mature trees.

(Photo: Courtesy of Wagner Custom)

Telluride’s Wagner Custom, makers of custom skis with custom graphics, saw a local, sustainable opportunity for the downed wood. They partnered with a local wood mill, American Antique Lumber in Monterose, to help them harvest the wood of downed aspen trees in the San Juans to turn them into skis.

“It is a wild process, milling out the wood, seeing how it goes from that very organic shape into 2x4s, and then it will keep going down and down until it functions as the energy in your ski,” says Wagner Custom’s graphic designer, Woody Smith, who helped harvest some of the wood. “It’s a true labor of love. There’s so much care and hands-on attention that goes into the product that everything that comes out is a true one-of-a-kind and that’s truly unique in the ski industry.”

The raw wood is sourced within 20 miles of the mill and it takes about three weeks with a kiln to process into finished lumber and ski cores. After that, it takes a 40-mile trip over to Wagner, based in Telluride Mountain Village, where it’s built into skis.

“It’s a rideable piece of art,” says Smith. “It’s not only a beautiful object to have in your quiver and house, but it’s functional. You can combine the visual element with memories of being on the mountain.”

“Taking wood laying on the ground with no other use and trying to produce something out of it is pretty cool,” says Sandy East, owner of American Alpine Lumber who brings the wood from raw logs to finished product in about three weeks. “Making skis isn’t going to save the world or anything, but it sure is a lot of fun.”

Wagner has also teamed up with James Niehues, the artist behind pretty much every ski resort map in North America, on ski resort map to-sheet graphics.