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When Matt Sterbenz showed up at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow with a glass full of oil made from algae, ski brands were skeptical.
After leaving 4FRNT in 2018, Sterbenz had joined a Berkeley-based biotech company called Checkerspot to work on finding a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based ski construction that they could ultimately license to ski brands. A pioneer in ski design, Sterbenz had been playing with ski geometry for years through his innovation as the founder of 4FRNT, but now he was eager to shake up the industry with different materials (which until then, had remained relatively unchanged). But his trip to meet with ski designers at the Denver trade show fell flat.
“We realized we couldn’t talk about oil profiles with ski designers without having rigid materials to show them,” recalls Sterbenz. “We had to build skis, then we could start the conversation.”
So Sterbenz did what he does best and launched another ski brand: Wasatch-based WNDR Alpine. The brand launched its first ski in 2019, the Intention 110, built with the brand’s signature algal composite in its core and a mission to create the most sustainable ski possible without sacrificing an ounce of performance.
WNDR’s proprietary Algal Core is a vertically laminated composite of biobased high-density polyurethane and domestically sourced aspen, which sounds convoluted, but essentially creates a strong, damp, and lightweight ski, akin to the feeling of carbon in a more environmentally friendly package.
Momentum kept building, and last season the Vital 100 joined the lineup, a slimmer version of the Intention built for long walks and bigger objectives. The brand released its third ski this summer, the Reason 120, completing a quiver of skis that Sterbenz says represents a full range of options for a full seasonality of backcountry skiing. On top of the Algal Core, all three skis—which come in a reverse camber and camber profile—feature an Algal Wall, a sidewall construction that ups the strength and damping of the skis while continuing to replace as many petro-based chemicals as possible.
Preview the Reason 120: Imagine Skiing Powder on Skis Built with Pond Scum
It’s a ripping line of backcountry skis with an eco-friendly backstory. What’s more likable than that? But for Sterbenz and Pep Fujas, WNDR’s VP of Marketing and Product Development, it’s about more than the skis. Being a uniquely backcountry-focused brand, a big priority for WNDR Alpine is investing in education, awareness, and backcountry etiquette.
“We feel a certain amount of responsibility to support education in the community we’re building,” says Fujas. “We recognize we’re encouraging more people to get into the backcountry, which is why events and clinics like the WNDR Rendezvous and WNDR Roost are so important to us.”
While this revolutionary technology has paved the way for WNDR Alpine to become the first B Corp-certified ski company, Sterbenz makes it clear that the success of its ski line will go beyond its own skis.
“We’ve spent three years proving our technology works in skis, now we want to see what else it can do,” he says. A year and a half ago, Checkerspot—WNDR’s parent company—announced a partnership with Gore, hinting at a future collaboration for insulation or outerwear. Sterbenz says they’ve been chatting with snowboard companies and other ski brands about other ways to use this technology.
“Hopefully we’re inspiring other brands to think about things differently,” says Sterbenz. “And if we’re successful I’m sure there will be other B-certified ski brands in the future.”
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