Most skiers do not think much about the guts of their skis. They may demo skis with certain desired characteristics in mind, but their hands-on experience goes literally skin-deep. To provide a deeper understanding, Parlor Skis started classes at the company’s Boston workshop to allow participation in the custom ski-building process.
Founded by college ski-racing friends Mark Wallace, Jason Epstein and Pete Endres, Parlor Skis sells custom skis based on a customer consultation like many other boutique ski-makers. However, the option to help make those skis is very unusual.
The summer classes are small usually with just four students under the guidance of Wallace and Parlor’s production manager Tyler Grees. The experts do handle a couple particularly challenging steps in the process, but for the most part, customers can hit the slopes and brag “I made these” (albeit under close supervision).
“The most interesting part to me was putting it all together and making what the guys call the ski lasagna. I was like this is real. I’m really making a ski,” said Melissa Raynor, a Boston real estate agent who took the class last summer. “Then, it’s neat when you’re on the ski trail and you’re looking down at your skis that you made.”
The structure of the $1,500 class (that includes the skis accounting for $950 of the price) nicely illustrates ski construction. After a custom design and graphics consultation like with any other customer, the students gather in a four-hour class that focuses on the bases and cores.
Bases and Cores
The base that slides on the snow is made of a plastic commonly referred to as P-Tex. In most high-end skis, the bulk of the core is made of wood. In Parlor’s case, a combination of aspen, cedar, maple and walnut wood is used to dial up the ski’s desired qualities.
Layers of fiberglass, metal and carbon fibers may also be part of the “lasagna” inside various skis. Keeping with food metaphors, the most common term for this design is “sandwich construction.” Sidewalls are the vertical plastic or hardwood pieces that go on each side of the core.
Instead of a wood core, some mass-produced skis have a foam core that is injected into the ski. As opposed to a design like Parlor’s with sidewalls and a topsheet, cap construction means the top layer rounds over the core from one edge to the other.
The next class at Parlor involves spreading epoxy on the layers for what is called the wet lay-up. “Epoxy is kind of the red sauce that holds everything together,” Wallace said in keeping with his lasagna comparison. Once the lay-up prep is done, the skis go in a press to glue the parts of each ski together. According to Wallace, the press at Parlor puts about 26,000 pounds of pressure on the skis.
The last four-hour class consists of topsheet shaping, plus hardwood sidewall sanding and finishing. Wallace said that about 20 hours of work goes into a pair of skis in the class setting. Without the class component, a ski-maker working alone there would spend about half that shop time on a pair of skis.
Recent student Tim Grady of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, came to the class with extensive carpentry experience, but said such skills weren’t a necessity. For him, even the initial design consultation was instructive.
“The education that you get is not just about building the ski, but also the science behind it such as the cut and camber and the whole design of it,” he said. “When you’re planning it out and choosing the ski design, you see what each component means and why.”
After taking the class last summer, Greg Montello of Boston admitted that he was nervous initially trying his own product months later on the slopes. “Your first impression is if these things are going to survive a couple runs,” he said. “But quickly that notion goes out the window. The ski was tremendous. They did everything I wanted them to do. They’ve been great.”