Long before Chris Benchetler was in love with skiing, he was drawing lines. Luckily, he kept up with both disciplines because the lines he drew now grace his namesake skis, the Bent Chetler. Working hand-in-hand with Atomic, Chris’ latest incarnation of this pro model is one of his proudest creations yet.
En route to British Columbia, Chris made time to chat about art, skiing, and the interplay between both.
You’ve been drawing since you were young. What’s your earliest drawing that you can remember?
Fortunately my mom kept one of my earlier pieces and put it up on the wall. Otherwise, I would have forgot for sure [ha]. It’s a drawing of Tommy Pickles, from the cartoon Rugrats, playing in the dirt with worms. I’m sure I saw it in a coloring book or something. I was obsessed with crayons and colored pencils, always coloring inside the lines, so I think by virtue of that, I started to develop a rather cartoonist style of drawing.
Do any other artists influence your artwork or did your style grow from childhood?
There are, for sure, styles that speak to me more than others, but I can’t say I follow any particular artists closely enough to know specific names. Like I said before, my art was rather cartoonist [at childhood], and I think still has that general feel, but seems to be developing into more life and landscapes by nature of my travels and daily surroundings.
What spurs you to reach for a Sharpie and start doodling?
In all honesty I don’t think I can pin point it. I’d say anytime there’s enough blank space on the paper and a pen, I have the tendency to doodle. That was one of my bigger problems with my earlier art: Since I was always doodling on everything I never really created or kept “specific” pieces. I’d always toss them out.
Compare how it feels to express yourself through drawing lines on paper VS skiing lines on the mountain. Are there similarities?
There are definite similarities. That’s the best part of each. There’s no blueprint on how the lines need to be drawn. You can, of course, be inspired and use past examples, but you never need to repeat what has been done before. You can draw any line you’d like, put as much pressure on your line width or stroke (power of your turn on skis), etc. Now that you mention it, I think they directly relate.
What part, if any, does skiing play in your creative process?
Skiing plays a huge role. Limitations on my skis are what drive new ideas.
You were given a blank slate in designing the Bent Chetler, including the specs. How do you even get started with a hefty task like that?
Well fortunately, you can bring inspiration and past experiences to the table. I was lucky that so many brilliant minds had embraced skiing, boarding, surfing, etc., and since I was such a fan of each, I tried to create something that would emulate the feeling I was looking for. For example, I was lucky enough to ski the first stages of K2’s rocker [prototype] from Shane McConkey early on, so I knew I needed and wanted rocker, but wanted more responsiveness out of my turns and pop off [of] jumps. That’s where the traditional camber underfoot came in; I basically just wrote down ideas and dimensions, then worked closely with the Atomic engineers to create something realistic. That’s been the process ever since — come up with ideas and Atomic helps me execute them.
When you were thinking of the actual graphics for the Bent Chetlers, what did you want the graphics to convey?
That’s a great question. I can’t say I’ve had any particular message in mind, and still don’t. I just use my travels and experiences as inspiration. I am always inspired by nature: the wisdom and power of mountains, being grounded and rooted like the trees, and just going with the flow like water. Each of those tends to make their way into each generation [of ski].
This year’s Bent Chetler is the first one to change since Atomic introduced your pro model. What sets it apart from the previous models, and how did you inject more of your skiing style into it? Additionally, how did you work with Atomic to make those changes?
Yeah. The last couple years I was trying to implement an idea I saw on [pro surfer] Rob Machado’s surfboard. I wanted to increase flotation without bringing out the waist of the ski any wider, and jeopardizing its overall performance on chop and groomers. Basically after skiing on the ski for a few years, I was just trying to dial it in even more and make it the best powder tool it could be. That’s where we came up with HRZN tech, which is an insert on the tip and tail that reduces drag and helps the ski plane and smear easier than ever. That, along [with] a new wood core, smaller waist width, and longer ski length, I think we were able to make an epic improvement to the past generations. I’m very happy with it for sure!
Which, if either, is a stronger mental escape for you — skiing or drawing? Does either one ask more of you mentally as far as challenges, perfecting technique, etc. go?
Definitely skiing. I’m super active and need to be outdoors. That’s my biggest challenge with drawing. I love being outside and living too much, so I tend to neglect my art a lot. I only really draw when it’s time to create a graphic for something. But luckily, all that time outdoors leaves me with endless ideas and inspiration!