With Innsbruck-based startup SPURart, ski manufacturing is going back to its small-batch roots. Small is better. Small means ash cores and wood veneers. Small means the people building the boards also ride them. We checked in with co-founder Peter Pfeifer to find out more.
There are glasses made of wood, there are bicycles made of bamboo – and you have been building skis made of finest wood veneer since 2010. What’s so special about wood as a material?
Wood is an exceptionally beautiful and versatile, sustainable raw material. The wood core of a ski or snowboard is like the chassis of the car—it’s the most important part. It has enormous impact on the density and stiffness, power and maneuverability of the finished ski. Our goal from the beginning, as skiers, was to build the best pair of skis we’ve ever been on—we didn’t care about the wooden look. That’s why our early prototypes looked terrible—the topsheet was dirty or just black, but the whole point was learning. We were constantly refining and perfecting the techniques to build that perfect ski.
What did your customers think about your ski’s design?
We quickly realized that people who spend a lot of money on a custom ski are very concerned about design. While we really enjoy the technical aspect to ski design (such as ski materials, wood core and shape), we find that for most of our clients the fun part comes when it’s time to talk about their topsheet design. They get really into their custom ski graphic and we could discuss colours and style for hours. Should we do that edelweiss icon a bit larger? And shouldn’t we place it closer to the tip? Or rather put it closer to the tail?
When did you first realize that you wanted to build skis? Are you trained carpenters?
No. We have both worked as professional ski testers for many years. That’s how I got to know Michi. We started building skis because we weren’t satisfied with the ingenuity or quality of craftsmanship of skis available on the market.
So, what makes a perfect and ingenious ski?
Above all it’s about core and construction. The thickness of the core determines a lot of a ski’s characteristics like flex, stiffness and vibration damping. Each pair of our skis are made from a solid piece of ash, some of the best wood available for making skis. Ash has a great proportion of long wood fibers and high tensile strength, making it the perfect ski core. At SPURart, the height, weight, skill and ambition of a skier are taken into account while handcrafting a one-of-a-kind pair of custom planks.
Do you have clients who cheat on their weight?
Occasionally, yes. Although it won’t get them anywhere… That’s why our design stage revolves around the skier and starts with collecting information on physical traits, terrain, riding behavior, personal preferences, and goals. We can then determine the optimal combination of ski length, width, stiffness, flex pattern, shapes, and materials. Width is a crucial element to get right when choosing a pair of skis. It’s a big difference whether they are 11.1 or 11.3 cm wide. The dimensions of your ski under your foot can make or break your next ski day.
Is this the difference between a custom and an “off-the-rack” ski?
Our hands-on approach enables us to gain an advantage over larger manufacturers, who produce 5,000 pairs of one ski model a year. We don’t use typical ski molds because each pair of skis we produce is unique, with its own dimensions as far as shape, camber and rocker are concerned. We aim at building a better product in small volumes direct to the end user, tailored to their needs. We have as well optimized the design and manufacturing process. We don’t use a hydraulic press to shape the skis; instead, we laminate them into an early shape and use a vacuum box where they are pressed into skis overnight.
“A thoughtfully designed, well-made custom product fits the owner like a glove—it’s quality and craftsmanship to be experienced and felt.”
Does small-batch manufacturing only work for niche markets?
It’s easy to see that small-batch manufacturing is a trend, given the growing interest in locally grown foods for example. Consumers opt for buying meat from their local butcher or unique clothing produced by local makers in small batches rather than the mass-produced brands. More and more people nowadays think that small is big, and less is more. They are looking for locally crafted products with a focus on quality and craftsmanship. We clearly benefit from this rise in small-batch makers. A thoughtfully designed, well-made custom product fits the owner like a glove—it’s quality and craftsmanship to be experienced and felt.
How do you achieve that?
It’s mostly about sustainability. Part of what makes our skis unique is our small batch mindset: Every piece and part of the ski and manufacturing process is in our hands, an attention to detail that is overlooked in mass produced ski brands, where edge and base tuning is predominantly assembly-line work. That’s why our edges and bases are thicker. Precision-tuned, hand-filed and polished steel edges and bases are stronger and provide both durability and tuning longevity.
How long should a pair of your skis last?
A life long.
Honestly? That sounds like a catchy slogan, right?
It’s easy to repair damaged wood. We rarely treat our topsheets of wood veneer. They used to coat the sheets with a protective lacquer, but that doesn’t make any sense. You have to care for your ski’s topsheet as if it was a quality hardwood floor. After pressing, we hand-finish the veneer with sandpaper and polish it with oil, just like you would do with a wooden table or floor. This creates a sturdy and resistant surface while maintaining its original wood finish appearance. You can easily get rid of scratches in wood. If a plastic topsheet gets scratched, the scratches will stay there.
Where do your customers come from?
From the beginning, our clientele was international, coming from Argentina, Japan, Australia, Germany. Initially skeptical as they are, Tiroleans have been waiting a few years to have their skis built by us. However, in the meantime we have many locals as our customers.
What has been the most unusual wish so far?
A reproduction of a Bigfoot in rosewood veneer. The longest ski we built measured 220 centimeters. And one skier from Bavaria even asked that his skis were finished with a traditional Bavarian sweet mustard and pretzel graphic design.
The Fiss Ski Resort asked you to build glowing skis for their ski demo show. How does that work?
We created these special skis in collaboration with Spielvolk Company, which is an expert in electronic show design and engineering. We built LED lights into the ski itself, which sync with the music of the show.
The University of Innsbruck ordered SPURart skis for one of their research projects.
Our small-batch press process in the vacuum box enables us to craft very accurate skis. In this research project by the Austrian and German Ski Association, the University digitally tested different parameters of skis for racing, such as acceleration and sliding properties of shapes, bases and edges.
You also offer workshops in which customers build their own customized skis with the company through the course of a weekend. Does this really work?
There is no carpentry experience needed to join our workshops. We wanted to create a hands-on experience that goes literally skin-deep. The goal is to give people a sense of ownership and pride and to let them take part in creating their product. At the end of the weekend, many of our participants from abroad will stay in Tirol for a week or so to hit the slopes.
Have you ever been fed up with skiing or snow sports?
No, never. We just want to make as many people happy on the mountain as possible. We want to build the highest quality best fit skis that we can. Every pair of fully custom, wood-veneer, handmade skis that comes out of our shop is designed in a highly personalized process. The small operation allows us to continuously experiment with new shapes and materials and to work individually with clients on every pair. We are constantly refining our techniques with regard to different snow conditions and uses, from backcountry skiing to giant slalom. Those are our goals that will keep us probably busy for the rest of our lives.