It took two years of design, redesign and testing, but at last Prior Snowboards is in the ski business.
The wood cores arrived a week ago, and staff at the Function Junction factory immediately got busy filling orders for their first ever run, which the company is marketing as an all-mountain ski. Although its a limited release in the first year, company founder, designer and builder Chris Prior says the word is already getting out.
"We have a small Web site and have very little marketing, but were getting a lot of interest and most of it is through word of mouth," said Prior.
Prior believes this is the first time that a snowboard company has ever started making skis, but he says most of the recent design changes to skis are based on snowboard technology, such as twin tips and parabolic shapes. The process is also similar to making racing boards, and the skis use similar materials.
"We were fortunate in that our press machine could easily be adapted to make skis as well as snowboards, so there was really nothing holding us back. It feels like its been a long time coming for us, and everyone in the factory is stoked about making these things," said Prior.
The skis will come in six sizes, 165, 171, 181, 188, 193 and 200, and two colours, black and red. Buyers can also order four different base designs.
"They were primarily designed for all mountain riding, from peak to valley and everything in between groomers, moguls, powder, tight trees, West Coast cement, everything," explained Prior.
To get the ski right, Prior used local pro skiers to test his products and used their feedback to improve the design. He also skis a little himself, and demoed several pairs during the two-year design phase.
"Theyve been taken everywhere, over rocks, into the halfpipe, on rails basically as much abuse as we could throw at them," he said. "We made sure to give them to park riders, freeriders, backcountry skiers, because we wanted to make sure they were both durable and could perform well in Whistler terrain. If they can survive the conditions out here, they can survive anywhere."
The skis fall into the mid-fat category, with an average amount of sidecut, and theyre also on the stiff side says Prior. "Theres a generous shovel on the nose for powder, and a little shorter-tail. Theyre also twin-tipped for park riders, and ride pretty well backwards," he said.
The cores are mostly maple, which Prior chose for its flex and durability. The edges are actually snowboard edges, which are thicker and made of a harder steel than most ski edges and will last longer on the rocks and in the terrain park. The base is also thicker than most skis, and will hold up better over rocks and rails says Prior.
The first run of skis shipped last week, mostly to local customers although several pairs are heading to the U.S. He also plans to offer demos through the winter.
Prior figures he has enough cores in stock to get through the season, and by next year he hopes the factory will be able to ramp up production.
"Were moving slowly on purpose. This is our first year of release and we didnt want to get in over our heads and commit to do too much. Its something I learned about four years ago," said Prior.
"We just want to make sure things go smoothly. Its a big responsibility putting something out into the public, and people are paying good money for these skis; you want to be sure they are going to be as good as you can make them, you dont want to make any mistakes. I know were excited about it, and the feedback has been positive, so we feel were on the right track."
Prior says the company will likely expand its offering of ski shapes in the coming years, probably starting with a fat backcountry ski.
"Like our snowboards, we want to make skis for Whistler and the backcountry component is a big part of the scene here, so that would make sense for us," said Prior.
The "Handcrafted In Whistler" label is still a huge asset for the company, he added.
"Whistler has a pretty good reputation in the world, so that does work for us. Being here also allows us to test here too, our research and development takes place right in our own backyard and we can ride one day and make design adjustments the next. Theres also so many talented athletes out there to test our equipment, so the feedback were getting is unreal," said Prior.
Prior will only be selling the skis through its factory and Web site, www.priorskis.com, but he hopes to have them in local shops by next season.
"Weve gotten a tonne of calls from dealers asking to carry our skis this year because they know they can sell them, but we thought it was better to stick to our guns and make sure everything is tight before we start selling to the public."