Staring intently at the CNC machine as it cuts out the tail template for a new set of Sluff skis, Jeremy McCall flips on the fan switch. The machine is about the size of a ping-pong table, a robotic chainsaw of sorts that cuts with laser precision into the medium-density fibreboard. As I watch the machine's razor saw go to work, the dust and shavings are sucked up by the roaring fan into a giant transparent bag above my head. The machine is a real beauty — a CAND Bladerunner A-10. Connected to Jeremy's laptop by USB, the CNC machine — which stands for Computer Numerical Control — ensures a precise cut, each and every single time.
We stand shivering in a garage tucked away in Tapley's Farm — though Jeremy would rather you not know that. But the space isn't what matters, and here in Whistler many start-ups find themselves using all manner of strange abodes for their workshops.
"So many of the new start-up companies started from a garage and went on to full-scal e production," says Jeremy, eager to explain that what really matters is the design, the equipment, and the production quality. Indeed, right now in Whistler and Pemberton, a slew of small scale "makers" — as they are known — are producing some downright world class product, from custom skis to splitboards.
Like other makers who craft anything from clothing to toboggans, Jeremy believes in shifting production of consumer goods to something like a 100-mile diet. It is possible to buy not only local produce, but local high-end goods. Local ski maker Gary Wayne will sell you a pair of 150mm banana boards designed for three dimensional, next generation powder skiing. Greg Funk will customize and tweak to your specifications his selection of playful big mountain skis from his Pemberton workshop. Brad Bethune will take your snowboard, cut it in half, and install the bindings and mounts for a splitboard, as well as provide DiY kits. Ski mountaineer Johnny Chilton, better known as Johnny Foon, will make you a Kevlar-and-carbon woodcore ski based upon years of R&D in B.C.'s steeps. Kevin Sansalone, a pro-rider formerly with now-defunct Option snowboards, will hook you up with his signature and limited edition snowboards and noboards, designed in Whistler and built in Austria. And local small-scale manufacturer PRIOR, the king of the crew, offers a wall of skis and snowboards to suit any taste, including its innovative and highly popular splitboard series, initially cut and designed by pro rider and woodworker James Oda with founder Chris Prior.
Jeremy and his start-up ski company, Sluff, are at the forefront of this new breed of indie ski maker. These local builders are tucked away in industrial studios, garages, and storage spaces. Yet, as Jeremy emphasizes, they are really just a "scaled down genuine manufacturer." Their quality is close to — if not the same as or better than — their larger, corporate cousins.