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Sea to Sky Made

Start-ups and struggles in the Sea to Sky snowsports industry

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Johnny "Foon" Chilton is a steep-skiing pioneer, known for his first descents alongside Jia Condon and Trevor Petersen from the St. Elias Range to Mt. Waddington. Formerly sponsored by Head/Tyrolia, Johnny felt that "they would never go the whole way — they'd take ideas but they wouldn't design the ski I really wanted." As Johnny began focusing more on his family and "less on riding rad lines," Foon felt it would "make more sense building a pair of skis than buying them."

Foon leads me into the cavernous basement underneath his Mt. Currie house, perched among subalpine forest. He pulls out the first pair he ever made; the skis are adorned with multiple mount holes. "I probably put 50 days on these skis," he says. I can barely flex them. But I believe him.

"For three years I've been perfecting this model — the Tyfoon, the ultimate quiverkiller," says Johnny. The custom-flex, fir-core ski has a rockered tip and a pronounced curve of camber that rises sharply from the flat shovel and tail. At 112mm underfoot it is available at 165 through 185cm. The finish is unique, with wood-grain visible underneath the glossy lexan topsheet. Foon is already imagining new models; the Gretzski, at 100mm underfoot, will be for all-mountain use as well as a "mountaineering stick" for the chalky, hard snow of couloir skiing. A fat, reverse-sidecut ski, inspired by his longboard, will be called the Foonami.

Like Jeremy, Foon has invested in high-tech materials including thin-gauge titanium and carbon and Kevlar strips to enhance the ski's performance. "It's expensive as hell," he says, "but it adds torsional stiffness to the ski." Likewise, he reinforces the binding mounts with steel plates. This year, Foon is prototyping yellow cedar from Haida Gwa'ii, which he is testing for strength, as well for the "soul of the ski."

"Most mass market skis don't use these materials because of the cost," says Foon. And such skis tend to last a little too long. "A ski like this — with a wood core from the mountain, or from Haida Gwa'ii, from somewhere that's special — when I sell a pair of these skis I intend the person to have them for the rest of their lives. That's the thing with the carbon and Kevlar. They'll be able to." The skis sell at $1,250, priced at a fair $1,000 for Sea to Sky residents.

"There's a revolution going on in the industry," says Foon of the rise of localized ski builders. But he's not sure if it can become his full-time income. "It seems to be at a point where I'd be crazy to turn back," he says. He's achieved the ski he wants in terms of performance, durability, and aesthetics. But with his current one-man operation, he has to cap his limit at 40 pair. As he works full time as a groomer for Blackcomb, the income remains supplemental.

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