When we depart the ski-touring paradise of Stranda, Norway, heading north back to Torndheim, it's a grey day with poor prospects for travel. Still, we manage to link up the two required ferries nicely, arriving at each five minutes before they depart across steely fjords. We stop for lunch at a café in tiny Gjøra, set at the intersection of a couple of long valleys surrounded by huge peaks with splitter-style couloirs. It's still cool and windy, but the sun cracks just enough that we sit outside and drink in views and craft beer while dining on made-to-order pasta salad. It's amazing what you can find in the Norwegian countryside.
As if to punctuate the thought, an hour later we pull into Endre Hals' 18th-century farmhouse in middle-of-nowhere Lønset near the town of Oppdal. In an adjacent converted 200-year-old barn (older than the country it resides in), Hals has been hand-making celebrated skis under the name Prog since 2007, and more recently the similarly constructed EVI ski, an already revered brand featured in shops up and down the valley. These days, with EVI a bigger concern than Prog, Hals has a handful of partners: John Løkkhaug was the first after Hals to complete his ski-builder training; Henrik Ottersen, a boat-builder by trade who specialized in composite materials on ocean-racing sailboats, brought a perfect combination of material skills and knowledge to the table; Rune Gundersenm, the team's latest addition, handles sales, marketing and demoing for the brand.
One of the keys to this cottage operation is making as many of the constituent parts of the skis as possible on site — even the all-important, carbon-fibre prepreg layer. Prepreg refers to a reinforcing fabric pre-impregnated with a resin system — typically epoxy— that includes a curing agent, making it ready to lay up without the addition of more resin, such that the ski mould's pressure and heat take care of the remaining chemistry. Because of its vital role in the laminate, making your own prepreg — adjusting the amount of carbon and fibre directions — yields huge control over the basic dynamics of a ski.
Everything is assembled on Hals' own in-house production line, featuring an ergonomic and innovative work-flow split between "dirty and noisy" actions on one side, and "clean and polished" on the other. There's a vertical division as well: raw materials arrive up top, and everything makes its way down through the assembly process to the final stop of a ground-floor showroom.
The EVI concept is a simple one. "Skis work as a lengthening of your body, so ideally everyone should get their skis tailored. But tailor-made skis come at a cost," says Hals. "EVI is a model-based brand but the skis are made in the same way as tailor-made Prog skis. This way, we can make a lot more models at higher quality than standard ski production."
As Hals sees it, there's no argument that ever supersedes function, a foundation on which he's never willing to compromise. He even has a line of skis with purely functional graphics (I'll leave that for you to investigate). EVI's unique, boutique construction method allows it to produce only what is sold, with no stock buildup, reducing waste all around; it also makes the skis close to its main market, significantly reducing transportation issues. This flexibility delivers a product revered by Scandinavian skiers in the know — and auslanders like Whistler freerider Eric Hjorleifson. Hoji has several times worked with Hals on the design of a pro-model board as well as tailor-made personal boards à la Prog.
Given EVI's success, many wonder if the Prog project is dead. Apparently not. Hals & Co. vow to continue posting images and details of individual Prog custom ski builds, which are made with even more exclusive materials and higher attention to detail.
Hals' priority with EVI — in fact his credo and claim to fame — is making and testing skis in the surroundings they'll be used in, and when he shows us his tiny office in an upper bedroom of the house, we have a bird's-eye view of the down-valley touring terrain on which he conducts some of these; the other touring area he utilizes is only steps away, out his back door.
Testing skis in development is demanding — and hazardous. On a broken iPhone, Hals shows us an X-ray of the screws in his cheek, shattered on a rocky slope in an early-season fall. Fortunately there was no damage to the rest of his skull: when we view the complex computer programs he's written to design and personalize skis on high-resolution screens in the office, we're blown away by their genius.
True genius can also be seen in Hals' fast-and-light approach to production, which allows for immediate improvements to EVI's product portfolio without having to wait for the next season's ski production. In fact, depending whether the winter is a particularly powdery one or features more hard-snow conditions, they can adjust the skis they're producing on the fly — a ski du jour, so to speak.
It's indeed amazing what you can find in the Norwegian countryside.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.