Randi Kruse is on a mission.
"My ultimate goal is to eliminate all sports equipment in landfill," she states, imagining a future where our love for the mountains doesn't destroy them.
As a measure of how big a mission that might be, consider that each year there are two tons of ski/snowboard hard goods tumbled into Whistler's landfill. This embarrassing statistic is Kruse's starting point for Ski Heaven, a company dedicated to upcycling this waste into a range of artistic and practical items — from picture frames and light fixtures, to furniture and coat stands.
"There should be cradle-to-cradle responsibility with all sporting goods," she continues. "There's no reason this stuff should be viewed as garbage."
To that end, Ski Heaven makes old boards available free-of-charge to local artists and builders to develop "master creations" — as well as smaller merchandise pieces for which Kruse creates detailed design and safety templates. As we speak, the whine of a table saw drowns us out as Georgia, an artist with an Industrial Design degree from Emily Carr, bedecked in eye protection and respirator, sections fat skis prior to laminating them into a wall hanging. Behind her, black "inspiration skis" emblazoned with fun slogans line a shelf; propped in a doorway is an enormous snowflake fashioned from cross-country ski bits. We step around to the area where Kruse stores her raw material, divided into groups depending on construction and potential use; one pile, labelled "Rainbows and Unicorns," has yet to find purpose — a sort of ski limbo rife with possibility.
Bright-eyed and driven, Kruse's passion for the project is evident. And her track record in other endeavours suggests she just might succeed where others have failed. "People have tinkered with making benches and other items," she says, "but nobody has yet said all ski waste should have an afterlife."
A self-described "communications chameleon" with expertise in both public and private stakeholder engagement, brand development, and event management, Kruse developed creative campaigns for Metro Vancouver, SLRD, RMOW, BC Hydro, Avalanche Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, always focused on the positives of common ground, social assets, and behavioural change. Likewise, she shares her current dream with a growing list of partners that include Whistler Blackcomb, Whistler Community Services Society, and the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.
"I come to this from a place of feeling I want to do something. We're a skiing family and I want my kids to understand it's a privilege for which we have to take responsibility."
Oddly, it isn't something she'd thought long and hard about. Growing up on a beach in White Rock, Kruse didn't ski until her early 20s. But living in Whistler over the past five years, the unique waste stream caught her attention. "I didn't grow up sticking old skis in the garage, so that's one of the reasons this seems like such a problem to me."
A year ago, when a friend starting a social venture asked her to think about a problem she wanted to solve, ski waste was the answer. The idea quickly shifted to experimenting with product prototypes and finding artists and designers who wanted to collaborate — as well as customers. "If someone wants to get on board we'll have a design charrette where we sit down and map it out together — how big is their space; where do they want to put it? They end up with something in their house that tells a story."
Where someone might see an old ski, Kruse sees what else this sturdy material can become. "We created a headboard for one of my first clients; she wanted it cherry red and white, in particular dimensions to match the room. She got exactly what she wanted because that's how much raw material there is to choose from. If we're going to make something new why not use material that's already been produced?"
Each piece is fully customizable — like the ski throne Kruse created for Garfs, designed specifically to interest the nightclub's demographic. Foam skis, for instance, are good for key fobs; metal skis for wine racks, outdoor art or chair components. "The message I want to get across is that there are no design limits," Kruse summarizes.
"I eventually want to take on helmets and poles... and bindings," she says, afterthoughting the component whose mixed materials are most difficult to separate and thus, impossible to even recycle. Nevertheless, Kruse isn't pointing fingers over whose role it is to deal with this stuff, believing that rather than wait for industry to take on bigger responsibility we should all get on with it. "Every business in this community could view skis as part of a new initiative," she notes.
Ultimately, Kruse feels Ski Heaven has always been here, but chose her. Indeed with people finally talking about climate change and our unsustainable lifestyles, Ski Heaven products and creations provide starting points "... for conversations about how we come together to celebrate places we love, and why we want them to be here for our kids."
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.