Ski Making: Blowing Life Into An Ancient Art
I was born in Norway on an ancient Viking farm. The legend says that every baby in Norway pops out with skis on their feet. I was a January baby and skiing, as the legend predicted, became my main winter activity at an early age.
On my 22nd birthday, I strapped my skis on for a real adventure. I started walking from the southern-most point of Norway, and I didn’t stop until I reached the northern-most tip 4.5 months and 3,000 kilometers later. This journey through the Norwegian wilderness deeply increased my fascination and respect for mother nature. It still continues to inspire me to explore, evolve, and live a harmonious and sustainable life.
A couple of years ago my adventure led me to become good friends with Gary Neptune, who for many years owned one of the country’s most iconic gear shops: Boulder, Colorado’s Neptune Mountaineering. We quickly recognized each other’s passion for skiing and the love for adventures.
Gary awoke my interest for the polar explorers and their great expeditions, and captured my imagination with his encyclopedic knowledge of a fine, forgotten art form: hand carving skis.
For decades, the man sold all the latest bindings, skis, jackets, pants and boots, and all along, Gary skied on his homemade wood skis, his old leather boots, and his knitted wool sweaters. The man is a legend.
In the window of his museum at Neptune Mountaineering sits a long row of hand carved wooden skis. With a closer look you can tell that they are not only works of art, but replicas of the skis that broke the trail to the very top and very bottom of the planet.
I became interested the woodwork that was put into his skis, and the fact that Gary never skis on anything else. I started to imagine myself crossing Greenland on my own homemade planks, and before I knew it, I was standing there with two birch boards and a handheld wood planer. No electrical tools were allowed.
Picking out the right pieces of wood to use requires mastery and a good amount of luck. After carving the planks, the skis get soaked in water for 24 hours and then put into a bender. Until they dry, you never really know how they will turn out. The wood is a live material, so even the most perfectly carved skis may bend unpredictably. This fact makes the hours of work quite exciting.
After picking my pieces, I drew an outline of the final product onto the planks. Then I began to shave them down, paying attention to the width and curve of my final product.
I was completely unfamiliar with the tools. I watched Gary leaving the birch planks perfectly smooth, like a knife in soft butter. My planer would dig deep into the plank or catch from time to time, leaving deep dents in the wood.
I was driving home after my first carving session, I was thankful for being a climber. My lats and arms were sore, and I had cut my fingers all over the place from hitting the sharp edge of my planks. I was happy to be accustomed to this feeling, but a bit intimidated after Gary told me the process would take 30 hours.
But in a few days, I cracked the code of how to use my tools. The first part of the carving was kind of tedious, but it evolved into a standing mediation. I would find ways to stand and move to spend as little energy as possible. I would move with my breath, like I do during my daily yoga practice. I felt a kind of flow instead of feeling like I was playing rugby, and with a clear head, my days passed quickly.
After the skis started to take shape, I constantly had to flex each piece to make sure they would bend evenly. The smallest mistakes at this point could become irreversible. It was nerve-racking.
Here we are at Gary’s casa taking the skis out of the water and putting the them into his homemade bender.
My skis turned out great!
The finishing touches. I waterproofed the skis with linseed oil and heated tare. I found an old rune alphabet and carved a secret code and some old Nordic symbols into the tip, for good luck.
It dawned on me that whenever I see skis in a store, I have taken for granted their rich history, how they’ve been made, and where they’ve taken me in my life.
~Rannveig Aamodt, prAna Ambassador
Images via nathanweltonphoto.com