Handmade skis pass the test for Colville teen
Elise Loggers deserves an “A” simply for the idea she proposed to fulfill her required senior project at Colville High School.
She could have stoked energy on an assignment destined for a teacher’s trash bin. Instead, she teamed with a Spokane ski maker to build custom alpine boards that will satisfy the school’s short-term criteria – and fulfill Loggers’ deep powder research for years to come.
“I had to learn Adobe Illustrator to do the graphics,” she said, referring to computer software used to design the Alaska-themed images on her skis.
Loggers negotiated a deal with T. J. Sneva, who builds custom skis in his north Spokane shop. He guided the operation, but Loggers had a hand in virtually every step.
The work spanned months as they juggled schedules. In the end, Loggers tallied 14 hours of shop work on the skis and 24 hours in the graphics.
She finished the pair in October after a soccer game in Spokane, but she’d been stewing on the project for two years after testing a pair of Sneva skis at 49 Degrees North.
While the skis impressed her, she was equally fascinated that they were made by hand in Spokane.
Sneva, of the famous Spokane auto racing family, has been making custom skis and snowboards since 1994, when he began building twin tip skis for freestyle friends who wanted to go backward as well as frontward on the slopes.
“It was three years later before Salomon produced them for the mass market,” Sneva said.
“There was a big learning curve to get over. I didn’t have the luxury of help from the Internet. It was mostly trial an error. We’ve wasted a lot of materials getting to where we are now.”
Working with Sneva, Loggers learned about P-tex bases, installing steel edges, applying Sneva’s patented penta weave fiberglass technology and how to achieve the optimum wood core combination of maple and poplar for ski flex to match her size and style.
Sneva offers snowboards and about 30 ski models for all types of skiers, including free-heelers. Skis can have twin tips or tails that are flat or notched to hold climbing skis.
Traditional camber can be dialed in, but Loggers went for the rocker that’s the rage in new skis.
Many companies make the shape of ski Loggers wanted, but a custom job is the only way to design the ski to her criteria from tail to tip.
Sneva offers a service to draft custom graphics for his clients. Snowboarders, for example, could bring photos of their moms for a personalized design, if they were brave enough.
Loggers designed her own graphics, inspired by a family vacation to Denali National Park.
“It was an unforgettable trip,” she said.
A friend who’s a wildlife photographer let her use his photos of Mount McKinley and a howling wolf.
She recreated her images of the Northern Lights on a computer.
First, she had to roll up her sleeves in the shop, plane the wood core, cut the fiberglass sheets and learn how Sneva applies a gooey layer of epoxy on the bases before applying a layer of biaxial weave fiberglass.
He would do one ski. Loggers would follow his lead on the other.
They continued with another layer of epoxy and a layer of triaxial weave fiberglass overlapping to form “penta weave.”
“Making skis is like making a cake with layers,” she said.
Instead of adding plastic sidewalls that give skis a “finished” look on retail store racks, Sneva extends the core to the edge of the ski and seals it with urethane.
“We stopped using plastic sidewalls years back,” he said. “It helps with the manufacturing process and keeps the ski more tortionally stiff through the center with no weak spots.
“What ever the metal edge comes against,whether it’s the core or plastic, the metal is going to win,” he said. “But at the end of the season, if you have nicks on plastic sidewalls you’re pretty much stuck with them. With our skis, you can sand out the nicks, add a coat of urethane and they will look new again.”
Sneva operated the machinery that compressed the layers they had prepared into a mold that formed the camber and upturned tips. He also manned the band saw that cut the shapes.
“One mistake with the band saw and we’d have had to start all over,” Loggers said.
They ground the sidewalls and beveled the edges before sanding and grinding the bases.
“I never expected there to be so many little details,” she said.
Sneva used a nifty process to infuse Loggers graphics to the ski tops before they sealed the skis with a coat of spar urethane.
The result: a fat ski that incorporates the latest design and technology. “They’re stable and they have total wood cores without the metal that’s in mass manufactured skis,” she said.
“The rocker forces the tips up and puts more energy in the ski. I feel more stable and don’t catch random edges. They’re really fun to ski.”
She routinely gets comments on her boards when she rides a chairlift with a stranger.
“I’ve had more than one person tell me it’s cool to meet somebody who’s made their own skis.
“What do my friends think of them?” she said, repeating the question. “They all like my skis, but I don’t let anyone touch them.”