Over the past couple years, Colorado has been ravaged by enormous forest fires that have burned hundreds of homes and hundreds of thousands of acres. Fueling these giant blazes are millions of dead trees killed by the pine and spruce beetle.
Instead of letting more of these trees go up in smoke, Glenwood Springs resident Matt Cudmore has come up with an innovative idea. He's turning some of the dead wood—principally the dead pine—into skis.
"It's a small business so I'm constantly worried about 2,000 different things, but when I go to bed at night I always feel good about what I'm doing," says Cudmore, whose company is called Meier Skis.
Cudmore made his first pair of sticks back in 2009 on a whim. He did it to see if he could. He has a background in architectural design and knew about composites from working on airplanes so he figured ski building would be fairly straightforward. It took him an entire ski season to pump out his first pair but as soon as he rode them he knew he was onto something.
"It was definitely the funnest ski I'd ever been on," he says.
From there he started making skis for his friends and just charging for materials, which he was buying from Lowe's at the time. Then his brother, who works for the Forest Service in Gunnison, CO, suggested he try and use some local wood including beetle kill blue stain pine (the blue tinge comes from a blue fungus the beetles inject into the tree). Cudmore found his first distributor just 10 miles away.
"I was sold because I liked the idea of keeping everything as local as possible," he says.
All of Cudmore's skis today have a clear top sheet so customers can see the blue-streaked pine wood and aspen that make up all his cores. Because the skis are made of two lighter woods, they're bouncy and responsive. He makes eight different models that are mostly aimed at frontside skiers, but several have also taken off amongst the backcountry crowd.
Last season Cudmore and two full-time employees made two hundred pairs of skis by hand. This year they're aiming for 700. Cudmore also has an investor who helped him expand the factory to 3,000 square feet and they're now making five models of longboards that also use beetle kill pine.
Growth is important and Cudmore says he's glad he can create jobs during a time when the local area desperately needs them. But he says he never wants to lose sight of where he came from. Even if the company keeps expanding he says he'll always make sure it's community focused and that local wood is always in the core of the skis.
"There are a lot of problems out there, environmentally and economically, so we're just excited to be a small part of working toward a solution," he says.