Last fall, after the sap had drained from the trees and before the first snow fell, Al Eagleton walked out his back door to chop down some wood. He hiked across his 30-acre forested plot of land, located about three miles outside of Rossland in southern British Columbia, to a stand of Aspen. A career in woodwork gave Eagleton an eye for good wood. He studied the trees, looking for the ones that would make the best skis and cut them down.
"The super good wood, it's satisfying to take it from the backyard," says Eagleton. "The way you cut the tree, and then prepare the pieces and glue them all together in the core, that makes a difference."
Eagleton is a woodworker, a carpenter, and a ski maker. The founder of Instinct Skis, he chops the wood, makes the core, and even matches the wood grain between the left and right ski, all in his workshop in Rossland. His skis are not only a product of their terrain, but they are also shaped and designed specifically for it. Like a surfboard shaper makes boards for his home wave, Eagleton makes skis for the Kootenays.
"I really just started making a ski for me," says Eagleton. "I wanted to make a ski that I wanted to ski. I like to ski the terrain that's around here. It's steep, treed terrain and it's way better when it's snowy."
There are some 30 brands represented at Powder Week. Many of them are pedigreed ski companies that have been making skis for so long they've become heritage brands with names recognizable across generations of skiers. But in between the Atomics and the Rossignols are a dozen or so indie ski companies founded out of one person's desire to make their own pair of skis for their own mountain. Icelantic Skis CEO Annelise Loevlie makes artistic skis with soulful art in Colorado.
Moment Skis co-founder Luke Jacobsen makes skis in a factory he built in his hometown of Reno, Nevada. After selling the ski company he started in a garage, Line Skis, to a corporation, Jason Levinthal started a second indie ski company called J Skis. This time in his living room. Icelantic, Moment, and J may be more established in the ski industry than Instinct Skis, but they are all small, hands-on operations that stand apart for their individuality and craftsmanship. At Powder Week, the Union immediately recognized Eagleton's local flavor.
"The Seeker 183 is a Rossland ski," says Wally Phillips, a Powder Union skier from Utah. "It molds to the real mountain conditions very well. Treed pow lines and more nimble lines make the ski sing."
Adds Lindsay Craig, from Revelstoke: "My favorite Koots ski! Amazing in pow and thick crud, poppy and playful and holds an edge. Easy rider."
The Powder Union skiers who were paired with Eagleton and Instinct Skis were treated to a skin track through the woods, beyond the ski area boundary, to untracked turns in stashes we would never have found without a local guide. "I'm a slow learner," says Eagleton, who easily gets in 100 days of skiing a year, mostly at Red Mountain. "I don't like change very much. I like my skis to feel like a slipper. Let's go ski and not think about what's on our feet."