By L.R. Fielding
As skiers, we naturally have a deep, passionate love affair with the beautiful playground Mother Nature provides us. Unfortunately, essential to our "play" are environmentally harmful materials: epoxy is used in ski manufacturing, polyurethane, silicone, and, fluoropolymers are used as waterproofing agents, not to mention the oreing of steel, carbon and graphite for ski edges and poles. As an industry, this amounts to a significant carbon footprint. How sad to think that our products are contributing to global warming, and gasp, even worse, effecting snowfall? Isn't it ironic?
This disconnect was all too apparent for Oakley White-Allen and Tanner Rosenthal. The two industry alums met four years ago rippin' around Snowbird—both former pro park skiers, both looking for a meaningful contribution—and immediately sparked a friendship, and eventually a business partnership.
"We share a love for Mother Earth," said Allen-White. "We talked about bamboo poles as an idea, we thought one day we'll save some money and buy bamboo poles."
The duo first considered bamboo as a viable ski pole because of its sustainability; a ski pole-sized shoot can grow in just six-months; its durability is unrivaled (think the original racing gate); and it’s compostable, if by very rare-chance it does break.
Allen-White, who has an artistic background, toyed with sketches and models for a year or so, which he called his "fun, art project." Now, his aesthetic vision for natural-looking (and made) poles is being called beautiful by skiers of all backgrounds and ages.
Rosenthal came up with the concept for their patent-pending Zero Drag basket cone. The cone-shaped basket's 45 degree angle, and no holes, makes it less likely catch up in tree branches, even crunchy snow.
All that was left to find was a place to grow the bamboo, manufacture the special baskets, and find manufacturers for grips and straps, and of course, funds.
"It took money, of course, particularly for the baskets," said Allen-White. "We had to have a mold made for the baskets. Tanner was the financial investor. We have another guy, Johnny Anetsberger, in charge of all the manufacturing logistics."
The bamboo grows in Calcutta, India, and everything else is made in the good ol' USA. The baskets, which are recyclable, are manufactured in Chicago, and the grips, also recyclable, in California. The straps, which are made out of recycled materials, are made in Oregon. Everything is shipped to Sandy, Utah, where the guys hand-assemble everything in Allen-White's garage, and voila, Panda Poles.
"This season was the first year we've actually had a production pole and it's taken off," said Allen-White.
Everyone seems to want a pair and, mid-interview, several people approached Allen-White about the poles.
"Skiers in the 60s and 70s reminisce about the more natural equipment, the poles were wood, the skis were wood," he said. “Skiing was more approachable."
Allen-White, who is team manager, said he's received a flood of sponsorship emails. Currently, Panda Poles is represented by fellow big mountain skiers Chopo Diaz, Julian Carr, and Carlo Travareli, and one park skier, Chris Turpin. Allen-White is planning to expand the team next year, and include several women.
Check out their Web site pandapoles.com for durability videos, product information and more.