Local entrepreneurs ski to success
A recent arrival on the ski scene, 93 North Skis, has combined craftsmanship and engineering to produce Canmore manufactured and designed skis that are hand-made and expertly tested.
Sam McEwan and Max Flowerday, previously engineers from Calgary, decided to up and quit their stable careers to pursue their passion for skiing by building skis.
“We were talking one weekend about doing it, then the next weekend got excited about it, and then two weeks later we handed in our notices,” said Max Flowerday co-owner of 93 North Skis.
The two had been skiing in the 93 North Parkway area when they started discussing building their own pair of skis, followed by doodling diagrams at a bar on how to build a ski press and the feasibility of it all.
They desired a change from the purely intellectual work in their current careers, and craved the hands-on approach from their university days.
McEwan said it was a combination of things aligning in their lives that made it an ideal condition to grow a business.
“Starting a project that you’re passionate about, having a business partner who’s aligned with your kind of views, and then just having the flexibility to do that,” said Sam McEwan, co-owner of 93 North Skis.
The Andromeda is the duo’s first ski. It’s designed to be an all-mountain ski made from poplar and maple wood. It was designed to have the performance of a downhill ski but at a weight that supports agility and is forgiving enough for touring.
“It’s a crossover for people that want to start getting into touring or using it for maybe yo-yoing,” said McEwan.
Yo-yoing is a method of skiing that involves hiking up a section of a mountain, skiing down, and then hiking back up for multiple runs, which can sometimes offer more varied terrain than resort skiing.
This season, they are building a lightweight backcountry ski and playing around with a big-mountain, big-powder ski designed for advanced and expert skiers.
The touring ski will be tested by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guide (ACMG) ski guides throughout the 2017 ski season and the product will go through several phases of redesign until the two are happy with the final product.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to have a product that people believe in because it’s been tested by a bunch of experts.”
The two first learned how to build skis at a hobbyist level through various ski forums.
As they moved from hobbyist level to small production, they had to learn to design their own systems.
“That is where our design thought process comes into play, from our engineering backgrounds,” said McEwan.
At this point, each pair of skis typically takes close to nine man-hours to make.
“Max and I have that oversight from the design phase to every stage of the production,” said McEwan.
Because they both share a passion for skiing, Flowerday said it adds a higher level of accountability to their product.
They don’t want to sell something that’s going to negatively impact the sport or that they wouldn’t ski on.
“Being passionate about skiing makes us want to create the best product possible,” said Flowerday.
McEwan and Flowerday never saw themselves as entrepreneurs, but once they found skiing as an avenue to apply themselves to, it made it a lot easier to imagine a future in developing products for the sport as a business.
Their engineering backgrounds came in handy when it came to things like designing prototypes and machinery to make the skis, however, both of them had little experience in marketing and brand development.
“A lot of the business is very quantifiable, whereas, in the realm of marketing and sales it’s floating points, and you’ve got to change your mindset,” said McEwan.
Having a partnership that shares the same vision and passion was extremely instrumental in the success of the business.
“We’re not afraid to tell the other one that they are out to lunch on something,” said Flowerday.
The ski shop is located close to many other local businesses in the industrial area of Canmore, and they retail through Ski West in Calgary.