Skiing is old. Like, really old: Some scholars believe the earliest skis come from the Altai Mountains and date back to 8,000 B.C. The people who skied them secured horsehair to the bottom for climbing, much like modern mohair skins, and descended with a long pole they used to turn — a far cry from the metal and plastic planks we slide over snow on today (though it's hard to tell, there's still wood in there too).
Nevertheless, ask a parent about the skis they grew up on, and they'll happily launch into an effusion about straight skis, skinny skis, two-tens and rope tows. Even in the past few decades, never mind a few thousand years, skis have changed a lot. They're lighter, stronger and shapelier than ever before, catering to the whims of every kind of skier and the terrain of any mountain.
And the evolution continues. Heritage brands like Rossignol, Fischer and Elan remain among the top ski producers, with histories that date back to 1907, 1924 and 1945, respectively. But new brands are popping up, and they're aiming to reshape the industry — and the skis beneath your feet.
Officially founded in 2011, Renoun is the eldest of this trio. Still, it wasn't until the end of 2014 that it released its first ski, and it wasn't until 2018 that founder Cyrus Schenck was finally able to quit the window washing gig that had supported his endeavors up to that point.
The intervening years saw Renoun earn patents for Hyper Damping Technology, or HDT, which puts the company in a lane apart from traditional ski makers. HDT — and a distaste for a future of mundanity in corporate engineering — is what compelled Schenck to drop out of Clarkson University and start a ski company. It's a non-Newtonian polymer, meaning its viscosity changes depending on the stress applied to it. You can squeeze and mold the stuff with your hands like Silly Putty, but if you smack it, it's astonishingly firm.
Renoun calls its HDT VibeStop. As an ingredient in the layered recipe of a ski, it does just that: stop vibrations. As a skier skis faster and harder, the channels of VibeStop that Renoun builds into the core of its skis become firmer, thereby stiffening the ski and making it more stable at moments when those characteristics are most crucial. Because it's far lighter than other materials that might reduce ski vibrations (called "chatter" in ski parlance), Renoun can produce a ski that's simultaneously — and paradoxically — lightweight and strong.
The other component of Renoun's atypical approach is a direct-to-consumer business model. You won't see its skis on shop walls, but you will get a generous money-back guarantee that offers a full refund if you decide you don't like them after a few days on snow.
Not unlike what happened with Renoun, a novel if not downright futuristic material inspired the creation of WNDR (pronounced "wonder"). In this case it's microalgae-sourced polyurethane produced by the biotech company Checkerspot. Based in Berkeley, California and with a design lab in Salt Lake City, Checkerspot has been developing bio-based alternatives to petroleum products since 2016. To prove its concept, the company enlisted ski industry veteran Matt Sterbenz in 2019 to helm WNDR.
Currently, WNDR uses algae-derived polyurethane in the cores and sidewalls of its two ski models. In both cases, the bio-based material exhibits superior damping and durability compared to traditional materials, making skis that are both lighter and stronger than those made with carbon fiber and ABS. Sustainability aside, WNDR's skis are impressive (and it's probably the only company to draw press attention from both Freeskier Magazine and Bioplastics News).
WNDR launched with one ski, the Intention 110, and released the Vital 100 for winter 20/21 — the latter recently won a sustainability award at ISPO, the largest sporting goods trade show in the world. Both models are geared for backcountry use and are available in reverse or traditional camber profiles, depending on the skier's preference.
In a recent interview with ski pub Forecast, Sterbenz hinted that a third model would round out the fleet — and expressed optimism that the algae tech could work in snowboards too.
Season's approach is based more on culture than science. Skiing and snowboarding aren't so different, the brand believes, so it's making both skis and snowboards. It's one of the few brands to put both on a level slope; when big companies do this, the feeling is often that snowboards are a ski maker's side gig, or vice versa. Not so with Season.
Once you know that pro skier Eric Pollard and pro snowboarder Austin Smith co-founded the company, the duality seems like a given. Both left long careers working hand-in-hand with well-known companies to make real their vision with Season.
A side effect of that vision, somewhat ironically, is that ski and board releases needn't be so seasonal. The industry has trained us to expect new and updated models every autumn, but Pollard and Smith want riders to ride Season's gear for as many years as they can. Every one of its models — three each of skis and boards for carving, all-mountain and powder — is mostly black with small hits of color, ensuring the graphics don't get outdated.
Season also teamed up with retailer Evo to provide free waxing and one full tune-up every year for as long as the product lasts. Evo has stores in Denver, Portland, Seattle, Whistler and one opening in Salt Lake City soon — all pretty good base camps from which to try any of this stuff, really.