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Avatar Kevin BrookerNovember 3, 2008

Last month the New York Ski Education Foundation hosted the “Climb to the Castle” rollerski race, a challenging hill climb up Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, New York. The field included many of the top skiers in the country, and blog posts on FasterSkier discussed equipment, heart rates, lactate levels and other metrics used to gauge fitness and readiness to compete at the elite level.

The field was also filled with the not-so-elite participants too, myself included — with a job, kids and genetic makeup more suited to channel surfing than skiing. My gauge of fitness was just finishing the event with lungs intact before the two hour cutoff time and being able to walk the next day. I didn’t retire to the OTC to eat and rest. My day started at 3:45 AM to make the drive from my home in eastern Vermont. After the awards ceremony I drove the three hours home, went food shopping for the family and running a half dozen errands before eating dinner.

My whining doesn’t change how Kevin competed with Kevin who actually did a pretty fair job getting to the finish line. Ultimately, it was an awesome experience; instead of heading to work, the day was spent rollerski racing (if I may be so bold) with the best Nordic skiers in the US while getting my ass kicked by everyone.

With the lantern rouge firmly in my grasp and the distinction of having the slowest finishing time, male or female, in the history of the event, this skier’s head is held high with pride for one simple reason; I also hold the title of fastest time on home grown rollerskis. That’s correct, the skis I competed with were designed and constructed in my basement.

Why roll my own when there are dozens of choices in today’s market? The simple reason is cash. At the time the frames were made, I had just enough money to purchase wheels. The impetus to attempt construction of my own frames was/is that some rollerskiing is better than no rollerskiing. The overall speed of the rollerskis is unimportant and, from my perspective, slower is better. Not for the extra training benefit. Because the crashes should be less severe thus removing smaller patches of skin. After making a few decisions it was time to get started.

My basement had a few pieces of maple and cherry boards from a project a few years ago. Another project contributed uni-directional along with a few scraps of plain weave carbon fiber cloth. Bindings came off my kid’s skis (I can put them back when the snow flies) so I was all set to start building. Having a full shop at my disposal really helped, and after a few hours of effort I had a pair of rollerskis.

So far the woodies have somewhere near 1,500k on them and are holding up pretty well. Several more pair have been constructed for friends, providing me with training partners. The basic look is the same with some improvements. The new frames have an additional layer of bias carbon to stiffen the forks and an oval cross section (the originals are rectangular) to offer more edge clearance on uneven pavement. The ride is smooth as the wood damps the high frequency vibrations transmitted through aluminum and there is a touch of flex riding across bumps in the surface. See the photos at the end of the article for more details on the skis.

Whenever I see a piece of factory made ski gear, I examine it with the intent of trying to discover how it is made. Reverse engineering broken snow skis has always been interesting. My interest in radio-controlled aircraft had me rolling tailbooms (short and very light ski poles) from carbon fibers and other exotic composite materials I found during the autopsy of skis, boots, bindings, poles and whatever gear is available to take apart.

Lack of funds also turned me to sewing my own clothing, camping gear, traction kites, and many other soft goods which taught me volumes about fabrics and construction methods. Eventually I started a small specialty clothing shop (www.reliefwear.com) and needed to outsource the project to contract shops in the mid-west. Some R&D work involved plastic and ceramics being produced offshore in the Pacific rim (fancy spin for China).

Last ski season I wrote a few pieces for FasterSkier outlining my participating in biathlon. Writing these was fun so I approached Topher (the editor) about writing for the 08-09 season. I wasn’t interested in covering the same territory and not sure if the readers would be interested in a blog by a result sheet doormat field filler.

One benefit of writing for FasterSkier was filling my portfolio, which helped land articles in Cross Country Skier magazine. The first feature (sponsorship) is published in the October issue with the second scheduled for later in the season. I had hoped to write a piece describing how ski equipment is manufactured which turns out is interesting but too broad for a paper and ink format. Not wanting to give up I pitched the idea to Topher to write the series for FasterSkier and have been granted the bandwidth.

The fore mentioned pseudo resume of my manufacturing endeavors and desire to learn more has me excited to present the series to the readers. Over the course of the season, the goal is to research aspects of the ski gear manufacturing process. The planned format is a narrated photo essay. Several large and small manufacturers are providing information and photos. The idea is to give skiers a better understanding of the effort involved to bring our gear from concept to market.

If your looking for trade secrets or proprietary info this series is not intended to divulge them. If you’ve ever wondered “ How’d they do this?” the series should help. Some areas of ski gear manufacture are used in more than one area. Injection molding plastic and composite materials come to mind.

Ever wonder how the graphics are put into or onto bases? Wax is cooked up? Gloves are sewn? What’s sublimation transfer? Keep checking in and find out.

If I claim to be looking forward to next year’s Whiteface Hillclimb it’d be a lie, even though my plans are to attend. If anyone out there wants to challenge for the fastest homegrown rollerski time, there will be no complaining from me; just a congratulatory slap on the back and heartfelt congratulations for beating me fair and square at my own game.

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Kevin Brooker

Kevin is 42 years old, married with two children and living in Post Mills, Vermont. He began racing bicycles at sixteen and continued pursuing individual sports. After a six-year layoff, Kevin has returned to athletics racing in biathlon events. He has written numerous articles for FasterSkier, including a series on his return to racing and his current "How It's Made" series.

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