Why you should care
Because everything old is new again.
Quick: Name a Chinese sport that has been around since B.C. 600 and is still practiced today.
Well, after you conclude that mahjong isn’t really a sport and hasn’t been around that long, and that kung fu, while it has sporting applications, is more correctly a martial art, we’ll accept your unconditional surrender in the face of the fact that the correct answer is skiing. But without the heavy Scandinavian influence, skiing would look nothing like it does today: a multimillion-dollar, multicolored explosion of colors and carbon-fiber-reinforced composite materials.
A development to which a group of ski-makers said in no uncertain terms, “Screw this,” and instead turned their attentions to … wait for it … plain old wooden skis.
“The best thing about wooden skis,” says lifelong skier and onetime Olympic hopeful Doug Danzig, “is that if you’re crazy enough and have enough time, you can make your own.” Which, in the face of a day rate on the slopes that can cost more than $100 depending on location, might be a motivating factor even if we largely suspect that no one into skiing with wood is doing it to save money.
Those other reasons work for me too. But really, I just like having shit no one else has.
Some cite being closer to nature versus intruding on it, or how the wood feels when they’re carving turns in soft powder, or how fast wooden skis are. The real reason, as copped to by wooden ski fan and Bergen, Norway, resident Liv Hylleseth, has everything to do with style. “Go into your average ski store and tell me if you can buy any of that crap off the rack,” she sniffs. “I couldn’t.”
With a bespoke turn and about $800 in disposable income (it’s either that or a nearby forest and woodworking skills), you can snag yourself a pair of wooden skis from Rønning Treski, self-proclaimed as the only wooden ski manufacturer in Norway. In business since 1936, the company possesses a pretty real sense of skis for recreation, transportation, work or, in some cases in those early years, war. Claiming that the ride is substantially different from that offered by high-tech modern skis, Hylleseth says the wood is much more responsive to changes in weather and ski conditions. Wooden skis, she says, feel more like extensions of her, as compared with modern skis, which make her feel like she is an extension of them. “Part of why I’m out there in the first place is to get closer to nature,” she says. “Why would I want to do something that interferes with that?”
It’s a claim that Danzig, for one, waves off. “Those other reasons are all good and work for me too,” he says. “But really, I just like having shit no one else has.” An attitude that might amuse manufacturer Jonas Rønning, who learned the tricks of the wooden ski trade from his father. “After the world championship in Oslo, more people are recognizing us,” Rønning said on Norwegian TV last year. “Many people didn’t even know that wooden skis were still manufactured. But now they want to try them … and then they tell their friends, and that is why we are selling many more skis nowadays.”