The Aspen Harvest
The spring of 2019 is down in the history books as the most epic avalanche season in living memory. Massive slides wiped out roads and forests, and, in some cases, changed the landscape dramatically—especially in the San Juan Mountains, where Wagner Custom is based.
“The avalanches were so big they were taking out the sides of our traditonal avalanche paths,” said Pete Wagner, owner of Wagner. “They took out huge stands of trees, even on the other side of the valley. Red Mountain Pass was closed for weeks because the road was covered in snow several stories high with aspen trees in it.”
Wagner has a commitment to sustainability—his company operates in a solar-powered shop and always chooses to use locally sourced materials whenever possible. And when he looked out at the massive piles of debris in Telluride’s backyard, he wondered what could be more local than these downed aspen trees? So he, along with local ski guide Sandy East and Wagner graphic designer Woody Smith, decided to make good use of the wreckage.
“Sandy’s got this cool reclaimed lumber business in Montrose, and we thought we could go out and harvest it and make it into really good material for ski cores,” Wagner said. “We usually buy or cores, but with all this wood in our backyard that was just lying there, we thought we’d just procure it sustainably. So we went out and did it.”
Aspen wood is a prized material for ski cores because it’s a low-density wood that’s lightweight with a short grain structure. The short grain structure makes it vibration damping, which gives the skis that “stuck to the snow” feel.
The harvest process was arduous—but well worth it. “Sandy’s got all these trucks. We got some of our guys out into these zones, cut up the trees, and rolled them down the hill. Sandy has a kiln in his lumberyard, so he was able to dry it out. Then a friend of ours in Delta did the final laminating of all the boards, cutting and setting it up for us.”
Smith, who was also involved in every step of the process, was inspired by taking a tree and turning it into the energy in your ski. “It was a true labor of love. There’s so much care and hands-on attention that goes into the product that everything that comes out is truly one of a kind. And that’s unique in the ski industry.”
So if you buy a Wagner ski made with an aspen core this season, you’ll be skiing on a piece of history. “It’s a ridable piece of art,” Smith said.
Article by Kimberly Beekman
Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.