What makes a ski builder: Alex Turner of Westerlies Skis

What makes a ski builder: Alex Turner of Westerlies Skis

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By Andy Basabe

I met Alex Turner when we were in high school, standing in a garage at a party held by Western Washington University’s Ski and Snowboard Club. Face-to-face, we looked at each other, each convinced that we were the youngest person there. The hesitant introductions of youth followed. Each claiming to be 17, we resorted to showing each other our driver’s licenses to prove our ages. As I pulled mine out of my pocket, he pulled his out of his shoe, hidden there in case we had to speak to police later that night.
Two years later, Alex was taking time off from Evergreen State University. Needing to ski, he rented a room for the winter in Glacier, rejuvenated himself through skiing, and then went on to Mount Hood for the spring. He and 14 friends squatted in the woods in a closed campground near Mt. Hood. While hitchhiking back to camp after skiing, serendipity found him sandwiched next to Lucas Merle, a kindred spirit. In the bed of a truck, holding his skis, Lucas told Alex about his plans to attend Quest University, in Squamish, B.C., that fall. Lucas spoke of access to skiing and higher education, both in short supply during Alex’s time at Evergreen.

Alex enrolled at Quest, earning a videography scholarship based on his work filming skiing. Inspired by his surroundings, Alex and his roommates welded a ski press in their garage. As everyone moved on after graduating, Alex took the ski press home to his parents’ garage in Bellingham, and set about making skis, snowboards and splitboards. His past construction work in Squamish, recovering wood from renovated buildings, helped him connect woodworking and skiing. Following a season spent experimenting with ski-making, interrupted by a few months of commercial fishing in Alaska, coupled with a trip to Patagonia for ski-mountaineering, brings us to today, with Alex explaining how and what he does and what ski building has brought into his life. Winter is woven into his decision-making process, weighing in with whispers over his shoulder.

Andy Basabe: How long have you been making skis?
Alex Turner: I’ve been making skis now for the past two and a half years.

Basabe: What inspired you to make skis?
Turner: Initially it started off as an interesting hobby, and then people were excited about it. I always thought there was potential to do it as a trade, the custom ski and snowboard thing.
The inspiration, not for ski building, but for doing it the way I am doing it, is that I strongly feel skiing doesn’t need these giant companies to make it sustainable. When I was in Argentina, in one of the most southern cities in the world, there was an amazing visualization of how winter has been changing over the years.
One local ski area hadn’t been open in 15 years for lack of snow, and the town had built another ski area above that. That’s actually where we did most of our skiing, but now it also hasn’t been operating in the past few years because of no snow. We were doing our touring above the top lift. They had built a third ski area, which had an 8-inch base when we were there. The whole time was very sobering, realizing that winter for skiers and snowboarders is going to change a lot faster than for the rest of the world.
It’s totally backwards to fly around the world to ski, just as it is to ship gear all over the world. You don’t have to do that. I had already been building skis, but reaffirmed that there was something to be said for building skis at a small scale for the people around you, and sourcing materials locally. It would be sick to look at the carbon footprint of my skis versus commercially produced skis. Right now my goal is to produce skis that are as good if not better than commercial skis.

Basabe: Your skis are clearly about the wood – I can see the grain in all the skis. This is Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 1.50.15 PMa departure from the colors and plastics that cover commercial skis. What’s up with the wood?
Turner: Yeah. Most skis and snowboards have wood cores; some have wood veneers. I get sick of seeing advertisement upon advertisement in the mountains. Maybe it’s the Northwest in me, but I like the look of wood more than I like flashy graphics. I try to source my wood locally. I get my wood from a guy who has a line on Alaskan yellow cedar, harvested as incidental cut. It’s dense, light and incredibly good at dampening vibration. Maple and birch are good for pop and binding retention for skis. I get maple and birch from my parents’ property and mill it here. Really good wood if you ask me.

Basabe: Describe the skis you would build yourself to rip Baker. Some Turner Crushers.
Turner: I’m still  trying to find the perfect ski. It’s annoying when you can build your own skis – you want to try a whole bunch of stuff. The next pair will be 186s, about 110 underfoot, pretty much traditional camber, little tip rocker, just a little bit of taper tip and tail and medium sidecut radius. A lot of pop.

Basabe: What has ski building taught you?
Turner: Patience and attention to detail that I don’t think I’d had before. It’s taught me a lot about how sticky epoxy is – how it ruins all of your clothes.

Basabe: Where do you see craftsmanship in skiing? Obviously here in the shop, but what about elsewhere? Does craftsmanship have a place on the mountain?
Turner: Every part of skiing, from making a turn to making decisions in the backcountry, how many beers at the tailgate before you drive your car down. Also how you operate your ski area. If Baker wanted to, they could check where 8 inches is on a ruler. Print that.

Basabe: Where can someone get some of your skis?
Turner: From me. Right now, that’s it. There’s a website, but it’s not ready yet. There’s a Facebook page. Call me.

Westerlies, Alex Turner
360/510-5696
5091 Mission Road, Bellingham, WA 98226
the-westerlies.com         #westerlies    x