Hometown skis having breakout year | VailDaily.com

Hometown skis having breakout year

Edward Stoner
Vail, CO Colorado

Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyDan Chalfant, president of Liberty Skis Corporation, checks the quality of samples of this season's skis, which were delivered to the company's Avon office Tuesday from the factory in China.

AVON ” Dan Chalfant jokingly calls this his company’s “‘Frampton Comes Alive’ moment.”

The lights have gone out, the curtain has risen, and Liberty Skis is in the spotlight. Or, at least, now sharing the spotlight with the world’s biggest ski-makers.

The Avon ski company ” which just a few years ago was based out of a storage unit ” is getting some serious praise this year from ski magazines.

Freeskier magazine chose Liberty’s Helix model as one of the 16 best skis for 2008, putting it alongside the skis of established companies like K2 and Salomon.

“One of the most versatile skis on the market for 2008, the Helix will go everywhere and do everything,” the write-up reads.

Which is kind of the reason Liberty was started in the first place. Chalfant and his skiing buddies were frustrated that twin-tips were too soft to be a sturdy, all-mountain ski.

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So Chalfant ” who then worked at Surefoot, the ski-boot store ” and his business partner, James Satloff, set out to make an all-mountain twin-tip that could go anywhere: park, powder or crud.

“That was always our intent, to make skis that our friends could ride on,” Chalfant said.

Plus, owning a ski company seemed really cool.

“We were like, ‘This is the greatest thing ever. We’ll ski all the time,'” Chalfant said.

It turned out to be a lot harder than it sounded. The first ski they designed, Chalfant admitted, came out “terrible.”

They traveled the world to find the right ingredients for their skis. There was the topsheets (they found the right one in Switzerland), the edges (Germany), and the cores (China).

Those Chinese cores are made of bamboo. Chalfant, who also has worked as a fishing guide, noted that bamboo fishing rods could be used to battle really big fish.

“It’s got a greater tensile strength than most steel does,” he said.

And using bamboo falls in line with the company’s environmental beliefs. It’s kinder to the Earth, Chalfant said, because it doesn’t have to be reseeded, and machines aren’t needed to harvest it.

Liberty competes against large ski companies. That’s an advantage for the small, independent Liberty in some ways, Chalfant said.

Their smallness is an incentive for them to innovate ” as in their use of bamboo. And they can also make last-minute, small adjustments to their skis.

“They are not as nimble as we are able to be,” he said of the big companies. “We are able to make changes much more quickly. There are very few layers of bureaucracy. It’s us.”

Dylan Donahue, who works at Recycle Sports in Dillon, said the store sold out all 50 or 60 pairs that it had last year.

“We like to stick with small, grass-roots companies and help those guys out,” Donahue said. “We like to help the little guys out that make a good, quality product.”

The C-Note, last year’s fat ski from Liberty, was really popular at the store, Donahue said.

“It’s a super-fun ski,” he said.

After spending a few years in Edwards, Liberty moved last year to a spacious loft office on Metcalf Road.

Their digs hint at a laid-back atmosphere ” music plays in the background, a foosball table is in their workshop and they’ve set up a lounge for their athletes to play PlayStation 3 and watch skiing videos.

On Tuesday, it was like Christmas at Liberty ” they finally got the shipment of this year’s new skis.

“Hot off the presses, baby,” he said, inspecting the new Helix model.

Liberty workers Chris Sears and Leo Lutz unpacked the models ” there’s a park ski, an all-mountain ski, a women’s ski and the Helix, a “big mountain” ski.

Liberty hopes to increase its profile here. After all, the skis were conceived with places like the Back Bowls and East Vail Chutes in mind, Chalfant said.

“Even in our backyard, in Colorado, we’re not as well known as in other places,” Chalfant said.

But, for now, small is good in a lot of ways, Chalfant said.

“Our goal was never to be the biggest ski company out there,” he said. “We wanted to grow in the right way.”

http://www.libertyskis.com

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

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