COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — For many of us, skis are much more than planks of wood and plastic.
They’ve gotten us safely down steep, snowy mountains. We’ve endured blinding storms and frostbite-inducing temperatures in them. We’ve waxed and tuned them meticulously, likely taking better care of them than we do our cars.
But when their time is up, when the rock scrapes and core shots add up, when the planks have lost their spring and the edges have no metal left to sharpen, do they deserve to be discarded in a landfill?
Adam Vernon has a better way. Vernon does a healthy business making furniture from skis in his Manitou Springs, Colo., garage, with his company Colorado Ski Chairs. He’s sold more in 2013 than the previous five years combined, as word of mouth and social media have spread his chairs from the ski towns of Summit County, Colo., to Texas.
It’s not only about recycling to save the planet. It turns out skis make great building material.
“They’re made to withstand just ridiculous amounts of weight and pressure and weather, and they’re so much stronger than just lumber,” said Vernon, 37, talking last week in his tree house made of skis. “Most building materials are not this bullet-proof. These are like zombie apocalypse-proof.”
Last year in the U.S., 624,000 skis and 393,000 snowboards were sold. That means a lot of old skis and boards are no longer in use.
Vernon has as many as 500 skis, in rows and heaps and buckets, that he gets from garage sales, thrift stores and ski shops.
Vernon pointed to a row of Atomic skis.
“All these Atomics are only 6 years old, and I got them all free and they still ski really well. I ski them, my friends ski them, but legally (a shop) cannot adjust them so you can’t sell them,” he said.
That’s because of ski indemnification, an issue that is little-known outside of ski tech and gear junkie circles.
If skis or bindings see too many winters — even unused — shops won’t work on them for liability reasons and used gear stores won’t take them. Most gear reaches that point after four to seven years.
Those 50-year-old wooden skis often are worth money. But 10-year-old painted skis aren’t. So he decided to make an Adirondack chair, attaching skis to a wood frame, with a binding as an adjustable cup holder.
“If it’s painted, it really has no value now,” he said. “But we’re finding a way to make them valuable.”
The chair looked great in his backyard so he started making more, selling them to friends and neighbors. He estimates he sold 20 chairs before this year. As word spread and his company’s Facebook page grew more active, his business increased.
An Adirondack will run $300, slightly less if buyers want him to use their old skis. A bench is $600.
Among the other things he has made from skis: porch swings, rocking chairs, love seats, coat racks, picnic tables, corn hole boards (the yard game in which bean bags are tossed through holes) and of course the tree house.
He even made a ski version of the game Jenga and is working on a bow from cross-country skis. Vernon tries to use every piece of a ski, though the lone use he has found for rear bindings is the climbing wall in his backyard.
As a skier, it still pains him when he has to saw into a ski that is perfectly usable but no store will sell or work on because of its age.
“I can’t assume that liability so I mainly just cut everything into furniture,” he said. “There are a lot of good skis that I’ve cut that I had mixed feelings about when I cut them.
“I thought, ‘Oh man, these could still be ridden.’ But they’ll make a really pretty chair.”