Veazie man hopes business is all downhill

Posted Nov. 17, 2010, at 12:07 p.m.
Chris Bagley uses a router to shave a length of imported bamboo flooring down to  the profile of a downhill ski at a Glenburn workshop on Friday, November 12, 2010.
Chris Bagley uses a router to shave a length of imported bamboo flooring down to the profile of a downhill ski at a Glenburn workshop on Friday, November 12, 2010.
Chris Bagley uses a router to cut plastic for the bottom of a pair of hand-made bamboo skiis at a Glenburn workshop on Friday, November 12, 2010. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
Chris Bagley uses a router to cut plastic for the bottom of a pair of hand-made bamboo skiis at a Glenburn workshop on Friday, November 12, 2010. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)

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hris Bagley got his first pair of skis for Christmas, at the age of 12, the year he and his family settled in the southern Maine town of New Gloucester. That year, he made his first trip to Sunday River.

“I bugged my parents about it forever. I always wanted to go up there,” said Bagley, now a Veazie resident. “When I finally got my driver’s license, I was [at Sunday River] all the time.”

Now 22, Bagley couldn’t have known 10 years ago that those first years skiing would have such an impact on him later in life. Last year, Bagley launched Yeti Skis, his line of handmade, environmentally friendly downhill skis built with handmade machinery. This ski season will be the first one his wooden skis will be available to the general public, custom-built for both East Coast skiing conditions and to customer specifications.

After graduating from high school, Bagley attended the University of Maine, studying New Media. Though he picked up significant skills in Web programming and other associated New Media fields, by the end of his four years at UMaine he decided he wanted to go in a different direction for his senior project.

“I wanted to do something that I could conceivably pursue after school,” said Bagley. “So I ditched everything and pitched the idea of building a business around ski-making. I’d never done it before. But it seemed like something I’d want to try. It seemed like a good reason to go broke. I spend too much time in front of a computer, anyway. I want to use my hands.”

Bagley began researching everything he could find on making his own skis. He found a small but devoted community of builders making “homebrew” or “microbrew” skis, most based in the western U.S. In fact, the skis he saw being made were designed for western conditions. The loose, deep powder snow and wide open spaces of western terrain often mean skis that aren’t ideal for the icy, crunchy eastern conditions. Bagley knew that the skis he would eventually make would be twin-tip style, and custom-built for East Coast skiing.

“It’s for all-mountain skiing, for tricks and jumps and things like that. They have to be wide and they have to be pliable, not stiff like racing skis,” said Bagley. “They’re really fine-tuned for the kind of conditions you get at Sunday River or Sugarloaf.”

He picked the name Yeti early on, combining a childhood Bigfoot obsession with a nod to snow culture. He also decided that his skis needed to be made of sustainable, environmentally friendly materials. Forgoing the maple or poplar often used in skis, Bagley opted for super-strong bamboo, a fast-growing wood with a low environmental impact, which he sources from a California flooring supply company. He also chose a pine-based epoxy, as opposed to an epoxy made with harsh chemicals.

“Bamboo has more strength per weight than almost any other wood, and it’s incredibly sustainable. It re-grows so quickly. You’d have to do something totally insane to destroy it,” he said. “It costs more for me, but I personally feel better about what I do using the pine sap epoxy, for example, rather than something else.”

Last winter, Bagley designed and built his own press, for fusing together the cut bamboo, plastic and fiberglass into a ski. He also built a routing table for cutting the materials, and various molds, jigs and templates for getting exactly the right shape and size. The process begins with cutting the wood on the router — thicker in the middle and thinner at the ends — and then layering all the materials together. It’s then placed in the press.

A layer of epoxy is applied to the top of the ski, which clears as it dries to reveal the warm, blond-colored wood. The screen-printed Yeti Skis logo — designed by Bagley’s friend Alex Drew and featuring a rather cuddly-looking Abominable Snowman — is applied, as are the bindings for ski boots, and the ski is done.

The first pair of Yeti Skis came out of the studio in April 2010, just in time for Bagley’s capstone presentation. Before that, though, he had to take them for a test-drive. The feeling of skiing on a pair of skis he hand-built was exhilarating.

“It was just an awesome, awesome feeling,” he said. “I really felt like I accomplished something.”

After graduation, Bagley moved into the prototyping phase, building two more pairs of skis and having friends try them out. It’s a 10-12 hour process from start to finish to make a pair, and Bagley is by day a web programmer at the University of Maine, so it’s taken some time for him to get to the point of selling his skis.

He’s had some help, though. Over the summer, he moved his operations to Glenburn, after a friend and colleague offered the use of his barn as a studio. His brother, 19-year-old Brandon Bagley, has signed on as a business partner, handling marketing for him.

“My dad is a huge help too. He really instilled the whole DIY ethic in me,” said Bagley. “My parents always used to hear the drill going off in the middle of the night when I was working out of their garage in New Gloucester.”

By the end of this year, Bagley expects to be ready to start taking orders for custom skis and building sets for retail. He plans to price a basic pair of skis in the $500-$600 range, much less than other custom-built skis, which routinely cost over $1,000. Eventually, he may branch out into snowboards, like Portland-based snowboard maker Team Eight.

“The response really has been overwhelming,” he said. “People are willing to pay a little more for something that they know is not only made in Maine, but is made with good environmental practices in mind. It’s not astronomically high. We want the average skier to be able to afford it.”

Though he’s an enthusiastic and talented young businessman, Bagley is also a realistic guy.

“I don’t expect to make any real money for at least five years,” he said. “But that’s OK. I’ve got a goal in mind, and I’m going to work as hard as I need to see it through.”

For information about Yeti Skis, visit www.yetiskis.com.

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