Time for a new set of skis for the next winter storm? Think Tyfoon.
Johnny Foon Chilton is turning his ski career and cabinet making skills into a new gig as a crafter of handmade wooden skis at Foon Skis from his Pemberton basement workshop studio.
We checked in with the artisan ski-maker as the fall weather turned thoughts to snow-blown treelines and ridges.
How many pairs of skis have you had in your life?
I do try to get quite a bit of use out of my skis, but when I was sponsored and getting skis for free, I wasn’t shy about asking for them. I’m 49 this year, started skiing at two, so over 46 years, at a rough guess, I’d say around 70.
Can any old ski-bum make a pair of skis? Before I became a ski bum,and moved to Whistler, I had a brief 6 year career as a cabinet maker. The first room I finished in my house was the basement workshop. I had to buy a few specialized things. But I went first up to the internet. It’s like the library in your living room. And that’s changed the game. There’s a lot of people like me popping up out of the woodwork. “Artisan ski makers” is a term that’s used. A few ski makers are really really open with their processes.
Why not just buy a pair of skis off-the-rack? We shouldn’t be buying skis from China, when perfectly good skis can be made in North America by local people.
What are your skis made of? I discovered if I wanted to make a ski lighter, I had to use more expensive materials than just fiberglass. The base is carbon graphite, the best money can buy. The ski is covered in triaxial fibreglass. And the core is wood. All my skis are made with Douglas fir, from the forests of the Coast Mountains. I get all my wood locally. From the poleyard in Mt Currie, literally just up the road. Some artisan skimakers are using exotic woods from Brazil and Africa, but that just makes me cringe. I think that’s the wrong idea. Especially small manufacturers – we should be as local as we can.
Is your formula top-secret? No, no secrecy in the process. Just a crazy old ski bum with his head down in the basement, breathing sawdust and trying to come up with a ski wthat will suit.
What’s the inspiration for the topsheet graphics? I did a lot of waterskiing growing up, spending summers on the lake, and one time my mom gave me a handmade waterski, a beautiful handmade piece of wood, shaped and rockered, and all through my careers as a skier I always thought, how come snow skis aren’t like that? That thing was a work of art, it was beautiful. So the top sheets for my signature line, the TyFoon, are wood.
Are these truly local boards? They’re pretty distinctive to the Coast Mountains. I’ve had the opportunity to ski all over the world, and I really do think for big mountain powder riding it doesn’t get any better than here: Whistler, for the lift-access and Pemberton, which for backcountry is a step above. I’ve often referred to it as the North Shore of Whistler. It’s where you ride the big waves. And the little waves too. Some of the breaks we have here, Birken, the Miller, the Ogre, you have everything from 4000 fot 55 degree walls that in surf world would compare to Jaws, to beautifully forested tree runs.
Yes, they’re definitely inspired by the landscape.
I really love the idea of bringing that wood back into the forest with the kind of energy people have with them when they’re skiing. Perhaps it lets the forest see us in a different light, than when we go in with chainsaws. Not that I’m putting that down. It’s just a different energy.