Alex was not the child his mother imagined would be featured in the Australian Financial Review. Nonetheless, here he is. And his mother even gets a mention.
by Mark Abernethy
Across the Tasman in Christchurch, Kingswood Skis uses all of the design advances of the past 30 years but applies an old-school ethos in a made-to-order ski.
“We make parabolic and rocker skis,” says Alex Herbert, Kingswood’s owner and ski maker. “But we’re building them strong like they were in the 1970s and ’80s.”
He says the advent of the cap-top ski – a moulded ski-top that eliminates a side-wall – and the parabolic shape resulted in fast production techniques such as foam-injection and extensive use of fibreglass, enabling ski makers to eliminate wood cores.
The best skis
But Herbert, a former Freeride World Tour skier – competitors are dropped off atop a glacier by helicopter and marked for performance on the descent – came to ski-making with a mission to make the best skis, not the biggest profit margin.
So Kingswood skis feature a bamboo core, carbon composites, some fibreglass and the European super-alloy, Titanal.
“I started out making skis with a wood core but I couldn’t get them to match precisely. So I switched to bamboo. You can make a thousand skis with the same flex pattern if you inject foam into a mould, but bamboo gives the spring and the rebound skiers like.”
Herbert makes a range that includes a “big, big powder ski”, the SMB, with a waist of 136mm; an all-mountain ski called the Archetype (104-112mm underfoot); and the Skinny, with 100mm underfoot.
While he uses bamboo, steel and traditional lamination for strength, Herbert also uses carbon fibre, fibreglass and rocker/parabolic constructions. And the cost of a handmade, old-school, hi-tech ski? About $NZ1200 ($1100), not much more than the best from Völkl, Fischer and Atomic.
The next wave of ski revolution is likely to be the use of environmentally friendly materials, Herbert says. He chooses bamboo for performance – but it also takes a lot of toxic substances out of ski gear. “That suits me. The epoxy resins and fibreglass dust don’t make the best work environment.”
A North American snowboard company has been making boards with basalt fibre; the University of Canterbury in Christchurch is working on cellulose-based materials; and flax fibres and organically sourced resins are being refined to the point they can be used in skis and snowboards, Herbert says.
With all the benefits of the ski revolution, the downside is these advances make the average skier so good, hardly anything is off-limits.
“Everyone’s a powder skier now,” says Herbert, who skis New Zealand’s Treble Cone and Mountt Hutt. “Everyone’s tracking the powder – even my mum.”