By: Nicky Pacas
Think of the coolest thing you’ve ever made. Maybe it’s the Christmas decoration you crafted in kindergarten that your mom still hangs on the tree. Maybe you’ve brewed some drinkable beer out of containers stored in your basement. Maybe you built a shelf that from afar, doesn’t look too crooked.
Yeah, your cool creations are pretty legit. But your cool creations are nowhere near as cool as what Max Flowerday and Sam McEwen are making.
Building 93 North
Highway 93 North is one of the most scenic highways in the world. It navigates through two national parks and connects Lake Louise with Jasper. It’s as infamous for its breathtaking views as it is for suboptimal driving conditions in the winter. It took 600 men ten years to build the road (most of it was completed by horse and hand because there was only one tractor per crew). And since its completion in 1940, the highway, also known as the Icefields Parkway, has been a hotspot for sightseeing, wildlife encounters, and as the starting point for some of the best mountain adventures the Canadian Rockies offer.
It’s also the inspiration for the name of Flowerday’s and McEwen’s burgeoning business, 93 North Skis.
Operating out of a small shop in Canmore, AB, Flowerday and McEwen are handcrafting skis. Both are mechanical engineering graduates from Queen’s University with backgrounds in ski racing. To say they’re still passionate about skiing would be an understatement.
The seed for 93 North Skis was planted when Flowerday and McEwen would go backcountry skiing together: conversations on the up-track about what makes a good ski became the catalyst to McEwen’s research on actually building skis. Then, as Flowerday puts it, “we met for a beer and we made a list of everything that we would need [to make our own skis].” A partnership was built.
Constructing skis initially began as a hobby. Working together in the evenings and on weekends, the pair would develop plans for building skis; they’d talk about it, and then they’d do some work. But, like with most hobbies, work and life would take over and the project would get dropped for a little while before its seductive charm would woo them back into production.
In July 2015, the first prototype was made and they tested it on glaciers before refining and reworking their ideas into other prototypes. Cut to a year later, and McEwen and Flowerday made the executive decision to leave their engineering jobs to pursue ski production fulltime. Originally, they planned to work in Calgary, but after considering the best fit for their business, a serendipitous opening of a shop space in Canmore pulled them westward. In September 2016, the team behind 93 North Skis had moved to Canmore, and by December, the products they made as hobbyists were transforming into something professional.
With the transformation from hobby to profession now complete, Flowerday and McEwen are building some seriously good skis. The Andromeda and Andromeda 166 are versatile skis designed for the variable conditions of the Rocky Mountains. Primarily off-piste skis with the capability to hold an edge on-piste, the Andromedas handle ice, wind-swept slopes, and powder—they’re durable, but they perform well. In other words, you can have your Andromeda cake and eat it, too.
It’s not by chance that the skis work so well in the Rocky Mountains; Flowerday and McEwen tested different materials in their prototypes and ultimately decided on constructing a ski with a maple core. The maple is durable, but lively. It is a consistent wood with minimal defects and a dense grain structure that ensures strong binding retention. The p-tex used as the sidewall material was specifically chosen because of its performance in cold weather (ABS plastic gets brittle in the cold), and poplar has been added to complement the maple. And though it doesn’t take 600 men 10 years to complete a pair of 93 North skis, it does take Flowerday and McEwen about ten man-hours to handcraft each set.
The thoughtfulness in the construction and design of the Andromedas isn’t something you can easily see (it is something you can feel). But if you had to look for something indicative of precision and expertise, look no further than the artwork on the skis. Local artist Emily Beaudoin (@emily.beaudoin) was chosen by McEwen and Flowerday to create the top sheet designs for the Andromeda and the Andromeda 166. Her precise line drawings and integrated watercolours are a callback to artwork from a contemporary world of minimalist designs. Even if you’re not a skier, you could take a pair of skis home just to hang on the wall.
Working with Beaudoin is only one of the ways that 93 North Skis is keeping things local. By establishing relationships with local guides and athletes, McEwen and Flowerday have set themselves up to be in Canmore long term. And like most locals, they’re super friendly and want you to pay a visit to their shop; they’ll show you their process and let you know how you can demo a pair of skis. You can even sign up for one of their ski workshops and build your own set of skis (just watch your cool factor increase when you replace your shoddy shelf with some sweet boards).
Visit 93NorthSkis.com to get in touch with Flowerday and McEwen or to read more about their hand crafted skis. You can also visit one (or all) of the retailers selling 93 North skis so that you can take advantage of the winter that has finally graced us with its presence.
93 North Retailers:
The photos in this story were taken by Mikey Stevenson. To see more of his photography, visit his website here.