AVON — From idea to prototype to production, Ian Reinholt is carving his way into the niche but quickly growing market of custom-made alpine skis.
After a few recent Saddleback Mountain runs on the skis with wife, Saskia, Reinholt said his fledgling Lucid Skis, a company based in tiny Avon, is about quality over quantity but also about taking an underutilized local timber resource and making something of value of it.
"I started seeing that people were making skis in their small-production-styled shops and decided to go for it," Reinholt said. "We made some prototype skis and they worked out really well, based on some theories that I had on what would make the ski that I would like to ski."
In its first full ski season of production, Lucid — which includes the Reinholts and a few close friends including local ski bum and co-founder Nick Mukai — has turned out three versions and about 50 pairs of skis, Reinholt said. Each pair takes about 12 hours to hand-craft in the Reinholts' Maple Lane barn-turned-woodworking shop.
With steady refinements in the techniques used to build the skis, Reinholt hopes to get the per-pair construction time down to eight hours. That effort is helped by two new custom presses used to push and hold together the thin layers of wood that make up the ski while they are bonded with a powerful epoxy resin.
He's optimistic that by next winter he'll have 150 pairs ready for market in the fall, with an ultimate goal of making 500 pairs per year.
The skis are priced between $800 and $1,100, which is competitive with high-end, brand-name skis. Lucid offers a two-year warranty and plans to offer resurfacing, in which the top surface of the skis will be refinished after each ski season for $150, including a full-ski tuning, Reinholt said.
But like the wild and winding Muleskinner Trail on Saddleback, where Reinholt's skis have shown they have the durability and performance needed to compete with brand-name and mass-produced "sticks," Reinholt's path to ski manufacturing has been anything but a straight line.
A custom-wood furniture-maker by trade, Reinholt spent three years in Hawaii building furniture, made from native hardwoods, for the owner of a pineapple plantation.
But as a skier who grew up racing in Maine and a former member of a Skowhegan High School State Championship Ski Team, Reinholt and his wife, a New Hampshire local whom he met on a chairlift ride, wanted to return to New England.
Over time, his woodworking skills advanced, as did the laminate technologies that allowed him to create a high-quality ski: the kind he would enjoy as an expert skier but would also work well for intermediate and beginner skiers, he said.
"I kind of got to the point in my woodworking career that when I re-approached the thought of making skis, a lot of the technology and methods crossed over really well," he said.
The company hopes to add a cog to the local economy, which has a long history of making things out of wood.
Thin slices of wood
Reinholt's nearly all-wood skis are as functional as they are nice-looking, according to skiers who have tested them.
Lucid makes three types of skis in various lengths: One is designed for natural snow, one for groomed trails and the third for back-country adventuring. While each is designed with a specialty focus, all three work well on most snow conditions. The brand focuses on skis that work well in the kinds of widely variable conditions seen in New England, Reinholt said.
During a recent outing on the slopes of Saddleback, the skis fetched accolades from other skiers who were fast to comment on the non-flashy design and all-natural look. But the superior performance of the skis on the slopes was what was being talked about by those who tried them.
Reinholt said some people, at first, mistakenly think the skis, which feature a maple veneer on top, are one solid chunk of wood, replicating the way skis were made decades ago. But the skis are made of three and sometimes four kinds of wood that are laminated or glued together in thin slices.
Most high-end alpine skis used by Olympic- and World Cup-caliber racers have wood cores. Wood has long been a choice material for making skis. Reinholt uses hornbeam, basswood and ash, which are not highly sought-after for other purposes in Maine.
The unfinished lumber, often with the bark still on it, comes by the pickup load from a sawyer in Industry.
Reinholt focused on those types of wood because they are lightweight, flexible, strong and have the ability to retain or rebound to their original shape, making them ideal for ski-making. The skis do include some man-made materials, including a synthetic base that makes contact with the snow, and a hard steel edge, like most mass-produced skis.
If Lucid grows, Reinholt hopes to hire a few workers, allowing him to split his time between ski-making and design and custom woodworking.
His primary company, Ian Reinholt Custom Woodworks, makes everything from furniture to chess boards.
At Saddleback, skiers are trying and talking about the skis and the resort's management has embraced the endeavor.
"We are thrilled that Ian is doing this and are actively supporting this entrepreneurial venture," said Saddleback General Manager and President Chris Farmer.
Saddleback offers the skis in its rental shop for people to try and if a skier wants to buy a pair, the cost of renting the skis is credited to the purchase price, Farmer said.
So far, reviews from skiers who have tried the skis have been largely positive, Farmer said.
"From all I've heard, they're awesome," said Farmer, who hopes to get on them himself after the resort's busy February vacation week is over.
And as for that name, Lucid Skis?
"I was starting to get to the point where I would fall asleep thinking about skis and then I was dreaming about skis," Reinholt said. "And then when I would wake up again, I would start thinking about skis and talking about ski construction, specifically, and so it seemed like a lucid experience I was having and it kind of came as a natural name."