BETHEL — “Right now, we’re in the midst of a Renaissance in ski manufacturing in the state,” Scott Andrews, director of the Ski Museum of Maine in Kingfield, told those at Made in Maine: 100-Plus Years of Craftsmanship in Skiing, a recent program of the Bethel Historical Society.

Although the industry that grew throughout the 1920s and ’30s had nearly disappeared by the mid-1960s, Andrews said that today, “we actually have five companies making skis and snowboards in Maine right at this very moment.”

One of those is YOPP Clandestine Skis of Bethel, owned by cousins Toby Winkler and Jake Bracy.

Winkler described the founding of his company and narrated a video that illustrated how they use a computer-controlled router and a 24-ton press to make custom-built skis with a laminated wood core.

Winkler and Bracy started their company in what was once their great-grandfather’s woodworking shop at a family property in York (YOPP is an acronym for Ye Olde Perkins Place), and relocated the business to Bethel in 2014.

Both engineers and members of the Merchant Marines, they built their own ski press, which they call “The Duchess,” to use in the high-pressure laminating process.

A video of commercial ski manufacturing in the 1930s at Paris Manufacturing Co. offered a sharp contrast to YOPP’s modern processes and custom production.

Filmed by Clarence Morton, son of the founder of Paris Manufacturing Co., “From Tree to Ski” showed workers as they cut, steamed, bent, shaped, and sanded solid pieces of wood in Maine’s largest ski manufacturing operation.

Early skis

Scandinavian immigrants who began arriving around 1870 were the first wave of ski manufacturers in Maine, producing their skis in home workshops, Andrews said.

These early skis were made from a single piece of wood, with simple leather loops for bindings.

They were often nearly twice the length of modern skis.

“The New Sweden Historical Society has a collection of early skis,” Andrews said, “The tallest is 11 feet, 9 inches long, and quite a few of them go over 10 feet.”

By the early 20th century, commercial ski manufacturing had begun in Maine, and between 1900 and 1941, there were at least 10 Maine companies producing skis.

The earliest and most prolific of these, and the only one still manufacturing skis by the end of World War II, was Paris Manufacturing Co.

Founder Henry Franklin Morton was out riding in his sleigh one winter day in 1899 when he was passed by two Finns on homemade skis.

Andrews said Morton, whose large factory was already producing sleds and other children’s toys, had “the proverbial lightbulb moment.”

Although skis probably never represented more than 5 percent of the company’s business, Andrews said, once it entered the business at the turn of the century, Paris Manufacturing Co. continued to produce skis at its South Paris factory for the next 65 years.

Another of the earliest Maine ski companies was Tajco in Portland, founded by Theo A. Johnsen. It produced several models of skis between 1905 and 1907.

Johnsen marketed his skis through a book he published, “The Winter Sport of Skeeing.” It included illustrations and detailed instructions for cross-country and downhill skiing, as well as ski jumping, and also incorporated the Tajco winter sports catalogue.

In the early days of skiing, most ski equipment was sold in hardware stores, Andrews said. Salesmen traveled their routes by train and carried with them small-scale models of the skis, some of which are now displayed at the Ski Museum of Maine.

For most ski producers in Maine, skis were only a sideline to their other manufacturing businesses. These included Stevens Tank and Tower Co. in Auburn, Nautilus Ski and Pontoon Co. in Mechanic Falls, and W.F. Tubbs in Norway, known primarily for its snowshoes.

The ‘Claw’

John Howe, who attended the program, shared the story of the ski manufacturing company he started in his barn in Waterford in the 1990s.

Howe was captain of his University of Colorado ski team in 1956, when it was the top college team in the nation.

A mechanical engineering major, he became vice president of engineering for Head Ski Co., where he designed the world’s first shaped ski, the Head Yahoo. The ski was premiered in a 1972 promotional video featuring professional freestyle skier Debbie Mead, who later became Howe’s wife.

After retiring and moving to Maine, Howe, who has written a book on the mechanics of skiing, founded Howe Winter Sports, designing and building the “Claw,” a ski with revolutionary vibration damping technology that allows it to grip the terrain in icy conditions.

Now 81, Howe said he still owns many pairs of the Claw skis his company manufactured between 1995 and 2005, and often takes several different pairs with him for a day of skiing at Sunday River in Newry to be sure he has just the right pair for that day’s conditions.

“Last winter when we had serious ice (conditions) I would take five or six pairs of skis and leave them in my car on the access road to the Jordan lift so I could try them all,” he said.

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