Skiing's History is Long.
“The Secrets of the Ice program found an exceptional pre-Viking ski, 1300 years old, at the Digervarden Ice patch in Norway. The ski was complete, including the binding.” But it had no partner until this summer when the receding glacier revealed its match. These prehistoric skis have bindings made of twisted birch over the forefoot and a leather strap for the heel. They don’t appear to have any camber remaining (the warranty has expired). At 187cm long, they are a lot like today’s shred sticks, but at 17cm wide and with no metal edges, they would be strictly an off-piste option. With the reverse sidecut, they’re like a funky-looking Armada ARG.
These ancient skis are destined for a legitimate museum in Norway, but if you’re interested in modern ski history...
The Fresh Freeski Museum
Twenty years ago, when Fresh opened its doors, ski equipment was going through a time of change; sidecut skis had exploded, but fat skis and twin tips were just starting to gain traction. Freeskis, as we know them now (boards that can shred powder, playfully butter off natural features, and hit the park), were not a category yet. So when the first freeski shop ever (that’s us) opened and featured an entire wall of “freeskis” no one knew if it would work or where it would go from there.
Of course, skiing continued to progress, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have a front-row seat. Here are some of the highlights we’ve saved.
Salomon 1080’s were the first widely available twin-tip ski (unless you go back to the late ’70s and the Olin Mark IV), and they started a movement. The Canadian Air Force - JP Auclair, Mike Douglas, Vincent Dorian, JF Cusson - used the 1080’s to redefine what was possible on skis. Switch landings and take-offs were combined with new spins that set the sport on a trajectory it would follow for years. The 1080 was first available in 1997/98, and all the other ski manufactures had to scramble to introduce twin tips of their own or risk being left behind.
Our friend, the Godfather of Freeskiing himself, Mike Douglas, gifted us a pair of the originals. If you’ve forgotten what they looked like, come by the shop and have a look.
Armada helped define the freeski movement not just by the skis they made but by the brand they created. In an industry full of legacy companies owned by large corporations, Armada took a bold new direction. They were founded and owned by young pro skiers themselves, and they weren’t happy to simply remain niche. They built a brand to take on the big companies and help shape our sport.
Their team was undeniably top-notch before they even made a pair of skis: JP Auclair, Tanner Hall, JF Cusson, Julien Regnier. And their timing was perfect. Especially for Fresh, who got on board before almost anyone knew the company was coming. It’s a story for our next blog, but Armada’s first two invoices were sent to our tiny shop, and we’ve been big supporters ever since.
We also have one of the first Armada skis ever made, signed by JF and JP, and on our wall for all to see.
In 2002 Salomon pushed things forward further by making a fat ski (at the time, 90mm underfoot was considered a fat ski) that was lightweight and twin tip; an all-mountain playful ski, the Salomon Pocket Rocket.
The company’s marketing copy described them, “Salomon Pocket Rocket skis make the freshies of the backcountry your new sanctuary. The Pocket Rocket unites twin-tips for HUGE air and tech tricks, while the wide profile is perfect for even the deepest of powdery slopes.”
The late JP Auclair is his own chapter in the history of freeskiing and he was a dear friend of the shop. After the days of the 1080s, and the start of Armada, but before he focused on ski mountaineering, JP teamed up with Sherpas Cinema to release the most widely viewed ski segment of all time; the street segment in Rossland, BC from All.I.Can. You’ve seen it, but go ahead and enjoy it again (sidenote: did you know the guys behind Sherpas are from Calgary or that Fresh sponsored their first two ski movies?):
A lot of skiers right now are disappointed to hear that Full Tilt will no longer exist as a brand after this season (we have lots in stock if you want to get some of the last ones), but K2 will continue to make the classic three-piece boots, just under the K2 name. Older skiers will remember when these same boots were made by Raichle (and skiers like Seth Morrison and Shane McConkey skied them hard). So, don’t get too bummed. It sucks to lose a cool brand like FT, but the boot design will live on and undoubtedly have a whole new legacy in freeskiing.
On the other hand, the Dynafit Hoji line of boots has changed continuously and continually progressed the sport. Would the current surge in backcountry excitement have happened if people like Eric weren’t pushing gear design and making it easier for us to get to the top of our lines and ski hard on the descent? No. And boots are the most significant change. From his first Frankenboots, to the original Free Tours, this year’s Dynafit Radicals, and the new-new you won’t see until next year, Fresh has been fortunate enough to see and ski them all. Keep it up Hoji!
Athletes progress our sport, but the gear makes it possible, and the gear they leave behind helps us remember those critical moments in our collective history. In the back of the shop, Steve has preserved a bunch of those memories: an original painting by Eric Pollard, a framed copy of team member Chris Rubens’s first Powder cover, an Armada sign autographed by all the brand’s OGs, Freshtival posters signed by too many pros to list, a pair of Alpine Initiative (JP’s charity) branded Armadas still in the plastic, a roll of the original vinyl Armada graphics, and of course, the bathroom door that’s been signed by dozens of visiting pros and friends of the shop.