Worldâ€™s Greenest Snowoard Factory
Placerville, Colo. â€“ When Pete Wagner opened his tiny ski and snowboard factory here, downstream from Telluride, his goal was to build the best custom-made skis and snowboards in the world. But his first objective â€“ and the one he achieved first â€“ was to build the worldâ€™s cleanest, greenest ski and snowboard factory.
â€śOur plastic bases and resins are made from petroleum, and thereâ€™s nothing we can do about that,â€ť said Wagner. â€śBut we designed our product, our process and our factory, from the start, to be essentially carbon neutral.â€ť
Wagner started by recycling an existing building â€“ an old auto repair shop. On the roof he put an impressive array of solar thermal panels to supply all the space heating and hot water used by the factory and offices.
He signed a contract with his electric utility to buy only wind-generated power to run the lights, computers, milling equipment and presses.
The solar and wind power sources mean the factory has a zero carbon footprint.
The next step was to look at the factoryâ€™s waste stream. Most ski factories used foam cores, and molding the cores generates toxic gases vented directly to the atmosphere. Wagner uses clear-grain laminated hardwood cores, with no injection molding operations at all â€“ hence no gas venting. The only waste material from Wagnerâ€™s core-milling operation is scrap lumber and clean sawdust. The computer-controlled milling machine lives in a positive-pressure clean room, and the filtered-air environment guarantees that sawdust is trapped for recycling, into fuel pellets.
In large factories, skis come out of the mold with a lot of flash â€“ hardened resin overflow. This excess material has to be sanded off in the finishing process.Â The sanding and base grinding operations produce huge quantities of black slurry. It looks like coal dust and is usually flushed through floor drains to be filtered downstream. Inevitably, small quantities of slurry get into the ground water, while the rest goes to the landfill. Because the stuff isnâ€™t biodegradable, bags of slurry last forever.Â
At the Wagner-Winterstick factory, custom-milled parts fit together so precisely that very little resin is needed to fill gaps. Skis come out of the mold with almost no flash and can be cleaned up with a draw knife. The only grinding process is the final base finish, done on the same kind of high-efficiency stone grinder youâ€™d find in a top-notch ski shop. Slurry is minimal, and there are no floor drains. Clean-up at the end of a shift is done with a push broom.
Finally, Winterstick snowboards are made right here in Colorado, and can be shipped efficiently by Federal Express. Thereâ€™s no need to put the skis on a container ship and burn thousands of gallons of fuel oil to push them across an ocean to you.