How much thought do you give your ski poles?
I thought so. Not much.
To me, poles rank pretty far down on my list of gear. It’s sort of like this: skis first, followed by boots, clothes, helmet, and then way, way, way down at the bottom, poles.
Face it. Ski poles just aren’t sexy. I mean, we’re basically talking about a stick with a hand grip and a basket. There’s just not much to get excited about. But all this is about to change. Because the coolness factor for poles is going to jump considerably, thanks to a new company, Soul Poles.
What’s Soul Poles? Basically, Soul Poles combines a contemporary idea – sustainable, environmentally-friendly ski gear — with one that’s very old: bamboo.
Soul Poles is the brainchild of US Ski Team Members and World Cup Racers Bryon Friedman and Erik Schlopy, working in partnership with former US Alpine Team Head Coach, Phil McNichol. Quite a pedigree for a fledgling operation. But as high powered ski types, these guys bring a lot of cred to the table and provide the sort of excitement needed to market something most people see as pretty ho-hum. What’s more, they’re doing a lot more than just selling ski poles: they’re providing a piece of equipment that’s made in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. And as outdoor enthusiasts, that’s something we can all get behind.
I recently spoke to Bryon Friedman to find out more about his company.
SD: Bryon, tell me what led you to start Soul Poles.
BF: I consider myself a product of my environment. I live in a beautiful place, and I want to conserve that as much as possible. Like a lot of people, I definitely see global warming as a threat. But I also think there are things we can do now to invoke change. This is particularly true in the ski industry, where there are all these products that are hard to recycle. We wanted to put the idea out there that you can reuse things to produce other products.
But we’re also entrepreneurs. And even though we wanted to be altruistic, that wasn’t our only motivation. We wanted to offer a sustainable product that we could successfully market. The idea of Soul Poles resonated with us.
Basically, we’re doing this for two reasons: To reduce our carbon footprint and to ignite change in the industry. It’s a worthy mission, and it’s something we’re hoping will catch on.
SD: Bamboo is such a retro material. Years ago it was THE material for ski poles. So why’d you decide to use it now?
BF: Well, one reason is we know it works. I was put in charge of all the research, looking into what we could source. Bamboo is highly renewable. It grows to full length in 90 days, it doesn’t need much water, and it doesn’t require any pesticides. It’s a grass, actually. But it has the tensile strength of steel, and it’s much stronger than the aluminum that most poles are made of. When you ski with it – there are over 2,000 species, and we’ve tested a bunch – it feels absolutely amazing.
Bamboo makes sense for a lot of reasons. There’s no compromise in strength or performance, and it’s extremely light. I took some of our poles heli-skiing with some people in Alaska, and everyone was really surprised by how light and strong they were. We threw the poles in and out of the helicopter — banged them around quite a bit — with no problem. People are really excited that they’re sustainable, too. We put a bunch of prototypes in the rental market last winter and had no problems. Given the choice between a conventional pole and a Soul Pole, people choose a Soul Pole 90% of the time.
SD: I understand Soul Pole is also involved in recycling. Can you tell me something about that?
BF: Part of our brand is not just to provide a sustainable, stylish pole, but to educate people that you can recycle ski products. Right now we have a partnership going with Recycle Utah. They’ve put out recycling bins to collect old poles for us. So far they’ve filled up two enormous bins, with very little PR. We can source some of the materials for our products this way or recycle them. We’re regrinding plastic to make our own grips and baskets. We’re also going to use the recycled material we collect to make a handful of poles for local ski programs that need equipment, so we can give back to the community.
Soul Poles are made of recycled materials that are readily available. The key word here is available, since specific recycled materials are sometimes difficult to come by. Currently we’re sourcing our grips and baskets from industrial-sized blender tops. We’re using hemp and recycled polyester for the straps, and we’re making our tips from a variety of recycled metals, such as aluminum and magnesium. Cork and recycled tires aren’t readily available at the moment, but as they become more abundant we plan to use them as much as we can, if and when it makes sense.
SD: Soul Poles is an unusual name. What does it mean?
BF: We chose it because we believe we’re giving soul to ski poles, an otherwise forgotten accessory. Between recycled materials and renewable resources and art design, our poles have soul because they’re extending the lives of other materials by combining them with bamboo.
SD: Are there different Soul Pole options available?
BF: Right now we’re offering three different versions in sizes ranging from 44 to 55 inches. There’s our Original Soul, which comes in a natural bamboo color with a laser-engraved Soul Poles logo; our Vibrant Soul, that comes in a color designed by artist R. Nelson Parrish, also with the laser-engraved logo. And there’s our Limited Edition. We’ll only make 200 per design.They’re hand painted, with a color designed by R. Nelson Parrish, the laser-engraved Soul Poles logo, and a production number.
* * *
As skiers, it’s in our own best interest to keep our carbon footprint to a minimum, not only to prevent global warming, but to preserve the beauty of the environment in which we ski. Obviously, eco-friendly ski gear alone isn’t going to save the world, but every little bit helps.
Soul Poles isn’t the only company marketing ski equipment. Liberty Skis, for example, uses bamboo laminate cores in all of its skis, too; another terrific idea.
Another interesting point about Soul Poles: The company is part of 1% For The Planet, an organization of companies that donate 1% of their sales to a network more than 2,600 environmental organizations worldwide. Kudos to Soul Poles.