Utah Skiing: The Salt Lake Company uses algae products on WNDR Petroleum


Petroleum spans the room where you are sitting. Its products include the kitchen utensils you used to cook and eat breakfast, the soap you brushed, and the toothpaste and toothbrush you used when you finished eating. It’s probably in your clothes. It’s definitely on the computer you’re using to read it.

And if you’re a skier, petroleum products are an integral part of your ski build. Unless you have a pair of WNDR alpine skis, that is.

Pronounced “amazing”, the Utah-based company has been making waves in the ski industry since its launch in 2019 as part of the California startup Checkerspot, due to its use of algae-based bioplastics as a substitute for petroleum products. Ski production.

You read that right – algae. When thinking of a durable alternative to plastic in the aforementioned household items, algae does not come to mind. But going into its third year in the ski industry, WNDR Alpine’s AlgalTech has proven to be a reliable and profitable, petroleum-based plastic replacement.

The company now has three skis in its product line, each priced at $ 699, with older models being offered at a discount.

If sustainability and performance are not enough to make WNDR Alpine a future big name in skiing, there may be two brains behind the project – Matt Sternbenz, general manager of winter sports for Checkerspot, and Pep Fujas, the company’s vice president of marketing and product development.

A former professional skier, Sterbenz launched 4FRNT Skis in 2002, a major innovation in park, big mountain and backcountry skiing. Fujas is also an accomplished professional skier, who has been an athlete for the industry giant K2 Skis for nearly two decades, and started a ski named after him, “Kung Fujas”.

Both WNDR Alpine and its parent companies have high aspirations. Checkerspot has set its sights on American production as a whole, hoping that the success of its algae-based materials can stimulate the movement away from petroleum products.

Targets are increasingly targeted at the fast-growing WNDR Alpine, which has doubled its workforce over the past year, tripled the size of its Salt Lake City factory, and hopes to open a new flagship store in the west of the city in the coming months. The company plans to use its moss products to launch the clothing line and seeks partnerships with other ski and outdoor businesses to help transform them from petroleum.

Xan Marshland, manager of brand development, calls the company’s mission “democratization of things.”

While Checkerspot has a number of patents, most of the technology is not new, and Marshland said it was focusing on partnering with potential competitors rather than increasing its sustainability as a marketing strategy.

“We want this to be as systematic as possible, instead of keeping all the bio-based things in ourselves, because we have to make fun of ourselves for thinking that a backcountry ski line is going to save the world,” he said. “But what’s really making a significant impact is the widespread adoption of algae oils, algae ingredients and algae in many industries … With these skis, we’re getting closer to what we can every year.”

Xan Marshland, Manager of Brand Development, Back, Professional Skier and Vice President of Marketing and Product Development, Pep Fujas, local ski company WNDR Alpine .

In an industry full of company pledges to reduce emissions, carbon offsets, shiny electric vehicles and recycling programs – movements that skeptics often label as greenwashing – WNDR has emerged as the only ski hard goods manufacturer to be considered Alpine B Corporation. The respected label is awarded to companies with “the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal liability to balance profit and purpose.” According to the B Corps website.

“Ski making is an incredibly wasteful process, I can’t stress enough,” shouted the hum of machine tools at the 22,000-square-foot factory in Marshland WNDR Alpines.

Most of that waste is caused by the use of thermoplastic abs – acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Plastic in general terms. Most skis are built using ABS plastic, a mixture of fiberglass and wood for the core, polyethylene material for the base, metal edges and ABS plastic sidewall.

And the finished product of WNDR Alpine may look like that Like any other ski company, it successfully replaced ABS plastic in most stages of production.

So far, the response has been good. Skis can withstand undue stress from fujas and other professional athletes, Gear reviews There are usually positives, and Marshland said the company can count the number of returns on one hand.

“Wood delivers a lot of vibration, but algae foam helps reduce it,” Fujas said when contacted by Sterbenz in 2018 when he was under contract with K2.

Fujas admits that he was initially skeptical when asked to leave one of the biggest names in the industry, which boasted dozens of skis in its product line, only to start offering one model at a time. “But I got on skis, and he was great skiing,” Fujas said, and before he saw Sterbenz’s pitch more than a gimmick.

“Skiers have to withstand a lot of energy,” Fujas said. “Between the environment, the heat, the cold, and then the forces applied through the action of skiing – you have to put a lot of weight on the ski, bend it, do it differently. So it really helps to prove the potential of these things, so you can show it to other companies that are interested.

On Friday, November 19, 2021, CJ Rand of WNDR Alpine mixed and weighed the chemical precursor to the ski sidewalls of the company's algae oil at the company's facility in Salt Lake City.

From petri dish to ramps

The process begins in Berkeley, California, where oil is extracted from microalgae grown in fermentation bins. That oil is the precursor to many plastic substitutes, including the polyurethane material used in WNDR Alpine skis. Oil is shipped to Utah, where the chemical reaction produces solid foam.

The foam is cut into stringers – narrow strips laminated against the aspen wood to create a ski core.

In addition to foam, WNDR Alpine makes a liquid polyurethane that is poured into a carved channel around the perimeter of the core, to create the sidewall, essentially the ski side of the edge.

ABS plastic forms the sidewall for most skis, shipped to companies in solid, rectangular shape, attached to the core with resins and epoxy, then trimmed down to create a tapered ski profile. This is just one of many wasted steps in ski production highlighted by Marshland.

“You just mill it and waste a lot of the stuff you buy, put it directly in the landfill before it can ski,” Marshland said, adding that the algae-based oil eliminates any excess material used on the sidewall. Construction.

On Friday, November 19, 2021, a pile of wooden cores was painted at WNDR Alpine, a local ski company that uses algae-based bioplastics to replace the plastics used in ski construction in Salt Lake City.

And instead of throwing a lot of scraps into the trash bin on the store floor of WNDR Alpine, the rest of the material is recycled to make ski stands. Finally, Fujas wants to see the scraps used to create anything from countertops to bike racks.

“I guess in 99% ski making, this thing goes straight to the landfill. So it’s usually all trash,” Fujas said, pointing to a trash bin filled with ski cutoffs.

The company is doing well in the face of supply chain problems that are squeezing most American industries, using timber sourced from Michigan and its moss oil shipped domestically.

WNDR Alpine currently sells itself as a backcountry ski company, though both Marshland and Fujas stressed that their products could be used at the resort. This summer, they plan to release a split board – a backcountry specific snowboard – and WNDR Alpine Clothing is also in the works.

“Everything we do is repetitive,” Marshland said. “Every formulation of moss wall we’ve done since we introduced it is better than the last one. Every year, every year, every ski build is better than the last.”

Dane Weiser, product specialist at WNDR Alpine, a local company that uses algae-based bioplastics to replace the plastics used in ski construction, glues ski layers together on Friday, November 19, 2021, at the company's facility in Salt Lake City.

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