As an experienced female skier, I’m sad to report that although it is the year 2016, the women’s ski selection is still very much indicative of a male-dominated industry. True, companies will put out a model or two for women, but most skis are designed to appeal to men and if I hear “don’t worry, it comes in a shorter size” one more time, I’m going to scream. Especially at the price point we are talking. That isn’t to say that I’ve given up all hope. I haven’t. The good news is there are young companies like Coalition Snow, a for-women, by-women company popping up on the scene (their sassy catchphrase is “We make women’s skis and snowboards that don’t suck!”) The even better news is that Sneva MFG, based right here in Spokane, WA, has been hand-making custom skis for both genders for decades now. It’s no surprise then that since I discovered Sneva skis about 5 years ago, I’ve been riding nothing else since.
So how do you get 14 ladies (and one cool dad) to get excited about strips of wood and epoxy? By having someone gifted like TJ Sneva take them through the ski building process in a SheJumps tour of his ski shop on Spokane’s South Hill. Our group took a deep-dive in the behind-the-scenes magic that goes into handcrafting a pair of his custom skis. Although he doesn’t consider his public speaking a strength, during the two-hour tour TJ took the ladies through an engaging demonstration of the entire ski discovery and customization process with a charming, honest, and entertaining educational event that captivated the attendees present, eager to learn how it all works. Attendees also received goodie bags filled with swag from our sponsors at Kate’s Real Food (Kate’s Bars), Ecolips chapstick, and Little Red Wagon Coffee. Everyone also received a free t-shirt from Sneva MFG!
When you open the doorway to TJ’s shop you are greeted by the warm, dry smell of wood and several rows of racing trophies winking at you in the shop lights. The floors are spotless and the shop is impeccable. This is where the magic happens. The trophies are from TJ’s time as an Indy car racer back in the day and are the inspiration for his recognizable ski logo: a skull bookended by two checkered race flags. Racing Indy cars runs in the Sneva blood and TJ is a third generation racer in his family. The racing theme is a nod to TJ’s heritage as well as his need for speed. He built his first pair of skis in 1994 on a press his grandfather helped him craft and the walls of his shop are lined with the 40+ templates for all the skis, snowboards, snow skates, and wake skates (yes, he makes those too) he has to offer his customers. Self-taught and industrious, TJ not-so-jokingly credits high school wood shop as “the best class he ever took.” Sneva makes approximately 1,000 pairs of skis and snowboards a year and yet there are no skis or boards for sale on his website. This is because every single pair is 100% customized to the buyer, which results only after a one-on-one consultation with him.
Prevalent throughout the evening of our shop tour was TJ’s experience bleeding through. 22 years after he began pursuing his passion, he is still making improvements, experimenting with materials, and working to improve his craft. As he laid up a ski in front of us in quick order, it was amazing to watch a craftsman that has literally built thousands of skis by careful, skillful handwork do his thing.
Before we knew it, he’d mixed ups some epoxy and we watched as he was sure to saturate every millimeter of the fiberglass that would lay between the base material and the wood core. 30 minutes later, as we chatted over a beverage, the timer went off and a hot pressed ski was removed from the press. Ok, so it doesn’t look like a ski when it comes out of the press, more like a rectangular epoxy sandwich ready to be trimmed into a ski.
As it quickly became evident throughout the ski manufacturing progression, it’s a multi-step process where one mistake, one misalignment, one too many passes through the planer, and the ski would be doomed and have to be restarted. It was a little tense to watch (especially since it was this writer’s custom ski he was using for the demonstration!) but TJ chatted easily while he worked through the details, just like any true artist completely at ease while moving through the complexities of his craft. I’m happy to say that my skis came out just fine and it was especially exciting to use them for the demonstration with these SheJumpers since my custom graphics display Girafficorns and “I Am SJ” on the bases.
On the whole, it was a super fun and educational evening and I think everyone was able to walk away with some newly acquired knowledge on not only what goes into making a quality ski, but also what is available out there customized for women. We had a great group of inquisitive ladies who were able to ask all manner of questions of a true ski guru; who regularly makes custom skis for his wife Lauren, and their young daughter, Winter. As you can see, TJ gets the big picture and understands that everyone is unique in how they ride and what they want to ride, and then he makes it happen for them. We can only hope that more ski companies follow in his example and start offering other quality options for the ladies who shred.
Photo Credit: Taylor Hornney
Thanks to Sneva MFG for an awesome event!