Mike Zutz carves out some new Deviation boards.

Oregon-based start-up Deviation Skis and Snowboards has landed its first in-store opportunity at the Next Adventure shop in Portland.

Deviation, a partnership of six friends who build their skis and snowboard by hand in Oregon and test them on Mount Hood, has been selling exclusively online and at events since launching three years ago. They also have been pursuing deals with retail shops in all major North American markets, starting in Portland. They chose Portland over more crowded markets in Salt Lake City and Denver because of Oregon's powerful do-it-yourself culture and the extra-long shred season on Mount Hood.

Deviation CEO Tim Wells said he was thrilled with the news that Next Adventure will carry Deviation skis at its store at 426 SE Grand in Portland for the 2014-15 season.

"We love Next Adventure, and this is a big step for us," Wells said. "Online sales are huge, but a lot of people still buy their skis and snowboards from their local ski shop." 

Wells and Deviation Head Woodworker Mike Zutz reflected on the fun and challenges of building a Made in the USA gear brand during a recent visit at Deviation's makeshift, temporary 1500-square-foot headquarters/factory in Gresham (they are angling to move to a larger space in Portland's Central Eastside soon).

The factory floor was packed with lumber, machinery and skis and snowboards in varying stages of completion. Tim's brother Peter was down in Utah for Alta Demo Day (skis only, Alta being Alta), and Mike and Tim were recovering from demo days at Hoodoo and Mt. Hood Meadows in Oregon, with a drive in between where the company truck's transmission gave out on the bridge coming into Portland, necessitating an immediate overhaul.

They hope to reach 500 skis and snowboards sold by the end of summer, and a big step in that direction is getting into a store like Next Adventure, following a Demo Day performance at Meadows that brought a lot of positive feedback for Deviation boards. Their biggest challenge, as with all young brands, lies in distinguishing themselves from the pack and earning the sort of respect from hard-core riders that leads to mainstream acceptance. They have worked the big events hard to spread the word about Deviation, from Ski Fever in Portland to the Snowsports Industries America Snow Show in Denver, and partnered up with fine craft brewers such as Base Camp Brewing Co. and Northwest artists such as Hailey Morgan.

Two things that distinguish Deviation are their hand-made wooden cores and their custom topsheets and bases.

They build their wooden cores from black locust, basswood and ash plus some poplar for the snowboard cores. They are also experimenting with some beautiful purple heart lumber for an upcoming powder ski. The ash is for stability underfoot, the basswood is light and flexible, and the black locust (or purple heart) is tough enough for holding an edge and withstanding impact at top speed.

Here is a picture of the wooden core of a Deviation ski, with thermally modified ash in the middle, basswood to the sides and locust on the edges:

 A few feet away from their ski press the Deviation crew has a sublimation press for custom top sheets, which Wells likens to "a big tee-shirt press." Customers can choose from artist-created topsheets and bases, or they can completely customize their boards using their own photos, artwork or even topo maps.

In their current confines, Deviation builders must be diligent not to perform dirty tasks at the same time as clean tasks, which can slow down their production process. That is one of many reasons why Wells, Zutz and the Deviation team are excited about the possibility of moving into a space three times as large, in Portland's Central East Side, not far from Base Camp, Next Adventure and the coming evo Portland store.

A previous attempt to expand Deviation into Portland fell through after the company couldn't come to terms with the property owner. But Wells said this latest negotiation is looking very promising. I will follow up on that story once the lease is signed.