yimby nature ad experiments2


Shawn Hokkanen of ON3P Skis crafts an edge at the company's Portland factory.

What's new with ON3P Skis in Portland? Plenty.

28-year-old ON3P Founder and President Scott Andrus says the company’s retail presence has grown from 20 to 51 stores over the past year, including their first shop in Japan. Employees have grown from five to nine, two new sales reps are set up in Colorado and Connecticut, and 10 ON3P athletes including the red-hot Karl Fostvedt are geared up to build brand buzz in 2014-15 and beyond.

A recent tour of the five-year-old company’s 9,000-square-foot space at the Banfield Industrial Park in Northeast Portland revealed a high-energy operation in full swing. A crew of ski builders was sawing and pressing and grinding away to crank out bamboo-core skis, including a new backcountry touring ski, for what is expected to be ON3P’s biggest year by far.

The number of ski presses on the factory floor is up to six. There’s a fancy new computer numerically controlled (CNC) router for shaping bamboo cores and a company truck parked out front for hitting trade shows and demos.

ON3P Team and Brand Relations Manager Sam Caylor, who showed me around the factory Wednesday and introduced me to the ON3P crew, got to know that Toyota Tundra pretty well last year, logging about 30,000 miles from the big Snowsports Industries America Snow Show in Denver to the West Coast Sessions on Mount Hood and many other points along the way.

Here's Sam showing off some new boards, hot off the press:

The first thing Sam showed me in the factory was ON3P's new CNC router. It is an amazing tool. You enter in the dimensions of the wooden form you want cut, and the machine cuts it with absolute precision. As long as you program the machine correctly, you get a perfect cut.

Here's Kip Kirol cranking it up:

For the record, there was no beer on the CNC during my visit.

Clean, fast and absolutely accurate, the CNC was a major purchase for ON3P — and a necessary one. Scott Andrus figures ON3P was “the largest ski manufacturer in the world without a CNC." Taking over the shaping of the wooden (or rather grass, since bamboo is a grass) core of their skis instead of outsourcing that task has streamlined ON3P's production process. It also has increased yield by about 50 percent, with far less wasted material. Leftover bamboo gets chipped into horse stall bedding or carved up into cool beer coasters.

After the ski's core is in shape, workers start assembling a sandwich of bamboo, fiberglass, glue and metal that is 12 layers thick if you count the edges.

Here is Shawn Hokkanen using some clamps to attach the edges:

Note the edged notch on the tail of the ski Shawn is working on. That's for attaching your skins to the base of ON3P's new backcountry ski, the Steeple. Available in two sizes (112 millimeters underfoot or 102), the Steeple was designed by ON3P backcountry specialist David Steele with the dual goal of stable climbing on the way up and smooth powder-shredding on the way down.

Edges attached, the remaining layers of the ON3P ski sandwich are joined with a two-part epoxy and pressed together in one of six ski presses. In classic Portland style, ON3P's property manager John Wiitala helped his tenants out with a clever ski press retrofit — in exchange for skis.

Here Trevor Leaf glues together layers (fiberglass for the binding mount) while Sam Caylor cranks up the ski press:

Each worker has a specialty as ON3P, but this is no Henry-Ford-style assembly line. "Everybody does everything here," says Sam Caylor. As proof, here is Sam the brand guy, grinding away in the "dirty room:"

Of course, all of this could be done far cheaper in China. As Scott Andrus points out, ON3P is a manufacturing company competing with marketing companies: ski "makers" who don't actually make their skis, instead outsourcing production to China and/or Europe.

But ON3P has been a made-in-the-USA brand since they were founded, and building their own skis allows them to control the quality of everything they sell. Here Ryan Burt (in the background with the blue hat) and Steven Verdago (in the foreground with the ear-buds) use their hands and their eyes to craft the product closer to its finished form:

Building skis in Portland isn't the cheapest way to do business, but it does seem like a lot of fun. The ON3P crew reminds me of Oregon craft brewers or bike frame builders in the way they approach their work, with plenty of humor and pride.

The company's growth has been steady under the leadership of Scott Andrus, a former biology major at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. Andrus built his own ski press and started experimenting with ski designs while he was still a student.

He started out with a few college buddies in a cramped space in Southeast Portland that resembled a well-worn ski house. They built up credibility and sales over time, and moved into their larger location in November of 2011.

With their digital tagline "Handmade Skis and Badassery in Portland, Oregon," Andrus and his crew have always been web-savvy, and they hooked up with the online retailer evo early. They are working on an ON3P-evo collaboration to come out in conjunction with evo's soon-to-open Portland store.

They are also pushing hard to expand their reach. ON3P did more demos last year than in the previous four years combined, and the marketing push is paying off. They have worked their way into the Japanese market, and they are nearing forays into South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, the UK, Austria, Scandinavia and Russia. Oh yeah, and California would be nice too.

More markets should translate to more production in Portland. Andrus is already making plans to add new presses and follow up the big CNC purchase with an equally expensive ceramic edge sander. That's a tool that runs about $45,000, but it can sharpen an edge in one pass rather than 16 passes, so it is a big time-saver.

But first thing is first. Like everyone else in the snowsports industry, Andrus and ON3P are praying for snow and scrapping for business. Competition is fierce, and only the best brands will survive. For all the mellow camaraderie of the ON3P operation in Portland, this is a serious business - albeit a serious business dedicated to designing and building really cool toys.

As an example of the creative ways ON3P skis can be put to use, enjoy this video of Karl Fostvedt, Joey Vandermeer, and Wiley Chubb shredding Mount Hood (shot by Jasper Newton).

ON3P at Mt. Hood from ON3P Skis on Vimeo.

And here is a slide show of the ON3P crew at work in Northeast Portland:

ON3P coasters made from leftover bamboo.