February 18

Phillips ski makers craft Maine wood into custom skis

Franklin County craftsmen Nick Mukai and Ian Reinholt are hearkening back to the state’s ski manufacturing heritage with the wooden skis.

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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FINI: Nick Mukai stands among finished wood skis made at the Lucid Ski company in Phillips on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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STEP ONE: Nick Mukai looks over raw stock of local ash and basswood that will be used to make a pair of custom wood skies at the Lucid Ski business in Phillips on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Additional Photos Below

Robert Burns, 48, of Cushing, said he was impressed by the way his harvester skis, one of three models made by Lucid, responded to powder conditions.

“They’re pretty unusual skis. The wood construction gives them that flexibility and a softness in powder conditions. They just have a responsiveness and a subtlety that’s really quite delightful to experience,” he said.

Burns said he first learned about the business two years ago when he met Saskia Reinholt, Ian’s wife, on a chairlift at Saddleback.

“She started explaining what they’re trying to accomplish by starting this ski production, and I was pretty moved by it. Everyone wants to live a little more locally,” he said.

Burns said that after he took a test run on a pair of demo skis, he and Reinholt went to a bar and drew up a contract on a cocktail napkin for the skis.

“I’m a professional mariner by trade, and the next four months I would open the drawer on the boat where I kept it (the napkin) and think about what I had to look forward to,” he said. “The whole organic experience suited my concept of what skiing in Maine should be about anyway.”

The state was once a major manufacturer of skis, though the earliest skis were just primitive wood planks with toe loops, said Bruce Miles, executive director of Maine Ski Museum in Kingfield.

He said the skis were brought to the area by Scandinavian immigrants in northern Maine in the late 1800s and were used as a practical tool for transportation made from a shaped block of wood. In the early 1900s, the skis began to evolve from a tool into something for recreation, and manufacturers tried to create higher performing models. Ski makers began to strengthen the ski by taking three or four pieces of wood with different grain directions and gluing them together.

“And then in the mid 1960s, a lot switched from just wood to having fiberglass and metal skis,” Miles said.

Around that time, major area manufacturers, such as Paris Manufacturing Company, ceased making skis. “Maine was a wood mill state, not a metal and fiberglass state,” he said.

Mukai said Lucid Skis uses technological advances such as fiberglass, but he and Reinholt’s marketing pitch is that the core of their business philosophy and the core of the physical skis is Maine wood.

The skis are made in a workshop attached to Mukai’s Maple Lane home, filled with half finished skis, raw material and tools.

Mukai said the wood core is what gives the skis their performance, and about a third of the manufacturing process is sourcing local wood for the business.

“These Maine species are some of the best in the world for performance,” he said. “We take a lot of pride in the wood components of Maine. It makes me really happy to think about all the other logging and lumber mill business that we work hand in hand with.”

Lightweight basswood is half the core, and Mukai said it is similar to spruce but resists glue saturation that can weigh skis down. The rest of the core is made from ash, which he said has a springy strength, and the sidewalls are made from hornbean, hickory, black locust or maple.

The core is then sandwiched between two layers of fiberglass, a top sheet of veneer and a coat of epoxy. The whole process takes a total of about six hours, though Mukai said it’s hard to measure because they aren’t made in one continuous process.

While they hope eventually to have the money to hire a few more helping hands, Mukai said they don’t have ambitions of mass production, which would undermine their niche of customized skis.

“These skis are made by hand,” he said. “They get to feel like the skis are made specifically for them.”

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 kschroeder@centralmaine.com

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Additional Photos

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TRY ONE: These custom made wood skis made at the Lucid Ski company in Phillips are used as demonstration skies at nearby Saddleback Mountain for potential buyers to try out.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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START THE PRESS: Nick Mukai slides a ski into a press to ensure camber at the Lucid Ski company that he and co-owner Ian Reinholt own in Phillips.

Staff photo by David Leaming

 


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