Words by Leslie Anthony
Johnny “Foon” Chilton hunches over a surfboard in a cavernous warehouse in Pemberton, British Columbia. Just back from Mexico, he looks relaxed, casual and very Canadian in a plaid jacket and Foon Skis ball cap. “I got a new board and don’t like the fin setup,” he says. “I’m hoping to modify it.”
Tinkering is something Foon does well, and in the nine years he’s been hand-making Foon Skis, he’s done plenty. “I once worked in a cabinet-making shop, and a lot of the tool skills are similar,” says the veteran ski-mountaineer, who’s made an impressive amount of first descents. Many were with his wife, ski partner and seasoned guide, Lisa Korthals, who tragically perished in March of 2018 in a client-triggered avalanche.
Stepping away from his surfboard, Foon makes his way to an old ski press to scrape epoxy froma metal cassette. “I hadn’t been thinking about making skis, but a friend directed me to a website that showed how to make a capped ski in a vacuum bag.” For $1,000 worth of material and a bit of his time, it seemed like a fun project, he says. “I made a pair and they were OK; I made another pair that skied really well, and boom—I was hooked.”
He started making skis in his basement in 2009, and has been at it full-time since 2012, eventually abandoning cap skis for a proper press. “If you really want to make a good ski and control all the parameters, you need to move to sandwiching,” he says.
Foon Skis are handmade with love, with subalpine yellow cedar forming the skis’ core, which are crafted for conditions found in the very forests this wood grows in—a unique ode to the Coast Mountains surrounding Pemberton.
Foon’s production space carries a similar coastal vibe—snowmobiles in a corner, walls lined by skis, a rack for core laminates and top sheets, shelving for base sets, a whiteboard to track orders, and an old base grinder rescued from Whistler’s Carleton Lodge. Above an enclosed woodworking shop sit stacks of locally milled yellow cedar, aspen and big-leaf maple.
His first ski press sufficed for the seven models he produced until now, but a new press, which can pump out three-to-four pairs a day, will help with a new ski design venture that Foon has teamed up with big mountain maestro Kye Petersen on: Kye Shapes. This year’s production is estimated at 300 pairs—with 200 Foon Skis and 100 Kye Shapes—and the substantial change from the previous 100 pairs per year is courtesy of a recent capital infusion.
“I was at a point where I either had to move back to the basement and be content making a handful of skis a year, or leap to larger numbers,” he explains. “Then I started talking to Joey Gibbons. Both our kids are in the Whistler racing program, so we ended up riding chairs together. Joey was wondering what he was going to do next and I said, ‘How about skis?’”
Gibbons, a Whistlerite who loves where he grew up, is also an idealist interested in creating identity and supporting local business through his lifestyle brand, Gibbons Whistler. “It was a great fit that came at just the right time,” says Foon.
Photographer Blake Jorgenson and Sherpas Cinema are in the shop when I visit, working on collateral for the new partnership that reflects the hand-crafted alchemy. Special lighting and a smoke machine crank up as Foon poses with his dog Max and a Moma Lisa—a ski that celebrates his late wife.
“Lisa worked with me on my original ski, and then a shorter version for herself that was a bit softer, so that’s the ski we made in her memory. Based on sales, it’s already our most popular ski ever!” Foon enthuses.
What better way to honour a partnership born in the mountains than to forge new ones that pay tribute.
For more on Foon Skis and Kye Shapes, visit foonskis.com and kyeshapes.com.