Marketplace: Soul Poles is redefining innovation
March 15, 2011
Bryon Friedman, Erik Schlopy and Phil McNichol have skied with the most sophisticated equipment on Earth, and are now pushing bamboo.
After years of using up and throwing out aluminum and carbon-fiber poles, Schlopy discovered the superiority and simplicity of bamboo.
Because there is a joint every few inches instead of being hollow all the way through, it does not bend as easily as a tube.
"Bamboo has tensile strength of steel, so it’s stronger than aluminum and very light," Friedman explained.
If it does splinter, there’s no guilt with throwing it out. It’s organic matter from one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet.
Schlopy discovered bamboo poles while skiing on the European circuit. He shared them with Friedman, a former USSA teammate, and McNichol, a former coach.
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To make them work, they salvaged pieces from broken conventional poles. In addition to performing well, it allowed them to reuse pieces that would have ended up in a landfill, Friedman said.
As outdoor enthusiasts, the three care about the environment and reducing waste. Bamboo poles gave them a way of skiing sustainably.
"They’re quite beautiful and have a natural glowing look to them," Friedman said. "The ski industry is commonly very wasteful ski poles are a great place to start."
Last October the three decided to start a business, Soul Poles, and market their fashionable and sustainable alternatives for alpine skiing.
It took months of research to choose the right bamboo from over 2,000 species. It had to be durable in wet, cold weather. They are taking orders now and expect to see their products in ski shops next season.
From the beginning, it was easy to get people excited about the poles, Friedman said. Test products were made from poles dropped off at Recycle Utah and rental shops reported people preferred them.
"As we used them, people complimented them. In my whole life, I’ve never been complimented on ski poles before," he said. "This is the direction the industry should be going."
Local retailers have been receptive. Skiers choose sustainability when they have options, and Park City’s leading stores are some of the most progressive in the nation, Friedman said.
Because the baskets and handles are high-end, the price is comparable to metal or carbon-fiber poles. Being natural and organic, each pair is totally unique, he said.
Custom-painted poles by artist R. Nelson Parrish are available on a limited basis and are fit for collecting, Friedman said. He can also take special orders if a skier has a design idea of their own.
They still accept donated poles through Recycle Utah to make "harvest poles" for local nonprofit groups. Soul Poles also donates a small percentage of proceeds from new poles to charities with goals in harmony with Soul Pole’s values.
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