How the past is helping shape the future of big mountain freeskiing
words :: Mikey Nixon
If movies have taught us anything, it’s that time travel technology comes in many forms: jet engines, portals, DeLoreans, phone booths—even hot tubs. The end result is always the same; time as we know it becomes irrelevant.
While the Sea to Sky’s most recent form of inter-epochal travel isn’t a time machine in the traditional sense of the word, there’s a workshop on the outskirts of Pemberton that’s taking notes from the past and shaping them into the future of freeskiing.
The men behind the wheel are Kye Petersen and Johnny Foon, the Marty McFly and Emmett “Doc” Brown of the local big mountain scene. They’ve recently partnered up in the ski-shaping business, building on the Foon Skis brand—a staple in the Coast Mountains since 2011—and introducing Kye Shapes, a brand that Petersen can literally call his own.
The Foon/Petersen connection is deeply rooted in Canadian ski history. Foon pioneered many classic lines in the Coast Mountains with Kye’s dad, Trevor Petersen, a freeski icon who died in an avalanche in 1996 when Kye was only six years old. Alongside a small a crew of big mountain pioneers that included Eric Pehota, Steve Smaridge, Jia Condon, Pete “The Swede” Mattson and Shaun “Puddles” Hughes, Trevor Petersen and Johnny “Foon” Chilton showed a generation of snowsliders what was possible in the Coast Mountains and beyond.
“Here’s Trevor’s son throwing down a line that goes well beyond what we were doing. It felt like some sort of circle was finally complete.”
“They were on skinny skis, but they were still hitting all the good lines,” says Petersen, 29, of Whistler’s first generation of big mountain rippers. “Those guys came to Whistler and no one was here, so they got to ski everything: Currie, Fissile, Blackcomb Peak, Wedge. Everything was new. Imagine coming here when freeskiing was a new sport… they were basically inventing it.”
That old-school crew were doing it all without the benefit of today’s ski technology—on long, skinny skis better suited to holding four shots of whiskey than charging first descents in waist-deep snow.
“I think a lot of the skiers in the ’90s would’ve been better skiers than the guys today if they had today’s technology,” Petersen says.
For 59-year-old Foon, today’s technology works best with a solid connection to the mountains where it’s being used. Since 2011, he’s been hand-building skis from locally-harvested yellow cedar to create a brand inspired by the surrounding environment, and his extensive experience being out in it.
To create the boards he envisions, Foon matches his local experience and passion with state-of-the-art equipment. Alongside his various saws, planers and woodcore preparation tools, Foon’s unassuming two-storey warehouse/headquarters also holds a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, a base-routing station, a fibreglass prep area, and two pneumatic ski presses—one for Foon Skis, and one for Kye Shapes. For almost two years, Petersen has been working and learning alongside Foon, sourcing high-quality materials, building prototypes and testing the crap out of them—all in search of a shape and vision that’s uniquely his own.
“A lot of things have inspired my ski design, mainly other skis, snowboard and surf shapers,” Petersen says, adding that he finds a lot of inspiration studying the hydrodynamics of sports like surfing or pow surfing. “I’m also looking at what I’ve done in the past, and seeing where it can go from there.”
On skis, Petersen’s past has always looked like glimpse at the future of the sport. He admits to being drawn to the same style of big, steep skiing that his dad’s old posse pioneered, but watching him powerslide down a burly spine wall—staying ahead of his slough and then slowing down to throw a 720 spin off a cliff at the bottom of the face—is a jaw-dropping display of how much progression has occurred in just one generation. And many of those advances, according to Petersen, come from the boards under his feet and seven years of intensive, hands-on designing and testing.
“Things evolved quickly once I developed the Kye Shapes line with 4frnt Skis,” he says, “especially for big mountain skiing. Back in the day it was easy to get going fast, but to shut down your speed with control and hit features on the way down was quite difficult. Once I had a ski I could slow down and speed up with, I progressed a lot.”
The design phase, according to Petersen, is where the magic happens. “The most essential piece of tech in our shop isn’t even in the shop,” he says. “It’s the computerized drawings that we create, working with our engineers on the CAD program to line up the curves and make sure they all match.”
After nearly a decade in business, Foon skis currently offers eight designs, one of which—The Moma Lisa—is a tribute to Foon’s wife, Lisa Korthals, who died in an avalanche in 2018. Kye Shapes, after its first year of research and development, is offering two ski models: The Numinous and The Metamorph.
“The Numinous came out of the need for our first ski to be the kind of thing that the pros would thrive on,” Petersen says. “A design capable of skiing the biggest lines in Alaska or the deepest day at Blackcomb—it’s the ultimate backcountry weapon. The Metamorph is more of an all-mountain ski. It’s lightweight and a bit more friendly, good for long days in the backcountry when you’re hiking a lot and may come across different conditions.”
Petersen and Foon can discuss the nuances of their ski designs for hours: blend curves, radiuses, rockers, cambers, sidecuts. But their collaboration extends far beyond the walls of the warehouse. The duo has skied lines in the Wedge group together. They’ve weathered storms in the Waddington range together. And now they’re setting a new trajectory for big mountain skiing together.
They live and breathe the entire process, with their own skiing acting as the driving force behind their designs. Shaping skis keeps their eyes looking down the fall line, always calculating what’s coming up next. But as the two of them work a piece of their own history into every pair of skis that they make, the process also keeps them firmly rooted in the past.
In 1994, Trevor Petersen helped self-rescue Foon after an avalanche in the Tantalus Range broke both his legs. After Trevor’s passing, Foon and Pehota returned to the range in 1999, skiing a dream line together just shy of the summit of Mount Tantalus. Eleven years later, the film All.I.Can was released, featuring Kye Petersen skiing the same range.
“It brought a tear to my eye,” Foon says. “Here’s Trevor’s son throwing down a line that goes well beyond what we were doing. It felt like some sort of circle was finally complete.”
Those links—to history, the mountains, the community, and each other—are what makes that unassuming warehouse outside of Pemberton much more than a simple ski factory. That space represents the past, present and future all under a single roof. But perhaps most importantly, that workshop has the power to send Foon and Petersen both backwards and forwards through time.
“I think my dad would be really stoked to see Johnny and I doing this together,” says Petersen. “And Johnny’s always been optimistic about this whole process because both of us—heart and soul—are meant to be working together.” —ML