Skis, Not Spaceships: A Look at 4FRNT Skis & the Team That Makes it Tick
In a low brick building on Salt Lake City’s west side, innovation and passion rise above the smog of industry, and at the heart of the enclave of creativity that is 4FRNT Skis’ corporate headquarters, there’s a dedicated team with a drive to build something special. Led by the stoic Matt Sterbenz, the growing company has become a hallmark of ski design.
4FRNT Skis was born of a desire to craft skis that athletes actually wanted to ride. Sterbenz believed it didn’t have to be about mega-corps form Europe controlling the tide of production. He wanted to develop skis that could be infinitely redesigned to suit the changing style of skiers around the globe. His initial prototype skis were engineered in a garage in California and proven in parks and contests. Landing a spot at the SIA show in 2004, Sterbenz made his idea available for public consumption. The ensuing nine years has seen thoughtful expansion, relocation to SLC, and unique designs that now stand at the forefront of skiing.
“Our brand appeals to core skiers. We don’t want to be followers,” says 4FRNT’s logistics and sales guru Jeremy Handly. He also mentioned, “We don’t really have titles here. Every one of us is responsible for success.” Handly has been a part of the company since 2006 and has climbed the ladder from the lowliest ranks of intern.
Keeping its sights on being a rider-owned and rider-inspired company has allowed 4FRNT to attract a healthy stable of owner-athletes and employees. The talents of Eric “Hoji” Hjorleifson, Willey Miller, David Wise, and the late C.R. Johnson have helped the organization achieve greatness over the years, and there’s no sign of slowing down. “The crew is the best it’s ever been,” adds Handly.
Stopping in at the offices on a sweltering summer afternoon, I had the chance to sit around the lunch table with the guys behind the scenes. Hoji was even in town on a brief stop to oversee production of the latest Renegade ski. Listening to their casual banter made me realize these guys are more than just co-workers; they have close ties and enduring friendships, traits that illustrate the philosophy of the organization.
Photo Credit: 4FRNT Skis
After lunch we headed to The White Room, 4FRNT’s prototyping and pressing facility. The hub of the operation is a Franken-ski-press that is constantly being fiddled with by Hoji and company. “It has been a journey. A lengthy process of figuring out how to make it happen,” says in-house production and development point man Dan Burwell. In Burwell’s short tenure with the company, he’s developed a keen sense of how the program operates and admits that, “This is how we take our drunken napkin dreams and make them a reality.”
Watching the small team of mad scientists in their element was quite impressive and eye opening. “Creativity and problem solving are what we do. The new semi-cap construction of the Renegade is better and stronger than previous designs,” says Hoji. He also notes that there have been years of trial and error in developing the facility, and they’ve had to get clever and crafty on a limited budget. “Our skis are not spaceships. They’re pretty low-tech, but they’re solid,” adds Hoji.
Although not space worthy, the bombproof nature of skis like the Renegade have proven themselves in many a film segment and beneath the heels of some of the world’s greatest skiers. These limited-run skis are laid-up, pressed, cured, and finished in the confines of The White Room and then taken to the steeps of the Wasatch for testing. It’s a one-of-a-kind facility that gives 4FRNT the ability to remain nimble in an ever-changing landscape.
Photo Credit: 4FRNT Skis
These artisans of wood, steel, and P-Tex also utilize the press for developing prototypes that can become full-production skis. Models like the CRJ, HOJI, CODY, and new releases like the Wise and Devastator have all been created and tweaked before sending the final molds to Elan in Slovenia. “We’ve become very efficient, and it’s interesting to see the progression,” says 4FRNT team rider and shop hand Thayne Rich. The fellows revealed that they could now make up to ten pairs of skis per day. This number would have been unheard of three years ago. Each member has a role to play and is responsible for a myriad of tasks. To say they are true craftsman is an understatement.
As the year wraps up, the 4FRNT crew will be finishing up production in The White Room and developing new ideas for the following year. If you’re in Utah, they invite you to stop by the StoreFRNT at 2900 South West Temple to see the magic for yourself. Their brightly lit showroom plays the latest ski movies, and their custom-made kegerator pumps out suds on special occasions. Find out more about the company and its designs at www.4frnt.com.
Skis featured left to right:
A big mountain charger with all-new Semi-Cap construction for 2014. Available in 196cm and 186cm lengths (135-122-129).
The evolution of the EHP into the Hoji has seen the ski become more nimble and predictable at high speed. This ski coupled with a Dynafit binding make for great tours and big lines in the Wasatch and beyond. Available in 195cm, 187cm, and 179cm lengths (130-112-121).
New for 2014, this ski provides a platform for playful powder sessions and will replace the Turbo. It’s fully rockered and uses the Reflect Tech just like the Renegade and Hoji. Available in 194cm, 184cm, and 174 lengths. (136-108-131).
New for 2014, this ski is the brainchild of X-Games and Dew Tour and (soon to be Olympic) gold medalist David Wise. It was created out of necessity and has dominated the pipe. Available in 183cm and 177cm (112-82-104).
Last winter, Backcountry and 4FRNT teamed up to create a limited edition, Goatworthy version of the Renegade. Check out the collab.