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When Ski Shaping Meets Art

As a pro skier out of Whistler, major ski brands had wanted Johnny “Foon” Chilton’s input on ski designs for 15 years, eventually creating the modern freeride ski based on his feedback. But they always told him that his designs couldn’t be mass produced; they weren’t what mainstream skiers wanted.

He begged to differ. Now, he’s the founder and lead craftsman of the wildly successful Foon Skis brand, where he’s been building his own shapes and designs for the last eight years out of Pemberton, B.C. Some liken his approach to surfboard shaping in the way that each ski is hand-planed, custom built, unique, and personal. He sources his cores from yellow cedar harvested locally from the B.C. coast. Every step is done in-house, each ski a proud production of a small, independent company.

(We’re switching subjects here, but stay with us – it’s all connected.)

Revelstoke artist Jess Leahey's first public piece of art was creating Gnorm, Revelstoke Mountain Resort's beloved webcam gnome that indicates overnight snow depth. Although the original Gnorm was stolen at the end of winter (and anonymously returned at the start of the following with a stack of postcards, photos of his travels, and a mysterious hole in his head), the famous character launched Leahey's career as an artist. Now, her art ranges from custom top sheets for lines of skis, massive street installations that bring mountains to pavement, and her own canvases--like this one of the avalanche rescue she participated in that changed her relationship with the mountains.

When Jess showed up at Mica Lodge a few years ago, she was tasked with creating a custom topsheet for a pair of Foon skis as a gift for Bruce Etkin, one of our 10-year guests. The gift and art creation were meant to be kept a secret, with Jess subtly shadowing Bruce throughout the week to discover what skiing meant to him and translate that into imagery. The ruse worked so well that Bruce thought she was the hot tub repair woman.

But her cover was blown on night two from some loose-lipped staff who shall not be named. “That night at supper, I was outed,” she recalls, “but then I got to sit with him, and he was just beaming and happy and so surprised. We talked for hours.”

Jess and Bruce skied together all week, shared stories, and listened to his favorite music. He told her about his family, about his favorite art installations at Burning Man, which he’d attended for years. The result was an incredible topsheet from a local artist on one-of-a-kind skis from a local ski builder—a fitting gift to show our gratitude to one of our longest-running guests.

Foon is now Mica’s regular ski shaper, with eleven pairs of skis coming our way this season. They’re an integral part of our 10-year program that pairs artists with guests to create custom topsheets for their skis—a program that’s part culture, part local pride, and all Mica magic.