Callouts: Two companies bringing Utah to the fore
As seen in the February 2012 issue of Freeskier. Words by Leah Fielding.
Utah is a hub of innovation in ski technology, media and industry as shown by companies like Black Diamond, Salomon, Saga, the Levitation Project, Atomic, Backcountry.com, Discrete, the list goes on. We chose to highlight two brands, at different places in their development, who are representing Utah and growing in the Salt Lake area, which is, after all, the perfect place to skip work on a powder day.
We all know the story of Tom Wallisch coming out of nowhere to nab pro status in 2009 by winning Level 1’s Superunknown video contest. What you may not know is that it was small Salt Lake City production crew, 4BI9, who originally teamed up with Wallisch in 2006, when they were all freshmen at University of Utah, to capture his impeccably smooth style. In fact, 4BI9 submitted Wallisch’s edit to the contest. They’ve been filming him ever since and were the team that shot his now-famous urban down-C-down rail last winter. The video shot is a centerpiece of their most recent movie and the still pic has graced many a magazine page—including Freeskier’s.
4BI9 shot by Erik Seo
The 4BI9 crew is tight, real tight. Codirector and cinematographer AJ Dakoulas sleeps just 20 feet away from Wallisch in a house they share with Andrew Holson, Ryan Wyble and Tim Maney. They ski together—mostly at Park City—where they switch off holding the camera, and they edit together. “We all get to put in our two cents,” says Wallisch. “Being involved in the decision making process is awesome. It’s almost my favorite part of skiing, putting together an edit from the start.” Although living, skiing, filming, editing and partying together may sound like it would be a tad overwhelming, the guys all agree that it’s great for the creative process and camaraderie. “It’s pretty low key actually,” says Dakoulas. “Pretty much everyone we film with is who we hang out with in the summer.”
“Low key” and “mellow” are terms Dakoulas commonly uses to describe the operation. That’s the case for a few reasons: one, many of them are still livin’ the dream, i.e., still skiing every day while at least nominally attending college; two, being a low-budget op, they don’t travel very far out of Salt Lake City to find worthy locations; and three, their philosophy centers around filming their friends, who happen to be some of the most talented freeskiers in the country.
Dakoulas says their first year of filming, 2005, was SEO just about creating personal segments and short edits. “We saw what we had at the end of year, and it turned out to be a full-length movie.” Their fifth and most recent flick, Beggin’ for Change, is still true to their original intention, or lack thereof, and jam packed, as always, with SLC’s rising talent and a full complement of urban, park and Utah
The crew has developed quite a knack for picking out skiers who share their down-to-earth mentality: Collin Collins, Nicky Keefer, Dale Talkington, Witt Foster, Brady Perron … the list goes on. The beauty is in their simple and honest approach, and there’s something very accessible to ski industry dreamers in the way 4BI9 cherishes their locales and their friendships. Nearly every ski town has that crew of local heroes who film and shoot themselves or work with local videographers and photographers. 4BI9’s growing success at showcasing their own style and amity will continue to fire up unknown skiers, inspiring progressive talent and grassroots production.
With 4FRNT Skis soon to celebrate its 10th year in business, there is plenty of grand thinking going around—both in looking back at the past nine and a half years and in charging into the future. “Everything we learned back there we try to apply to all facets of what we produce now,” says Matt Sterbenz, 4FRNT’s co-owner and founder. These days the rider-owned company is enjoying the benefits of an onsite prototyping facility and peace of mind by offsetting their environmental impacts through an equipment-recycling program. As Sterbenz says, they’ve become “better parents” to their ski company.
It’s been almost four years since the last time we reported on what Salt Lake City-based 4FRNT was up to. Back in 2007, they had just partnered with the Elan factory and were working out the kinks between their design vision and their new manufacturers in Europe. “We needed gear that reflected North American skiing,” says Sterbenz. “Ski making originated in Europe and freeskiing originated in North America.” So to close that gap between American ski style and the European ski manufacturing industry, which was superior to what 4FRNT had experienced, Sterbenz and team member Eric Hjorleifson relocated the original press used to create the first 4FRNT prototypes from Vashon, WA to Salt Lake City.
Matt Sterbenz shot by Alex O'Brien
In creating what they call the White Room 4FRNT can take advantage of the facility’s prototyping capabilities. “The White Room is our laboratory of the future,” says Sterbenz. “It is the birthplace of our new models before we send them to Europe [for production].” It has also helped the company live up to the “Rider Inspired” part of their slogan. Sterbenz laughs, “Eric and Cody Barnhill get weird in the White Room.” That duo and other team members such as Wiley Miller, tinker tirelessly to develop new designs and perfect their existing models. Specifically, the onsite prototyping has allowed 4FRNT to produce their most well received model, the Renegade, from start to finish in-house. In fact Barnhill oversees all prototyping and personally produces the 186 and 196 sizes.
“Everything is evolving in stride, we ’re modernizing the collection,” Sterbenz says. “Before it was all about launching new products with ideas from the riders. We’re now starting to revamp existing models. This has helped us reach a higher level of maturity as a brand.”
With development and production on lock-down, Sterbenz and co. decided to open up a storefront alongside The White Room and warehouse, located in downtown SLC. The face-time with customers has been invaluable. “It’s given us a lot of transparency,” said Sterbenz. “Before, we didn’t often get the chance to feel what it’s like to sell your product to a complete stranger.”
With the company showing strong growth, Sterbenz began to look at 4FRNT’s internal operations. He was consciously observing the in-house production of the Renegade and the non-biodegradable materials that it required—epoxy laminated cores and metal—all of which are used to make skis last a lifetime. If a ski is thrown out, whether because it’s irreversibly damaged or the owner is just too lazy pass them on at a ski swap, that ski will just sit in a landfill. To offset 4FRNT’s impact they recently started working with Snowsports Industries of America’s Snow Sports Recycling Program. To date SSRP has recycled 300 tons of snowsports equipment. 4FRNT’s store front will serve as the greater Salt Lake City area’s drop off location. The company is also contributing a percentage of each ski sale back to the program to support the broader initiative.
“We’ve become more mature and more realistic about what we think our brand represents,” adds Sterbenz. Approaching 10 years into life as a ski brand, 4FRNT is a valuable member of the Wasatch ski industry and a long term driving force in skiing. Here’s to their next 10 years.
Where to find these guys in SLC:
SKIING: Alta or the LCC backcountry, especially Wolverine Cirque or Tuscarora
APRES: Sitzmark Club at Alta
AFTER DARK IN SLC: Jackalope
VEGAN MEALS (FOR CODY BARNHILL): Vertical Diner
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Freeskier Magazine—This is skiing.