UPDATE: Now with full video
It all started on October 28, 2009, when Nico Virgi walked into Al’s Sporting Goods in Logan, Utah. He purchased a pair of Kung Fujas skis and collected his scratch ticket. After having a shop employee kiss his nickel, he got to scratching, and saw the magic underneath: he had found one of five golden tickets, awarding him a trip to the K2 headquarters in Seattle with Seth Morrison.
Seth Morrison is the decider.
But he wasn’t the only one. 14-year-old Taylor Lessard won a ticket at Henderson’s Skis & Snowboards in Quechee, VT. Electrician Jeff Collie won a ticket from the Ski Hut in Duluth, Minnesota. David Henderson, who could not make it on the trip, won his ticket at Doc’s Ski Haus in Moraga, California. And last but not least, Maxwell Erpenbach from Souix Falls, South Dakota, won the last ticket online at FreeSkisForLife.com.
On Monday, the four winners and one mysterious jerk named Drew Henderson — filling in for David Henderson — flew to Seattle to get things underway. After a quick dinner at the Hard Rock downtown, the contestants headed to bed, excited (and confused) about things to come on Tuesday. The competitors were essentially told nothing. All they knew is that they were going to compete in some way, and Seth was going to pick a winner. Very mysterious.
Welcome to K2
Tuesday morning came quickly. Nico, Taylor, Jeff, Max and Drew arrived in the lobby of K2. After a sufficiently awkward silence as the competitors waited for something to happen, Seth Morrison descended the stairs to the lobby in silence, as five stunned golden ticket holders awaited something to happen. Seth cooly asked for everyone’s golden ticket; only two had brought theirs. The rest did jumping jacks, situps and pushups to gain entry. Once Seth was satisfied, K2’s Jeff Mechura, dressed up as a K2umpa Loompa, dropped the 13-foot contract from the top balcony, and the competitors signed their life away. They were then given jumpsuits, spray-painted yellow, green, orange, pink and gold. Those were the uniforms and they were to wear them for the next twelve hours.
The doors were opened into the office, and the competitors were herded into a nearby elevator. Up they wentâ€¦ up up up. They got off the elevator only to find they had ascended three feet. “We’re not supposed to be hereâ€¦ back down!” said Mechura, and the group walked back down stairs, all the three of them, only to find themselves back at the beginning. Up everyone went again, this time an entire floor, and the crew was quickly turned back around down the stairs, back to the start. After an eventful ten minutes, the mysterious ways of the Free Skis for Life contest were becoming apparent.
One of the hallways in the office, filled with K2 history.
Once Mr. K2umpa Loompa figured out how to get to the factory, it was game on and the day took off. First up, the competitors learned how to make skis, start to finish. Ski maker Aaron demonstrated what goes into Seth’s ski, starting with the bases, the first layers of fiberglass, the core, the sidewalls, all the way to the top sheet. In just about 15 minutes, everyone watched as a ski was constructed and placed in the press.
What the competitors didn’t know was that they needed to pay attention, for soon after, they would each be making their very own pair of skis. But they didn’t find out until it was their turn. After they watched Aaron skillfully put the ski together, they were quickly swooped to the rest of the factory where they learned about all the different things that go into milling, cutting, testing, weaving the different parts of the ski. Very cool.
The braiding machine that wraps the cores with fiberglass.
Once the tour of the workshop floor was completed, the competitors were quickly whisked into a detailed history of the brand, dating all the way back to Bill Kirschner, who founded the company making dog kennels back in 1961. But one competitor vanished from the group, as Seth had pulled him off the tour to go on a secret mission. That secret mission was to make your own ski, without any help from anyone. Hope you were paying attention, Max!
While Max was trying to remember which way the core goes in, the crew on the history tour were treated with a new surprise of their own: a pop quiz on what they had just learned. The mysterious competitor, Drew, was busy distracting people the whole time, stealing things, and just generally causing a ruckus. He even went ahead and started a fork lift, much to the surprise of everyone around. What a character. And what a jerk.
Jeff Collie checks out the Orange County Choppers custom K2 ride during the history tour.
Jeff Collie, winnter #3, better known as Mr. Yellow, won the quiz by a landslide. From the history tour, it was off to the next challenge: pick one of four skis and put them through the pressure tester. This machine bends and smashes skis until they break, a test all prototypes go through before being called a good ski. Drew won this challenge, and claimed it for the next couple hours. While four were breaking shit, another was whisked away by Seth to try his hand at making a pair of skis.
After each competitor made his pair of skis, he was then thrust into another, secret challenge that he was sworn to secrecy about. That challenge was to ask Seth Morrison 20 questions. Each competitor was then judged on the valor of their Qs. All of this somehow played into Seth’s decision to pick who would win free skis for the rest of their life. Very cool.
Nico has his 20 minutes to ask Seth 20 questions.
After the ski breaking, things really stepped up. The crew moved to the massive warehouse (which lengthwise runs almost a quarter of a mile), where they learned about shipping and receiving. At first it sounded kind of boring, but the size and sheer volume of product that’s in this one room is astounding. And some of the characters who have been working at K2 for over 30 years were fun to meet. One duo showed us how to package four skis in a box in 11 seconds. ELEVEN seconds! We’re thinking of sending our interns out there for a day to study so they realize how shit gets done the right way. All the while, Drew, the strangest competitor by a country mile, decided to play soccer, do tail whips on a scooter, and steal as much stuff as he could. At this point it was evident he was either going to win or get arrested.
And what better a challenge than to box up your own pair of skis, fastest time wins. Mr. Yellow won this one again, beating the rest of the kids by about 20 seconds, taping up a box of skis in 29. The plant manager then did it in 20. No big deal.
Next up was a game of horse, err, Morrison, on the basketball court. 14-year-old Taylor won this challenge by sinking shot after shot. If he was playing beer pong, he would’ve been on fire the whole time. Note to self, when he turns 21 in seven years, don’t play against him.
By this time, four of the competitors had made skis (or some sort of ski-like item that you’d probably never actually want to ride on), and it was time for the last challenge: K2 artist Ryan Schmies needed help with Seth’s next ski design, so each golden ticket holder was given a blank sketch of a pair of skis, and were asked to design something. Max, the online winner, won this challenge hands down. His design consisted of wild animals on fire (wtf?), a picture of a guy skiing down lava (wtf?), and other themes of destruction and strangeness. Seth loved it. Win.
After a full day chock full of learning, quizzing, mystery and hand-making your own pair of skis, the challenge portion of the day was wrapped up. The competitors had an hour to relax at the hotel before being shipped off to dinner at Duke’s on Alki in West Seattle. Each competitor was put on the spot, told they had to give a five-minute presentation of their day, and the ski they made. These presentations were amazing. The stoke oozed off each presenter, with some on the brink of tears. It was a long day packed to the brim with challenges, all hosted by legend Seth Morrison, and it came to a finale in the presentations.
JT Holmes was on hand at dinner to scope the final presentations.
When it was time for Drew to make his presentation, all eyes were focused on what this jerk was going to say. “I don’t want those skis, I don’t want anything that Seth Morrison has touched,” he started out with, while jaws dropped. (Nico later confessed to me that he was sure Drew was going to win, because he was so ridiculous and out there). “So instead of presenting my ski,” Drew continued, “I’m going to show you all the shit I stole today!” And so he showed us: an Urkle doll, a drill, some other tools, memorabilia from the K2 bar, someone’s cell phone, and on and onâ€¦ an entire backpack full of worthless (or priceless) items. “Oh, and one more thing,” he said. “I’m not who I say I am. I actually work for K2. Nico, I know you were about to kick my ass, and I’m sorry. I’m not really an asshole, I swear!”
We were worried that everyone had figured it out at this point, but luckily, a wave of shock (and mostly relief) came through the competitors as they realized this jackass was just punking them. “I feel like I’ve been got,” said Nico in his exit interview.
So with one less competitor to worry about, it was down to four:
And the winner isâ€¦
Seth Morrison announces the winner. Sorry for the shitty audio. Real video coming soon.
Finally allowed to take off their jump suits, the four competitors pose for a photo at the Last Supper.
Nico: moved to Utah to go to school so he could ski. Following his dream.
Max: Entered the online contest a thousand times in hopes of winning a ticket.
Jeff: Oldest guy in the contest, has two kids, says it’s cool that Seth is his idol, and everyone else’s, too.
Taylor: 14 years old, ski racer like Seth was when he was a kid.
With much anticipation and stress, Seth announced the winner: “Nico, you have just won free skis for the rest of your life!”
A marching band played, hands were shaken and Nico accepted the best prize in skiing.
Congratulations to everyone who entered and competed. We’re already looking forward to doing this again next year. And check back soon as we’ll be posting a legit video of the day’s festivities.
The WINNER of FREE SKIS FOR LIFE: Nico Virgi