A wood planer whines at an increasingly higher pitch, quickly removing the rough skin of a long rectangular piece of paulownia. Timber-scented dust rises from the well-used machine, illuminated by a shaft of evening light shining through a partially opened doorway in the heart of Salt Lake’s industrial cityscape. To an outsider, a cursory examination of the scene might lead one to believe that they’ve happened upon little more than a hasty carpentry job, but upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the machine operator has a careful watch on what soon will become a key part of a highly-engineered ski.
The calculations, measurements, and testing that have led to this initial step in the build process are innumerable. True innovation does not simply come from an idea, a rough sketch on a bar napkin, and a quick pass through a wood mill. It is a focused state of mind that causes very good ideas to perish, while allowing great ideas to flourish. Good is commonplace, great is rare.
To find that atypical, true innovation, one must rely on equally motivated and talented partners, each bringing a unique set of skills to the group. Part dreamers, part scientists (occasionally of the “mad” variety), those who make up the DPS research and development team rarely let more than a day or two pass without tinkering or toying with the status quo. Constantly looking to the future takes a certain mindset, putting aside the day’s responsibilities to make for a better tomorrow – or more accurately, a better year from now. What is brand new for most, becomes old and stale for these inspired individuals who constantly strive to improve upon what many consider “the best ever”.
“The best ever” is a deceptively complicated thought. To a skier, the best day ever often brings ruminations of swirling cold smoke left in the wake of bottomless plunges into the white room as the pull of gravity guides the body down seemingly endless descents. That type of memory can fuel days – even weeks – of hapless travel, struggling to decipher foreign languages and indecipherable signage, all in the hopes of re-creating a memory. But what if it wasn’t a sublime memory that fueled this type of compulsive behavior; what if it was a thought, a hope of making the best even better? This is the mindset of an innovator.
When the best has already been experienced, what is left? Not much. When one is powered by ideas from a time that lays ahead, there is no choice but to chase those notions. When the tools needed to see those concepts come to life are available, they are put to use – tirelessly. This throws a kink in traditional schedules as the numbers on a clock become useless. 9-to-5 or 5-to-9, it doesn’t really matter when days are measured in progress, not hours.
Problem solving skills are kept as sharp as the knives on the shrilling planer, now close to reaching a point of exhaustion after back-to-back shifts. Upon emergence, the perfectly milled paulownia core is cleanly mated with an insert constructed of disparate species of wood. The unlikely, horizontal harmony found between the materials represents a new, completely innovative way to manufacture the core of a ski. It takes twice the effort for the machinery, and many times more the effort for the engineers that calculate the precise ratios needed to achieve the desired, shock-absorbing effect. This type of creation morphs a mission into a vision, a memory into an intention. It embodies the will to innovate.
Photos by Rocko Menzyk