Ex-oil patch engineers turn their passion for skiing into a business

A recent arrival on the ski scene, 93 North Skis, has combined craftsmanship and engineering to produce Canmore made and designed skis that are hand-made and expertly tested. 

Sam McEwan and Max Flowerday, previously engineers at Fluor, and Pembina Pipelines in Calgary, decided to give up their stable careers to pursue their passion for skiing, by building skis.

“We were talking one weekend about doing it, then the next weekend got excited about it, and then two weeks later we handed in our notices,” said Flowerday, co-owner of 93 North Skis.

The two had been skiing in the 93 North Parkway area when they started discussing building their own pairs of skis.

The pair wanted a change from the purely intellectual work of their past careers and craved the hands-on approach of their university days.

McEwan said it was a combination of things aligning in their lives that made the circumstances ideal to start and grow a business.

“Starting a project that you’re passionate about, having a business partner who’s aligned with your kind of views, and then just having the flexibility to do that” is the key said McEwan.

The Andromeda was the duo’s first ski.

It was designed to be an all-mountain ski made from poplar and maple wood. The idea was to get the performance of a downhill ski but at a weight that supported agility and was forgiving enough for touring.

“It’s a crossover for people that want to start getting into touring or using it for maybe yo-yoing,” said McEwan.

Yo-yoing is a method of skiing that involves hiking up a section of the mountain, skiing down, and then hiking back up for multiple runs, which can offer more varied terrain than resort skiing.

This season, they are building a lightweight back-country ski and playing around with a big-mountain, big-powder ski, designed for advanced and expert skiers.

The touring ski will be tested by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guide (ACMG) ski guides throughout the 2017-18 ski season and the product will go through several phases of redesign until the two are happy with the final product.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to have a product that people believe in because it’s been tested by a bunch of experts.”

The two first learned how to build skis at a hobbyist level through various ski forums.

As they moved from hobbyist level to small production, they had to learn to design their own systems.

“That is where our design thought process comes into play, from our engineering backgrounds,” said McEwan.

At this point, each pair of skis typically takes close to nine man-hours to make.

“Max and I have that oversight from the design phase to every stage of the production,” said McEwan.

Because they share a passion for skiing, the pair can maintain a higher level of accountability to their products.

They don’t want to sell something that’s going to negatively affect the sport, or that they wouldn’t ski on.

“Being passionate about skiing makes us want to create the best product possible,” said Flowerday.

McEwan and Flowerday never saw themselves as entrepreneurs.

But, once they found skiing as an avenue to apply themselves to, it became a lot easier to imagine a future in developing products for the sport as a business.

At the end of the day, we’re going to have a product that people believe in because it’s been tested by a bunch of experts. – Max Flowerday.

Their engineering backgrounds came in handy when it came to things like designing prototypes and machinery to make the skis.

However, they had little experience in marketing and brand development.

“A lot of the business is very quantifiable, whereas, in the realm of marketing and sales it’s floating points, and you’ve got to change your mindset,” said McEwan.

Having a partnership that shares the same vision and passion was instrumental in the success of the business.

“We’re not afraid to tell the other one that they are out to lunch on something,” said Flowerday.

Their ski shop is located close to many other local businesses in the industrial area of Canmore, and they also sell through Ski West in Calgary.


About Meaghan Fitzpatrick 3 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Meaghan Fitzpatrick worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2017-18 academic year.