Kings of Skishttp://a.espncdn.com/photo/2013/0904/as_ski_kingswood1.jpg
Alex Herbert grabs the very first pair of Kingswoods from a rack in his workshop in Christchurch, New Zealand, where winter is just coming to a close in the southern hemisphere. The skis are almost completely black. Ten years old and timeless.
A decade ago, Herbert was running a ski repair business. He had a hankering for skis that simply weren't on the market, so he took his considerable repair experience and started experimenting. Before this pair, he actually dissected his favorite Dynastars, first changing the tail shape and eventually cutting them into 62 pieces -- each -- to see what was inside.
"I basically sacrificed my favorite skis for the cause. In hindsight, I probably didn't need to do that. There was nothing in there that was a secret, but I guess … these are things you've got to do," he says. And so begins the story of Kingswood.
When Herbert began skiing, at age 9, he was one of few weird, snow-worshipping groms in Sydney, Australia.
"All of my mates were surfers and I don't know what got me into skiing -- perhaps it's my mum being from Austria," he says. "In Australia, there's not much snow around. I started following the snow as soon as I left school, just following winters back-to-back overseas. I ate, slept and breathed skiing."
Herbert met his wife, Kris, in Austria. She was living in Brussels at the time. Her dad was a general who worked for NATO and Herbert was a ski bum. "I think [her dad] kind of had someone else in mind for his daughter," he laughs, "but he was a skier -- still is -- and [her parents are] really proud of what we've done."
What they've done is build a well-respected ski brand from the ground up. Kingswood consists of Herbert, Kris, and a couple of basic machines. Kris takes care of the business side of things while Herbert focuses on making the skis.
"The skis are handmade because at the time, I couldn't afford a milling machine and it's a bit of a Kiwi mentality to do things yourself," Herbert offers. "[But] anything handmade, you tend to perceive as being made with a lot of care and love, and that's definitely the case with our skis. I see them from start to finish. I take pride in my work and I'm really lucky to have a job like that."
Herbert began by shaping skis that he wanted to ride. Today, Kingswood offers 17 different shapes. The flex, weight, length and graphics of the skis can be customized.
"I think skiing was pretty stagnant up until [10 years ago] and now, we're getting such radical, different skis," he says. "There are people who think [things like rocker] are dumbing down the sport, but I don't see why you should make things hard for yourself. Why not ski better lines, and ski faster? It's awesome for the whole sport."
In addition to handling all matters of business, Kris designs most of the top sheets, minimalist designs that come in limited-edition runs of about 30 pairs of skis.
Kingswoods don't just look different, they ride different than almost any other skis on the market, and that's thanks to their bamboo core. Bamboo absorbs a lot of energy and makes for a springy ski with good rebound. It rarely warps and it's super strong, so even though it's heavier than a lot of alternative core materials, the material enables Herbert to use less carbon and fiberglass, which keeps the weight in check.
The skis are handmade because at the time, I couldn’t afford a milling machine and it’s a bit of a Kiwi mentality to do things yourself.Alex Herbert
Herbert makes about 100 pairs of Kingswoods each year and reckons that 130 pairs would be the perfect number to just "maintain," which is all he really wants for the company.
"I just want to keep it simple. And keep it … I wouldn't say exclusive, but just …" he trails off. "Ah, I suppose exclusive's the right word," he concedes.
Getting your hands on a pair of Kingswoods will cost you around $1,200 and usually takes three weeks, but tack on an extra week for overseas shipping all the way from New Zealand.
Being based in Christchurch is a big part of the brand's identity. "There are some very creative people in this town doing awesome things, and it's inspirational," he says. "Along with the skiing and the surfing, it's what keeps me here. I don't look away [from here] and go, 'Oh, the grass is always greener.' I think it's pretty green here."