On this sunny morning in March, the peaks surrounding Disentis are showing off the fresh powder. It was a windy night due to a change in weather, but the thick walls of the monastery have kept us safe.
Monastery? That’s right: the Benedictine monastery here in Disentis runs its own hotel, and we are believers! Our corner room had the best views of any room in this historic town. The furniture is made of local pinewood, a smell that conjures up memories of ski holidays.
By definition, the Kloster Disentis Hotel with its dining hall is run by monks. Brothers Franz and Martin are fascinating and friendly hosts, giving us insight into the lives of monks in the 21st century.
It’s possible to build your own skis at the Anavon ski workshop
At first, I could hardly believe the premise of walking out with a pair of skis after a one-day workshop. But the ski builders from Anavon Ski AG, a young brand with local roots, have reassured us: their sheer wealth of experience and the optimized processes would make it possible.
On the way to the ski building workshop, we see evidence of the age-old ski tradition in this part of Switzerland. Some barns showcase the evolution of skis from the wooden boards they once were.
The Anavon workshop is located just below the Disentis train station. We are greeted at the door by René Zähnler, the Anavon CEO. He will be pairing up with Mamiko while David Cathomen is my ski building expert.
Custom skis in all the colors of the rainbow
René explains that we will be building our very own Anavon Dual Performance skis (ADP). Their asymmetrical shape combined with high-tech materials will make us better skiers. Think perfectly carved turns and fast downhill speeds...
The skis come standard in white or black, as well as in a growing number of additional colors. On top, Anavon supports a rainbow of color systems, from RAL to Pantone. In essence, you could have your favorite color code (Pantone 032!) decorating your skis.
But custom skis by Anavon are about much more than their fresh color palette. Sure, some customers might base their purchase decision on this particular USP. But as René explains: “The key differentiator of our custom performance skis is the fusion of traditional craftsmanship with high-quality materials.”
What’s inside a ski? I have never really given it much thought until this workshop. A ski is a pressed panini sandwich containing about 20 individual layers. It all starts with a thick layer of NHS race base - the black surface gliding across the ice. Anavon uses a thicker layer than your regular off-the-shelf pair of skis, boosting its product’s longevity. “Since an Anavon ski can be serviced more often, it may last up to a decade,” René states.
We need to talk about ash wood
Some of the earliest Swiss ski builders have recognized the stability of ash wood. They would shape logs of this local wood into skinny boards in order to slide down a mountainside. Anavon is paying tribute to this century-old legacy by building the core of the ski from Switzerland-grown ash wood.
The exposed layer of ash not only gives the ski a unique visual note. Thanks to its long fibers, this type of wood is exceptionally qualified for performance gear. Apart from providing stability, the ash functions as a natural shock absorber.
In order to balance the elasticity among both the left and right ski, David hand selects the ash core. “It is important that both skis are built from one and the same piece of wood.”
My curiosity is sparked and I examine the ash layers David has pre-selected; the annual growth rings are identical! “Each detail counts and ultimately contributes to the high quality of our performance ski,” David explains.
Other important layers in a ski are carbon fiberglass (torsion and flex), rubber (shock absorption), and titanal aluminum (flexibility yet stability). In between, sheets of glue will mend all the layers during the heating and pressing cycle.
By the time we add the iconic red topsheet showcasing the Anavon logo, I count about 20 layers of material that went into each ski.
Kaizen meets ski building
Between all the layers inside the ski, there is a meta-layer that only Anavon with its years of experience has. A complex product such as a ski requires defined and streamlined processes. Our curiosity is sparked when we realize that Anavon embraces the kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement.
The open-floor workshop appears clean, decluttered and transparent for all to see. All the work stations are movable, allowing the ski builders to reduce inefficiencies and optimize processes.
Kaizen does not stop with the production line, it extends into all aspects of the business. “At the core, we produce a ski,” says René. “But once a month, we discuss ideas on how to improve. By revising and trying things, we go one step back, yet two steps forward.”
Off into the press, they go!
There is no better step to watch this experience come into play than during the finishing.
Our skis have now been heated and pressed. The layers are molded together and any excess glue has drained out. David places the skis on a rolling shelf and brings us to the area with the power tools.
With a steady hand and keen eye, he proceeds to carve each ski on a band saw.
After cutting the skis into shape, David moves to the sanding machine. With motions reminding of tai chi, he gives the skis just the right curves and angles. This process once again shows the wealth of experience this ski builder has.
And the rest is history! These ski builders surely cannot keep their joy a secret... 😅
Time to take our Anavon skis to the test! Sedrun is a sunny resort with various types of slopes. We love the rustic chalets that dots the area.
Notice the beautiful core of natural wood?
Disentis has its own ski resort, too. It is easily accessible and offers some breathtaking views. Families will love it for the many beginner ski lifts, too.
Thank you for having us, Team Anavon and Disentis-Sedrun!
(Disclaimer: for the purpose of our research, Anavon Ski AG has offered their ski building workshop for the two of us. Disentis-Sedrun has provided ski passes and accommodation.)