Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis | A Family Affair
My first introduction to the Thompson family was back in the fall of 2008 covering the Snowsports Summit and Skitoberfest at Boyne Mountain. Back then, not only did Boyne have their usual fall festivities throughout the village, they also had the Snowsports Summit (now winter expo) that brought in many of the major manufacturers showing off their new wares. While wandering around taking in the event and getting stoked on all things “rockered” I stumbled on an unassuming booth tucked away back in the corner with a handful of skis, a banner and a couple flannel clad guys – Jeff and John Thompson of Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis.
At the time, there were not a lot of the smaller boutique brands like we see now and only a handful of guys were laminating up their own skis in a garage, mainly tele skiers. I was intrigued by what Jeff and John were doing, how they got there and what their plans were for the future. Were their topsheets fantastic? No. Graphics stellar? Far from it. But the fact that these guys had been making, fine tuning and testing their skis for 4 years before bringing anything to the public resonated with me.
Jeff and his brother Jonathan started pressing skis in the early 2000’s shortly after Jeff got kicked out of Nub’s Nob for trying to sneak runs in on a homemade snow bike he built. Remember snow bikes? Yeah, never caught on. Through the process of building the snow bike, Jeff had torn a few pairs of skis apart and started to understand their construction.
Jeff told me it was around the fall of 2005-ish, his brother was still coaching ski racing, Jeff was finishing up his race career and they both decided it was time to try their hand at pressing skis. It was far from success right out of the gate. Their first skis didn’t hold. Jeff admitted the wrong materials were used, temperature was all off – it wasn’t pretty. But they honed their craft.
The following summer was spent touring Mt. Hood, continuing the testing slog and making skis for themselves, and even for a few friends who expressed interest in what they were doing. Their original alpine design progressed into some fatter rocker designs that opened up their eyes to the world of freeskiing. The more people started to ask where their skis were from, the more they thought “hey we might be able to sell a few of these.”
It wasn’t until around 2007/2008 when the housing market collapsed and they had that true “ah ha” moment. John Thompson’s home construction business was feeling the pinch and the decision was made to relocate from South Lyon, MI to their current location in Boyne City. At their core, the Thompson’s are a skiing family. The economic downturn and decision to move to Boyne City made Shaggy’s their lifestyle.
While Jeff admits they don’t get to ski quite as much as they would like, they’re extremely passionate about producing quality skis with locally sourced materials. When I pressed Jeff on the topic of globally sourced materials in the ski industry he didn’t hesitate to fire right back and let me know it’s very easy now to source good quality materials from anywhere. Jeff adds “But it’s important to us that we have a relationship with the folks we’re buying from. It’s our Midwest pride.”
Touring through the Shaggy’s factory you get a real sense of where everything is coming from and why. Jeff, formally an engineer, is hellbent on sustainable manufacturing practices and is a touch of a perfectionist. He gets concerned about things like plastic degradability and lamination de-bonding, all things that are curbed by having a solid understanding of their materials and where they’re from.
Some of the best wood in the great lakes region is used for their cores. Michigan Ash. Sourced locally from a mill down the road. Their supplier knows what Shaggy’s crew wants and understands the characteristics of the wood being used. Epoxy resins from Bay City, MI. Plastics and sidewall materials out of the Midwest. One of the only things that cannot be sourced within the USA is edge material which is sourced out of Austria just like everyone else.
The Skis & The Future
The lineup for Shaggy’s has evolved just as the entire family has since our first introduction in 2008. Recently while attending the industry-only Midwest Reps Association Test Fest at Boyne Mountain, I had an opportunity to take some turns with Jeff and John on a couple pairs of freshly mounted skis that were a few days out of the press. Having noticed the absence of a Shaggy’s booth at the event, I asked the Thompson’s why the decision to not display at this year’s event? I received a very simple response from Jeff. “We decided to put the skier first.” A bold statement, but really when you get down to the core, it makes sense – Shaggy’s has made the decision to focus on what the skier wants, which is not necessarily what the “industry” wants.
The Shaggy’s team is even taking this mantra to the snow, hosting free public demos for the remainder of this season for feedback on their ’15/’16 lineup. While the Thompson’s have a direction they’re headed with each model, it’s that public opinion and feedback that will truly shape the direction of each ski. Something I think more manufacturers could take note of.
The Betsy, Shaggy’s park model has been getting a lot of attention throughout the midwest scene. On a recent trip to Montana I even spotted a couple pairs of their signature pow ski, the Tubby. Having had an opportunity to ski on prototypes for next year’s Ahmeek and Brockway, I can tell you both skis were impressive and I’m getting really stoked on the redesigned Brockway. Bomber. Ladies are not forgotten by the way, the Fanny Hooe is a legit, hard charging all mountain ripper! Not to go unmentioned, one of the newest skis out, the Phoenix, was originally developed for the U.S. Marine Corp. as an uber lightweight touring ski that’s caught the attention of Backcountry Magazine in their 2015 test sessions.
With a full lineup of skis, I encourage you to get out to one of these demos, get on some Shaggy’s and consider adding a setup to your quiver. Ride what you love, support your local ski company and get out there and make some turns.