Al Eagleton is a woodworker, carpenter and founder of Instinct Killer Ski Corp. Mr. Eagleton makes the skis by hand in his workshop, from wood he chops from his 30-acre forested plot of land outside of Rossland, B.C.
I love skiing and the mountain culture and have been heavily immersed in it for most of my life.
A school ski trip, as a kid growing up in Winnipeg, got me excited about skiing. I took lessons and worked at a ski shop. I fled the Prairies as soon as I could. I went to be a ski bum in Lake Louise and then went to Rossland in the heart of the Kootenays, lived in Hazelton, B.C., and then came back to Rossland.
Skiing became a lifestyle. I found employment in order to facilitate that. Skiing is a winter sport and construction is in the off-season. When I was young, I started working for a carpenter who was also a ski patroller in the winter. He was a really great influence and taught me a lot. It was a hands-on apprenticeship. I started my own company not long after. I’ve been self-employed for years as a woodworker and in general construction.
Having the ski company is relatively new. I started it about five years ago and really only started selling the skis in 2017. If we can hit our targets for production it will start to be a profitable little business but, for now, I still build houses, too.
The company is called Instinct based on how you feel on the mountain. You want a tool on your feet that does what you want it to do, but you don’t want to think about it. You just want to enjoy the ride.
We are hand-making skis in a very different fashion. We only make about 150 to 200 pairs of skis a year, which is a small number. That number has to go up, but not drastically. I don’t want to turn it into what everyone else does. I’d really like for it to stay similar and be humbly profitable. I also don’t want the fun to be ruined by business. We’re excited about it and exploring where it can go.
The development of our products is also very heavily influenced by the skiing at Red Mountain Resort here in Rossland. The mountain shapes the people who ski here. The terrain creates better skiers and the general skier here is really quite advanced.
Rossland is a fantastic town filled with extraordinary people. Our little town has only about 3,500 people but they are some of the best in the world. The number of pro or high-level athletes along with Olympians and world champions who live here or come from here is ridiculous. I can name them all but that would get long.
The process of developing our skis was almost serendipitous. I’ve been involved in lots of different projects over the years, many I am grateful for, but the ski company has almost fed itself. When I needed help with 3D computer modelling, before I could ask anyone my friend Patrick Fritch came forward. Jacob Jamin, a friend of a friend, also wanted to be involved; excited about the project, he got to work. Since then he has been invaluable and has headed up graphic design, website development and is now a partner. Many others with specific skills have contributed as well.
When we finally finished our own testing and we knew we had a quality product, we thought we’d try to get it in the hands of a ski magazine to tell the world, but how to do that? I started making calls and learned that Powder Magazine [an influential industry publication] was coming to Red Mountain for its 18th annual Powder Week – powder snow ski testing. We became involved a month later and won a skier’s choice award.
I can do what I’ve been doing forever but to start something new like this is a pretty major leap. It’s a bit scary. It does feel sometimes like my background – the different jobs and skills acquired – have been all waiting for this to happen.
I also believe that the mountain culture is what has helped breed such a positive progressive venture. I really do appreciate the support from the community and from everyone who has been involved.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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