SpiralMade™: The Origin Story
Kicking off our 2023 season, our latest materials science advancement takes shape in SpiralMade™ recycled materials - our own take on the concept of circularity. Rather than moving in a perfectly closed loop, these materials move in a spiral, adding performance to products by taking on new life in new places.
The Origin Story
Since WNDR Alpine’s birth in 2019, we’ve vowed to use biotechnology advanced fabrication techniques to create the highest performing materials and products we possibly could while seeking to continually reduce our impact. This began with the introduction of Algal Core in 2019, and subsequently Algal Wall in 2020.
Both innovations helped support this mission, by reducing our dependence on petroleum derived materials. And just as crucially, these materials created improvements in construction and impact absorption over traditional materials, supporting our conviction that cutting edge products and responsible design could in fact live in harmony.
Still, there was far more work to do. Tired of seeing production scraps immediately becoming waste after production, we began saving some of these scraps (known as flashings) less than a year after we launched. Director of Product Innovation Daniel Malmrose was convinced we could create something of value with these flashings, having had a longstanding history exploring product life cycles and waste reduction in the snowboard industry.
Let’s not sugarcoat it: ski and snowboard production is an inherently wasteful process. Instead of sweeping it under the rug, let’s do something about it as an industry. Salt Lake City, UT. FOW: Alex Andrews // Photo: Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)
As always, experimentation and innovation are iterative. We sought to prove that 1, we could recycle our own materials in house, and 2, we could use these materials in a way that somehow had a genuine benefit to their end consumer.
Ski Stands and Proof of Concept
Proof of concept: An algal cast polyurethane (same material as Algal Wall) ski scraper, and a recycled one derived from ground up flashings. Salt Lake City, UT. Photo: Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)
With every iterative process, it’s best to begin with the low hanging fruit. We began in the simplest way possible, by grinding up production flashings from our early days into roughly 5mm particles, and then mixing them with the same biobased resin used in our ski and snowboard layup. From there, we were able to put the mixture into metal molds designed to fit into our ski press.
Ground up flashings being mixed with a biobased resin system. Salt Lake City, UT. Photo: Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)
The next step was to create something that required some degree of consistency in production and forced us to be a bit more aware of tolerances. Our 2021 ski stands were the product of further R&D work in which we varied up the ratio of flashings to biobased resin.
If you've been to any of our retail partners, chances are you've seen one of these in person. Salt Lake City, UT. Photo: Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)
Now we were getting somewhere. The ski stands carried the message of what we seek to do with our materials and products in writing, and simultaneously served as a real life proofpoint that we could in fact do something useful with our waste. However, the performance demands of this project were far fewer than those of a product component that sees daily abuse under one’s feet in the backcountry.
Developing the Spiral Plate
After gaining a better understanding of how to work with our own materials, the next step would be the most rewarding one: implement the material directly into our own product.
We chose a ski’s boot plate as the first obvious application of our recycled materials for a few reasons. We already had some concerns with the maple boot plates - namely its rigid feel, high density, and lack of visibility to supply chain and responsible harvesting techniques. Plus, Daniel had a hunch that we could actually improve upon retention strength over maple. More on that soon…
Molding the Spiral Plate. Salt Lake City, UT. FOW: Zach St. Clair // Photo: Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)
To create these recycled boot plates, materials scientist Neal Anderson experimented with boot plate thickness ranging from 3 to 5 millimeters to optimize for both weight and binding screw retention. We also increased the ratio of recycled material to biobased resin, allowing us to further utilize waste upon entering serial production.
Through measurements taken in the Design Lab, we found that replacing maple with this new material gave the ski more consistent stiffness end to end, meaning that we could easily tune flex along the length of the ski by varying overall thickness, without any dramatic spikes in stiffness that would ordinarily be caused by a dense maple plate.
The finished Spiral Plate, ready to be integrated into a ski core. Salt Lake City, UT. Photo: Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)
Next up was snowboards. Naturally, the lack of drilling required to mount a snowboard binding meant that integrating the SpiralMade™ material would be less focused on retention strength, and more about efficiency and user friendliness. Our team designed oval insert packs to house each threaded steel binding insert, which would make board assembly faster and more efficient, and virtually eliminate insert spin.
Spiral Plate threaded insert packs integrate seamlessly into our snowboards, improving retention strength and assembly efficiency. Salt Lake City, UT. Photo: Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)
The Final Product
The result of multiple seasons of experimentation and formulation is our all-new palette of SpiralMade™ materials. Spiral Plate offers approximately 35% better binding retention strength in a ski than a traditional boot plate, and in a snowboard, offers 5% better retention strength than traditional construction and virtually eliminates the possibility of insert spin.