The Birth of the Vital 100
Developed with a focus on technical skiing, stability, and quick pivoting, the Vital 100 was destined for the high alpine.
But how - and why - we reached this ski is a more involved story...
In July 2019, we had just debuted the years’ worth of work in creating the WNDR Alpine brand and the creation of our Intention 110.
As you might expect, we were already heads down on new technology and shapes to begin field testing as soon as the snow started to fly. But into the winter, our thoughts began to revolve around something narrow, quick, and diverse enough to extend one’s season well into the spring and even summer.
Sacrilegious to dream of alpine corn amidst last year’s midwinter pow? Perhaps. But there’s a certain joy found in planning - and designing - for what lies ahead. To us, it feels inherently right to embrace the future with open arms, while simultaneously doing what we can to create a better one. So we set about creating the tool that would take us to new heights in the coming months.
The journey began by considering the specific alpine experience we wished to unlock. Hours were spent quizzing our FOWs to get a feel for what they were looking for in their backcountry quivers, and evaluating what we felt was missing from ours.
The consensus was a narrow-waisted ski with an emphasis on high consequence, technical descending - the kinds of puckering lines that require commitment and full trust from one turn to the next. This couldn’t be an overly nervous mountaineering ski either. Rather, it would be one that could hold its own against much heavier freeride skis, but in a weight and geometry perfect for long approaches in steep terrain.
Precision and versatility, summed up by lines and tapered arcs. Image: Logan Imlach
As was the case with the well loved Intention 110, we brought our FOW and ski shaper Logan Imlach into the loop early on to come up with a geometry that would support our unique inclinations.
Imlach, who grew up tinkering from a young age and leveraged his creativity to bring some well known shapes to market under other brands, is no stranger to thinking outside the box. He quickly came back to us with a shape that was equal parts high speed ripper and precision needle threader: the ski combines a 100mm waist width with a longer turn radius - a combination that we found to be equally comfortable quickly pivoting edge to edge and maintaining stability upon wide, high speed turns on open terrain.
Our AlgalTech™ ski materials platform can occasionally make our production facility look a bit more like the set of Breaking Bad than your typical ski factory. Scientist: Charles "CJ" Rand // Photo: Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)
At the same time, scientists Scott Franklin and Charles “CJ” Rand were hard at work developing a new sidewall material, derived from our own microalgae oil.
Frustrated with the limitations of traditional ABS plastic sidewalls, we realized that we could design our own - to simultaneously improve on-snow performance, boost durability, and reduce the amount of waste produced when profiling extruded plastics. The answer lay in a cast polyurethane sidewall.
Of course, reaching the desired material was easier said than done. Not every polyurethane is created equal, so we created roughly 90 different formulations, ranging from extremely stiff and brittle to soft and elastic. The formulation we settled on was perfect for integration into a ski sidewall: rigid enough for structural support, yet with enhanced damping characteristics over ABS alternatives, with a strength that actually increases when the temperatures drop vs. the other way around. We titled this new project Algal Wall.
Using the Algal Core as a mold for pouring in the liquid sidewall resulted in a stronger overall ski construction and less manufacturing waste. Salt Lake City, UT. Photo: Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)
We integrated this new formulation into our ski prototypes by pouring it into a channel that completes the ski’s outline geometry. This allowed the new polyurethane to bond directly to the core, creating a stronger bond between the two components as it cured. As a bonus, this casting method meant that the process resulted in almost no extra waste going to the landfill during profiling.
With a versatile shape and a completely new material to shake down, we were itching to step into our bindings...
Our goals with testing the prototype ski were simple: put it through the wringer in the most diverse conditions we could find across North America over the course of the winter, spring, and summer.
Conveniently, we had already assembled a crew of FOWs and early stakeholders to do exactly that.
Perhaps the most notable adventure was Andy Cochrane, Wyatt Roscoe, and Gudar Hagen’s fully human-powered volcano trip, in which they biked between and skied seven volcanoes in the PNW. While we’re pretty sure that most of the trip fell squarely into the “type 2 fun” category, it made for an unforgettable read in Freeskier and provided further validation of what we had created.
What's 650 miles of bike touring when there's yet another volcano to ski? Wyatt Roscoe lets the Vital loose in its natural habitat. mps are warming and corn cycles are coming! Mt. McLoughlin, OR. Photo: Andy Cochrane (@andrewfitts)
“First impressions: How fast they could turn over for their size. We had pretty smooth corn on Lassen so I didn't really get to feel their stability on sh*tty snow, but I was immediately impressed with the turning radius and snappy feel.
In terms of conditions for the whole trip, we really got a mix of everything – corn, powder, slush, hardpack. Even some ice, rime, and chicken heads. I think they are as advertised – a great all-around ski – and probably their biggest value is the weight. They are much lighter than most skis of similar size, making this a great ski for someone just getting started in the backcountry.”
-Andy Cochrane, outdoor journalist and photographer
Up in Banff, FOW Brandon Gulstene went for his own human-powered adventures, checking off line by line as the snowpack firmed up, often after a bit of pedaling or paddling.
Not to be outdone by the Americans, Mr. Stoke upped the stakes when it came to unusual approach methods. Banff, AB. FOW: Brandon Gulstene // Photo: Marcus Baranow (@confessionsofaskibum)
“From my first turns on the Vitals I was blown away at how agile and stable they felt. In scary conditions it felt like I could get away with murder on these skis. From steep couloirs to rolling hills, I found everything from isothermic soup to borderline ice to perfect corn. The Vitals handled them like a dream. I can't wait to take these skis into the big mountains and really push them to see what they're capable of!”
-Brandon Gulstene, FOW, ACMG Guide, and ski patroller
Back at home, a number of FOW, including Pep Fujas, Kyle Toohey, Harrison Brickman, and Jack Stauss, evaluated the prototypes out on familiar terrain in the Wasatch.
Jack Stauss indulges in some late season pow aboard a Vital 100 prototype. Wasatch Range, UT. Photo: Carson Meyer (@carsonmeyerphoto)
“I skied the Vital 100 all over the Central Wasatch Mountains. I skied some of the tallest and most extreme mountains in the area - Twin Peaks, Timpanogos, The Wolverine Cirque - as well as easy tours into gladed areas and open bowls. I encountered a myriad of conditions: powder, corn, chalk, dust on crust, chunky avy debris, sun crust and soggy mush. It did well skiing all of these - excelling at chalk, corn snow, and dusty on crust. I really enjoyed arcing turns in smooth corn on the Vital, but I also was able to hit some fairly good sized drops into pow, which it also handled well. The size and weight of the ski also makes it really enjoyable to hop and slash through terrain features. As far as uphill travel is concerned, this ski, like the Intention 110 is an absolute pleasure to tour on. It's snappy on switchbacks and glides swiftly on the skin track.
I would suggest the Vital 100 to two different demographics. The first is the hard charging skier that wants to do big alpine missions but not compromise on the performance and structural integrity of the ski. They ski gnarly and potentially firm conditions in big mountains, but are still able to open it up and rip wide turns in good style. You will not have chatter or sloppiness in your descent; and if you are hitting sharky rocks, the sidewalls and base will not blow up like they do on other lightweight touring skis. The second is a skier who wants a board that will be a one stop quiver for most mountain ranges. At 100 mm it is able to ski just about anything.”
-Jack Stauss, FOW, backcountry educator, and writer