Snow piles deep each winter on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a region of vast forests, rivers, small mountains, and the immense body of Lake Superior to the north. Not many people live on the U.P. But those who do, like David Ollila, often embrace outdoor activities with a fervor.
For Ollila, this means mountain biking and backcountry skiing. He founded U.P. Mountain Biking Magazine in 1995. To record his exploits, Ollila later invented a helmet-camera design that would eventually grow into a successful company, V.I.O. Inc.
Ollila's latest venture, Snapperhead Inventions LLC, was a company born after a year of development and $70,000 in borrowed capital. The company's sole offering, the Marquette Backcountry Ski, is a unique piece of winter gear custom made for terrain similar to what's found in the woods and hills above Ollila's home on the U.P.
He touts the invention as "30 percent snowshoe, 70 percent ski." "It was designed around the topography and snowfall amounts in and around Marquette," Ollila said.
It's not a cross-country ski. It can't be classified as alpine, either. What the Marquette Backcountry Ski (www.marquette-backcountry.com) offers is a short, wide ski with a fish-scale base to allow for flat land and uphill travel. No kick wax or climbing skins are needed for touring in the backcountry.
The ski is 140cm in length and 130mm underfoot. This formula gives it enough speed going down as well as some float in powder. But it's fat and short enough to tromp in thick woods where snowshoes usually reign.
There are no metal edges on the Marquette Backcountry Ski. Sharp plastic on its edges let you cut and carve in soft snow, but it is not made for icy slopes at resorts.
The ski is made with polypropylene, glass, and silicone, and it has threaded brass inserts for mounting bindings. Marquette Backcountry Ski users can employ stout Telemark boots and bindings or lighter Nordic gear.
The ski's versatility is a hallmark. It's designed for a wide swath of terrain and a wide swath of users, from experts needing this specialty tool in their quiver to beginners looking for an inexpensive, get-out-and-go option.
The Marquette Backcountry Ski is available this month online and at two stores in Michigan. It costs $179.
Ollila is Snapperhead Inventions' creator and sole employee. The ski is made 100 percent in Michigan. According to Ollila, it's built in "an ISO9000-type factory with big giant machines and large output." He said the company can produce up to 100 pair per day.
I'm excited to test this unique new ski over the coming months. It looks perfect for backwoods terrain in places like Minnesota's North Shore or any number of wilderness areas out East. Watch for the stout boards this winter in backcountry near you, be it on Michigan's Upper Peninsula or far beyond.
--Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.