In 1985 the Fels brothers, Dave and Chris, built their first ski in their studio. Artist David Fels hand-carved an innovative new sidecut and camber profile from a length of laminated wood.
After gluing on the base and edges, they drove from Ottawa, Ontario to Gray Rocks, a ski resort located in the Laurentian mountains of Quebec—the only place with any snow left in the area on that frosty morning in May.
We had to hike up the hill to test the skis. It was amazing to instantly feel the benefits of the new shape of the ski; I was so pumped I didn’t get tired hiking up the hill multiple times. That day was the debut of Fels skis and the shape ski evolution. Soon after, with a patent in hand, the Fels brothers began to promote their boutique-handcrafted skis.
At the time, I, Chris, was a ski instructor at the famed Gray Rocks Snow Eagle Ski School. The key goal of the five-day program was to focus on improving the skills of each skier. Every Friday, after an extensive week of lessons, I would take my ski group to Mount Tremblant, across the lake, as a reward for their hard work. I constantly sought innovative ways to fast track skiers’ skiing ability, including my own, through training and participating in races at every opportunity. I taught year round, in winters at Gray Rocks, and during Canadian summers, at ski resorts in Portillo, Chile and Turoa, New Zealand.
Dave was the new school free skier of that era. He would join me on my days off and together, we would rip up terrain no one else would dare venture onto. I was amazed how Dave would leap off a mogul, flying airborne through a thicket of maple trees off the side of the trail, and re-emerge onto the mogul field at warp speed further down the run. Even more shocking, he would then vault over a fence, recover his balance, just in time to launch off a rock ledge and throw a huge helicopter on his 203cm skinny skis!
One après ski evening, Dave and I reflected on our day of skiing. Dave asked me, “You spend so much time working on perfecting your technique to ski better. Why not just make a better ski?” I laughed and argued that the major ski manufactures had research and development budgets and teams of engineers to design their skis. “How could we do better?” The challenge was on! We started brainstorming what needed to change—the shape of the ski!
The Fels brothers were the first to radically modify the camber profile and sidecut profile in skis and we obtained a patent to prove our design was unique. Little did we anticipate the challenges that we would face within an industry that entertained limited changes in ski design at the time.
Through perseverance and determination, we amassed equipment, purchasing a press, formally used to build Rossignol skis, and tracked down materials not readily found in Canada. We setup a small shop in a new design studio.
After successfully producing in-house prototypes, and selling skis to supportive friends and family, a window of opportunity opened. Don Lyon, a renowned coach for the Canadian Women’s National Alpine Ski Team in the 90’s, and Dave Irwin, a former “Crazy Canuck” National Ski Team Member endorsed the Fels ski. They were super enthusiastic about the performance of the Fels skis. Investment followed and the Fels brothers formed the Fels Canadian Ski Company.
We began producing skis at the Blizzard plant in Austria for distribution with the encouragement and support of many ski specialty retail shops.
I remember building my first web site in the mid 90’s. The internet was so new; simply creating a moving gif of our logo was such a new concept at the time.
The worldwide web has certainly grown in a direction that provides small companies, such as ours, a specialty ski company, an avenue for discovery and marketing.
Just before the arrival of the 21st century, The Fels brothers noticed other ski companies were “catching on” to changing conventional geometry, introducing a pronounced sidecut shape.
Already a mogul leap ahead, Dave envisioned and built a completely new concept in ski design in his prototype facility, funded by a supportive investor and skiing enthusiast.
Dave invented a two-part ski with interchangeable running surfaces that could be swapped out on the fly. You could switch from a tight radius narrow waist ski for groomed trails to a wider base suitable for powder in two minutes, right at the ski rack, using the same ski and binding. I was ecstatic with our first test. Together, we worked on refinements and the procurement of new materials. Shop owners who gave the new ski prototype a test run were amazed with the ski design’s performance. News traveled fast through the ski industry and the major manufacturers, such as K2 and Atomic, began working on similar design concepts.
With a new patent in hand, and an excited industry hungry for the next innovation, The Fels brothers were ready to go. Unfortunately, production never went forward given the high costs involved to create the setup required to produce a two-component ski. The Fels Brothers returned to skiing and began thinking about their next endeavor.
In 2012, eager to reignite our presence, I carved up the slopes with a new ski by Fels which we slyly named Caution. The skis came in three lengths: 168cm, 78mm waist which we called Caution Time; a stiffer version, named Caution Velocity; and a 168cm 90mm waist that we called Caution Wide. Ski Canada Magazine published an article to celebrate the return of the Fels brothers and their Caution skis.
Four years later the Fels brothers decided to team up with a Quebec ski manufacturer, who produced skis for other ski designers, including J Ski, owned by the former founder of world-renowned Freeski Company: Line Skis. That year, two new Fels Ski models of Caution Vie were released.
In 2017, the Quebec company ramped up their production line and were unable to fit us in for a small run of skis. Dave and I were content with our small boutique offering of Caution skis. We concluded that there was more value and fun in working on designs rather than focusing on selling skis in an oversaturated market. Ski companies have now virtually produced every shape imaginable. We wanted to design skis for skiers seeking a unique and customized approach.
Coincidently, Thoroughbred Custom Skis, a new company, was setting up at the base of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Dave Horsfield, like us, does not want to sell volume; he preferred to focus on the requirements of each individual client he built skis for. The idea of customized service and limited production runs resonates with my original motivation to build skis: to improve skiers’ individual techniques and skiing excitement.
Partnering with Thoroughbred Custom Skis is extremely rewarding. The joy of testing new skis the day they come off the press is exhilarating. Dave Horsfield takes painstaking time and effort to ensure every design detail is incorporated into each ski. Attention to detail has fast tracked the creation of Attitude, the newest Fels ski innovation on the slopes, thanks to the expertise of Dave Horsfield, and the Fels brothers.
Now launching our new design, in 2020/21, we welcome you to the arrival of the ATTITUDE line of skis! Read about the models and options available.
Since 1985 The Fels brothers, have persisted, adapted, and innovated within an ever-changing industry. The Fels brothers have been offering their boutique ski Fels for over 25 years. One of the most rewarding parts of the venture has been the loyalty of our customers over the years. We even have some our original representatives skiing on the New Attitude!
What is the fundamental reason behind the Fels’ longevity?
Every time Dave and I design a new ski, it is with the intention we will be able to reach a new level of performance despite getting older. Striving to maintain the youthful exhilaration of being invincible is our goal and we feel it every time we are out on the snow. It’s an addiction.
Skiing comes down to your attitude and Dave and I take our joy of skiing attitude to the mountain every time!