Haines ski manufacturer lands its own storefront

A small business in Haines has taken a big step forward by opening a shop and storefront in Dalton City. Fairweather Ski Works moved into the Haines Brewing Company’s old location in late October. The move happened about a year after the company won the Southeast entrepreneurial competition Path to Prosperity.

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Graham Kraft and Lindsay Johnson in their new Fairweather Ski Works location. (Emily Files/KHNS)
Graham Kraft and Lindsay Johnson in their new Fairweather Ski Works location. (Emily Files/KHNS)

It still says ‘Brewery’ on the outside, but on the inside there isn’t beer brewing, but skis being pressed. Graham Kraft and Lindsay Johnson are pressing paper birch wood, fiberglass, epoxy resin and other materials into skis.

“It’s exciting,” said Johnson. “You want to see how it turns out, if it looks different than how it went in there.”

Johnson and Kraft are the co-owners and craftsmen of Fairweather Ski Works. The skis are handmade out of local birch and Sitka Spruce trees and adorned with wood veneers and Alaskan artwork.

Kraft started the business a couple years ago with Ian Seward. He says he started making skis as a hobby about eight years ago.

“Well at first it was just a miracle that they worked,” Kraft said. “To take it from the raw material to the ski, that’s pretty rewarding.”

“And then you get to go to the places that you love the most and look down on the forest and the ocean and the vast wild, I think that’s what Graham likes more than anything,” Johnson adds. “That’s why he does this.”

Making a business out of hand-crafted skis hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” said Kraft. “Just the business side of things, mostly. The ski-building side of things, I’ve been doing that for a lot longer than I’ve been doing any kind of business.”

Lindsay Johnson and Graham Kraft examine a newly pressed pair of skis. (Emily Files/KHNS)
Lindsay Johnson and Graham Kraft examine a newly pressed pair of skis. (Emily Files/KHNS)

Fairweather Ski Works was selected as one of two winners for the 2014 Path to Prosperity competition. The contest for entrepreneurs in Southeast Alaska is sponsored by Haa Aani and the Nature Conservancy. The ski business along with the Haines distillery won the contest at the beginning of this year.

“I think the biggest things that we got from them was the emotional support, in saying ‘we actually think this is a good idea,’” Kraft said. “And they’re business professionals and for them to have some kind of faith in us, a fair bit of faith, that’s pretty good.”

They also got financial support – up to $40,000 in seed funding for consulting and technical assistance. Kraft and Johnson say they’re using that money for a range of things, including website improvements, marketing videos, travel to a trade show in Colorado, and consulting with an engineer.

But one of the most exciting things that’s happened in the past year is this move.

“It’s just a perfect spot for it,” Kraft said. “‘Cause it’s traditionally been a building where a lot of good stuff is made.”

The Haines Brewery operated in this Dalton City shop at the fairgrounds for about 16 years. It moved to a new location on Main Street in September. Before this, the ski shop operated out Mud Bay. Kraft and Johnson hope an in-town location will boost business.

“There really hasn’t been any point of stasis since this business started three years ago,” Johnson said. “But this feels like a big evolutionary leap to be in here and have a dedicated ski shop.”

Other exciting things are happening. They recently got a few online orders from people they had never heard of before. Johnson calls it ‘a miracle.’

The ski makers will continue to find their way through the business side of this. But they say what’s really fulfilling is not the marketing or the numbers, it’s this:

“To be able to go skiing on something that’s made out of the place that you’re walking through,” Johnson said. “This wood looks pretty good on the snow.”

Fairweather Ski Works will be open through the winter and on cruise ship days during the summer.

Emily Files is a reporter at KHNS in Haines.

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