200804-news-skibuildinginslee

Gov. Jay Inslee offers some pointers to students making skis in Doug Merrill's engineering class during a visit to Wenatchee High School in 2015. 

WENATCHEE — Ski building has been a part of Doug Merrill’s Auto-Cad (pre-engineering) class at Wenatchee High School for the past seven years.

Typically, it takes his students months to complete a pair of skis — from the initial design work to sawing them out of their vacuum-pressed mold and buffing the edges.

It’s a laborious process that builds excitement with each passing day, as students inch ever closer to unveiling the final product, drilling on bindings and hitting the slopes at Mission Ridge for a test-run.

But students this winter will be able to complete a pair of skis (or snowboard) in a fraction of the time it took those in years prior thanks to a recent $85,000 purchase the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program made for a self-contained fifth wheel Merrill has deemed “The Lab.” The equipment is set to arrive in December. Instead of two months, skis can be built in eight hours.

“I’ve been working on this project for at least four years now, trying to figure out how to get this self-contained trailer that is fully outfitted with everything the students need to complete a pair of skis or snowboard,” Merrill said. “... we actually saved a bunch of money this spring when COVID hit because we didn’t send any of our kids to state or national competitions.”

Merrill said he has also been squirreling away some money out of his annual budget to help with the purchase.

Aside from shaving off a few months of class time, Merrill is hoping the mobile lab will allow students to become instructors, and potentially, turn their work into a self-sustaining business.

“I would like to have it so customers could come in and work with the students designing their own graphics on the computer Friday night,” Merrill said. “On Saturday, the kids would take them through the whole process of building the skis and vacuum press them down. And then they could ski on them on Sunday.”

“We want to have it so that the kids are leading in a completely different type of way with community members. And then that would be our fundraiser. So, it’s an extremely sustainable project because you could build your own pair of skis for the same price as going online and buying a pair. And who wouldn’t want to do that?”

Good question.

“It’s sort of mind-blowing to go through that process in eight hours,” Merrill said. “In one day, someone can have a pair of skis they built and designed themselves. I think that is super exciting.”

And since “The Lab” is mobile, students will be able to take it on the road.

“We have some opportunities and I would love to have the kids take it down to the middle schools and grade schools so they could see the process as well,” Merrill said. “I think that would be a really great experience.

The best part about the whole project, Merrill said, is that it requires fairly low technology and creates top-of-the-line skis that can be customized for groomed runs, powder or all-mountain terrain.

While students this fall wait for the lab to arrive, Merrill said he plans to flip the classroom for online learning.

“So, kids will do the homework before they get the assignment,” Merrill said. “Behind it is the science, which is something we emphasize. We’re using all kinds of materials so that is what they will be studying and doing before they get to school and get to the hands-on aspect.”

Asa Smith, who was among Merrill’s first group of students to build skis, recalls the program being the most memorable and rewarding experience in high school.

“It took nearly the whole year,” Smith said by text Monday. “But I’ve never been more proud of something I made. They were perfect and on the occasional powder day, I’ll take them out. I don’t use them as often because I want to make them last for a long time, but everyone has been impressed when they see them.”