In a tiny workshop in Gray, a group of downhill diehards turns local lumber into handcrafted skis with a timeless look.
By Frances Killea
Photographed by John Benford
[dropcap letter=”F”]rom the winding, markedly flat road around Crystal Lake in Gray, a dirt turnoff leads to a cheerful home in a tidy yard, with fencing, green grass, and a bright new woodshed. Inside that woodshed, a trio of adventuresome Mainers cuts the keys to unforgettable ski runs down steep mountainsides.
E.J. Martin lives on the property, the home of Lucid Skis, where he and his partners, Travis Legassie and Corey Kelkenberg, handcraft custom wooden skis and snowboards.
Martin grew up bouncing between Rumford Point and the trails at Sunday River; he can’t remember a time before boots and bindings. In high school, he raced on a state-champ alpine team, but even before that he spent countless after-school hours with a local ski club. “A bus would show up and take you to the hill,” he recalls. “And you would have that two-hour gap, between when you got out of school and your parents got out of work, when the mountain was basically your babysitter.”
But after attending Maine Maritime Academy, Martin lost touch with the sport, working aboard ships in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Pacific coast. He started skiing again when a job in wind energy drew him back east, to upstate New York in 2008. By the time he returned to Maine a few years later — he’s now a vice president at a renewables company — he’d rediscovered a passion for the slopes. “Some people go to church, some people go to the rivers or the ocean; for me, it’s being on top of a mountain,” he says. “That’s when it makes sense.”
Travis Legassie (left) and E.J. Martin, two of the co-owners of Lucid Skis, make handsome, old-school wooden skis in a workshop in Gray. The pair, together with Corey Kelkenberg, took over the niche company in 2015.
That affinity for mountains (and enthusiasm for taking care of the earth) brought Martin to Ian Reinholt’s Kingfield woodshop in 2015. He wanted to buy a ski company, and some research led him to Lucid, a tiny operation that Reinholt and partner Nick Mukai started in 2009. The duo had been looking to sell, and Martin struck a deal, bringing on ski buddies Legassie and Kelkenberg and moving the operation to Gray. “I really loved their product, I really loved their messaging,” Martin says. “The epoxy is bio-based, all of the wood is sustainably harvested. It kind of hits my core belief.”
Reinholt, who has stayed on as a minority owner, grew up on cross-country skiing in Phillips. He also took to alpine racing as a teen and eventually enrolled in the ski industries program at UMaine Farmington. Though he first steered away from ski business — he developed his woodworking skills building furniture in Hawaii — he became inspired by small-scale ski makers out west. “I started thinking about how I could take my skills and knowledge as a woodworker and apply as much of that as possible to making a contemporary alpine ski,” he says. “It was the melding of two passions. I felt that to make my own skis would give me a sort of deeper connection to what attracted me to the sport.”
The Lucid crew all strap on skis for the same reasons: the tight communities at places like Sugarloaf, the abundant (if not particularly powdery) New England snow, and the exhilarating connection to nature. To capture that spirit in a ski, Reinholt looked to the surrounding forests. “I really thought about what woods we had here and how I could incorporate multiple species to create the sort of dynamic mechanism that a ski core needs to provide,” he says. He arrived at a design that uses types of wood common in Maine, with hickory, black locust, or maple comprising the sides; basswood, which is both strong and light, forming the majority of the core; and white ash anchoring the screws of the bindings. The wood “has incredible memory,” he says. “That means it will flex a long way and spring back to its original form, which is a key quality for the core of a ski.”
Many low-end, mass-produced skis are instead made with cheaper foam cores, but foam doesn’t possess the same “flex” or “spring” that makes for crisp turns, and it deteriorates more quickly. “Wood stays snappy,” Reinholt says. “The core and the heart — the integral part of the ski — is going to last much longer.” Reinholt still harvests and shapes the cores himself, but Martin, Legassie, and Kelkenberg take it from there, assembling the layered components of each ski and then using heat, pressure, and epoxy to press them together, making “sandwiches” of plastic base, wooden core, fiberglass, and wooden veneer. The veneers, which can be made of maple, fire birch, walnut, or cherry, are for looks. Other high-end wood-core skis use plastic as a top layer, which doesn’t hurt functionality (though Martin does think Lucid’s wooden sides, which are less common, “add that full wood feel along the entire length underneath your foot” and make for a springier ski).
The labor-intensive production process means that, in the short term, the new owners only aim to turn out 40 or so pairs a year for about $1,000 a pop, available through lucidskis.com, while they continue to refine their craft. In the long run, though, they plan to up capacity. The price falls on the high end of the spectrum for performance skis from major manufacturers, whose products are more of a known quantity, but Lucid is banking on its handcrafted bona fides and vintage style to differentiate itself. Martin says customers fall broadly into to pools: in one column, “the farmers market crowd” of locavores who want to “know where their meat and eggs come from; in the other, mountain aesthetes who love the “inherently classic, timeless look.” There is, as you might imagine, some overlap.
Sanded to a matte finish, the skis bear no decals or graphics beyond a circular logo that looks like an ornate compass, based on one of Reinholt’s woodworking designs, along with the word “Lucid.” It might sound hokey, but Reinholt is sincere when he explains that the brand is meant to evoke the simple clarity of a pure alpine experience.
“Skiing gets you way out into the wilderness,” he says, “way to the tops of huge mountains, where you’re almost no longer aware that the ski isn’t a part of your body, and you’re just being carried by gravity and steering your way down the mountain.”