Wndr Alpine Launches The Vital 100 Backcountry Ski

Checkerspot, Inc., a materials innovation company, announced today the launch of the Vital 100 ski by its outdoor consumer brand WNDR Alpine. The Vital 100 features Checkerspot’s new Algal Cast and Algal Hard Foam polyurethane materials designed to optimize backcountry ski performance.

The Vital 100 is a precision backcountry ski for technical, high alpine skiing. The new Algal Cast polyurethane is integrated into the Vital 100’s sidewalls. Applying this material creates a direct, epoxy-free bond to the ski’s core, and enables the construction of the ski’s sidewall to be a near zero waste process.

In addition, the Vital 100’s Algal Core application vertically laminates domestic aspen with stringers of the Algal Hard Foam to increase torsional stiffness at a lower weight and unprecedented stability for a ski in its class.

“As a ski designer, working closely with our molecular biologists and material scientists on the Vital 100 allowed us to eliminate petroleum-based ABS plastic sidewalls from the ski’s construction, and has allowed us to rethink the ski manufacturing process as a whole, resulting in significant waste reduction,” said Matt Sterbenz, GM of Checkerspot Wintersports and founder of WNDR Alpine.

“WNDR Alpine is an extension of Checkerspot’s lab. Innovating and creating new materials directly with product performance and the needs of the end-user top of mind provides us clear direction. We start with the question ‘how can we make products better?’” said Dr. Scott Franklin, CSO and co-founder of Checkerspot. “The development of our tunable Algal Cast polyurethane system demonstrates the integration of materials scientists, product design, and manufacturing to deliver products that meet or exceed the needs of the end user. In this case, skiers rely on this equipment in often challenging backcountry conditions. Bottom line, the materials have to perform,” Franklin continued.

“Historically, most product designers have been limited by the materials available to them from commodity-based suppliers. The Vital 100 is animating what is possible with biomanufactured materials enabled by biology and developed with end-use applications in mind,” said Charles Dimmler, CEO and co-founder of Checkerspot. “This is an example of how we are innovating performance materials designed for specific applications with use cases across a range of industries,” Dimmler says.

Checkerspot's materials innovation platform integrates biotechnology, materials science, and fabrication. The company's focus to date is on two classes of microalgae oil-derived material applications: polyurethanes and textile finishes.

Nature has evolved to produce novel molecular building blocks, like fatty acids from triglycerides, that are unexplored or under-utilized in materials science. They are overlooked because many of these materials cannot be supplied at large scale. Modern biomanufacturing (fermentation) processes enable Checkerspot to deliver these unique oils not previously accessible at commercial scale. Then through chemistry and materials science, Checkerspot and its partners prototype and iterate using applications development to design for targeted features and benefits that improve overall product performance.

Company founder Matt Sterbenz said:

"When I was called upon by Checkerspot, Inc. to lead a project in wintersports for their advanced biomaterials, I knew how much I didn’t know. Over the last year, I’ve learned, grown, led, and helped educate others on the importance of alternative perspectives when it comes to the creation of materials that are vital to our sport, community and impact on our environment.

"Throughout the season and into the spring, one theme persisted in my discovery of the health and wellness of our alpine ski segment: the lack of eco-innovation in alpine ski hardware. Granted, skis are not textiles; but they are similarly complex compositions of a variety of synthetic and natural materials. Since the introduction of biobased resins, ski building simply hasn’t kept pace with other outdoor categories and adjacent industries. True innovation requires a complete shift of focus while taking a bold step into uncharted terrain. This approach is how we landed on our new AlgalTech™ ski materials platform, which has now brought about the Algal Core and the all new cast PU sidewall application we refer to as Algal Wall.

"Being data driven and mindful of manufacturing efficiency leads our technology and product development. During the design phase of the Algal Wall, we found that process performance was as intriguing as material performance. For our sidewall manufacturing, we optimized the process to net a near zero waste solution.

"Creating material solutions opens opportunities to showcase new products, with new materials like our Vital 100, our most diverse ski shape, designed in a collaborative environment by a growing team with equally diverse perspectives on ski design. From the production of algal oil by Checkerspot’s molecular foundry and its team of microbiologists, chemists, and material scientists, to the polyurethanes we deliver to our designers and engineers, to the printers, builders, brand managers who implement, produce, and share our products, it simply has been incredible to be a part of this young and motivated brand.

"But what I’m looking forward to the most is spending more time with our Friends of WNDR this coming season. Last year we debuted the WNDR Roost, a 3 day backcountry ski symposium that welcomed early adopters to join us in exploring our local Wasatch Range and witness some of the work we do in the lab. This kind of gathering and camaraderie is exactly what makes our outdoor community special, and for that I eagerly anticipate what’s next. I welcome you to join us."

Checkerspot designs performance materials at a molecular level. It does this by optimizing microbes to biomanufacture unique structural oils produced in nature, but not previously accessible at commercial scale. The company is currently commercializing two new materials: an algal hard foam and algal cast urethane engineered into skis and sold through the brand WNDR Alpine, as well as algal oil formulated into MiDori BioWick and sold in partnership with Beyond Surface Technologies to clothing brands worldwide. Checkerspot empowers leading product designers and innovators, including BST and WNDR Alpine, with new materials to develop new consumer and B2B applications for a post-petroleum future.

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