Grass Sticks are the poles I reach for when I go skiing over all of the other choices sitting in the corner of the Engearment gear closet. They’re such a small company, I was able to get in touch with the bossman/CEO/head pole maker/jack-of-all-trades, Andrew Beckler to find out more about the company and what makes bamboo such a perfect material for ski poles.
Tell us a bit about your past before Grass Sticks.
I grew up in south-east PA and started skiing our local little hills (Bear Creek, represent!) with friends in high school. I went on to ski race in college and was introduced to a whole new world. After having my first few powder days while on spring break in the Rockies, I realized that my future would revolve around skiing as much as possible – and it still does. I graduated in 2010 with a BS in Physics and BS in Civil Engineering and since then, I’ve spent my winters in Steamboat Springs as a ski instructor and coach for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. My summers have been a mix of kayaking and being a sea-kayaking guide in Petersburg, AK with Tongass Kayak, a raft guide in Buena Vista, CO, and a bartender at Deerhammer Distillery in Buena Vista. When I’m not doing Grass Sticks, my free time is skiing and whitewater kayaking.
What inspired you to go out and make ski poles?
Ski poles are boring! Grass Sticks was created to change that. We want skiers to care just as much about their poles as they do their skis, boots, coats and other gear. As a skier that used to break 2+ pairs of poles per season, making a durable high performance pole was a MUST when designing something exciting and aesthetically pleasing, too.
Did being a recovering engineer help with aspects of developing the poles?
It did! Although I didn’t need my upper-level courses in this…having the basic knowledge of material science was a huge help in understanding why bamboo is such an incredible material and was helpful in choosing just the right species to make the perfect pole.
Do you make each set to order? How long does it usually take and what’s the process?
Each set is made to order so we can offer completely custom length, color and basket options. Our bamboo comes from Calcutta, India (that’s where the good stuff is!). At our Steamboat Springs shop, we sand each piece twice, apply multiple coats of marine grade clearcoat, and install the tips. What we have now is “blank pole”. When your order comes in the pole is cut and your specified parts are installed.
Give us a rundown of why bamboo is better than the usual aluminum and carbon.
Bamboo is an amazing material with the tensile strength of steel and a compressive strength greater than concrete. When cut to the length of a ski pole, the species of bamboo that we use at Grass Sticks provides the perfect combination of rigidity and flexibility so it wont snap or kink like aluminum.
Traditional carbon fiber and aluminum ski poles are mined from the earth, industrially manufactured, and mass produced, This uses an incredible amount of energy and places a burden on our environment. Per acre harvested, bamboo produces three times as much lumber as trees, absorbs more CO2, and produces more oxygen than any other plant. It’s time to make the switch to a more sustainable higher quality bamboo ski pole.
What makes Grass Sticks different than other bamboo poles?
There are two other bamboo pole companies. Soul Poles, and Panda Poles. We hesitate to call them competitors, but rather companions in bringing validity and stoke to bamboo poles. After all, bamboo is better, and the more people that know that, the better!
We do have large differences in grip and basket styling and pricing and encourage skiers to check out the other companies and see what they like best!
In general, our poles have more of a classic styling for the grips and baskets. We use a smaller diameter bamboo which makes them lighter and the species we use is still incredibly strong. We also do what appears to be more finish work with 2 rounds of sanding, and multiple coats of our glossy clear marine grade coating. The other companies do not use a glossy coat and in my opinion looking more natural/less finished.
What’s next for Grass Sticks?
We just released a beautiful bamboo SUP paddle that we are REALLY excited about. The way the bamboo flexes makes for the perfect paddle. It gives each stroke a little rebound and the flex makes more advanced paddle strokes such as bracing more natural as it allows the paddler to really feel how the paddle reacts to the water. We will also be selling trekking Sticks this summer for hiking.
What’s your favorite piece of gear that you can’t live without? (Don’t say Grass Sticks!)
Winter: I just picked up new ski pants and coat from Northwest Tech. I love the fit, they are durable, look and perform great in the elements. They are completely custom- I picked out zipper color, hood color, velcro color, pocket color, sleeve color, pocket configuration AND they are MADE IN SEATTLE! I’m stoked to be in USA made clothing, which is near impossible to find in ski pants and coats.
Summer: My Werner Side Kick whitewater kayak paddle, and Dagger Crazy 88 play boat- it’s an old classic and I’m going to be sad when I crack it.
Check out the new SUP paddle and other goodies at www.grasssticks.com
All images courtesy of Grass Sticks.