An Interview With An Innovator: Jason Levinthal and J Skis
AN INTERVIEW WITH AN INNOVATOR: JASON LEVINTHAL AND J SKIS
From The Chairlift to the Ski Press in a Matter of Days
By Taylor Boyd and Alex Meilleur, Seattle, WA: It wouldn’t be hard to argue that skiing would not be the same without Jason Levinthal. As the founder of Line Skis, Jason created skis that spawned a genre skiing, and like any innovator, he has the ability to truly think outside of imposed boundaries. In Jason’s case, the boundaries are those of the ski industry. Bored in his cushy position, and frustrated by the pace of product development at the “corporate level”, he made a risky move and left Line to start a new brand, J Skis. Jason has no problem speaking his mind. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t, but one thing is certain: Jason Levinthal is staying true to what he believes.
Hey Jason, do you think J Skis will always make twin tip/freestyle skis or would you consider building a touring or big mountain style ski someday?
I’ve been designing and selling skis for twenty years and the only reason I’ve ever created a new ski is because it doesn’t already exist. . . no one needs more of the same old thing. There are still infinite ways to improve the feel and performance of every kind of ski out there so I’m stoked to create all kinds of skis in the coming years.
What is your typical design process like? How long does it take for you to be happy with the end product?
First, I need to believe there’s an opportunity to make a better ski for a particular customer and skiing style. Sometimes I ride other skis in the category or past skis I’ve made to determine the good and bad attributes of each and confirm the opportunity for improvements. Francois (Sylvain) is a friend who’s designed some of Line’s most legendary models with me in the past. He does the actual engineering and CAD design of the skis with me so we first discuss our vision for the new ski including the performance and feel goals, general specs, flex, sidecut, rockers, materials, etc. We aren’t simply guessing, we’re pulling from our decades of experience designing and testing literally hundreds of skis we’ve created. Then Francois turns those parameters and goals into an actual three dimensional drawing using CAD. He starts with the outline shape, which determines the way the ski carves and surfs. He then designs the thickness of the core from tip to tail, called the profile, which determines the flex pattern. Those two factors determine most of what you’ll feel on snow and these two parts have to work seamlessly in unison together so the ski feels comfortable and intuitive.
We then send the factory lots of very detailed CAD files that get uploaded into CNC cutters to cut all the materials & build the molds to build create the prototype skis. Together Francois and I will finally ski on these prototypes usually with different flexes & compare what we like and don’t like about each attribute of the sidecut, tip shape, rocker, flex, etc. Then we go back to the drawing board and sit down together to design the next reiteration, design it, build it, test it and this process goes on again and again and again until we have a ski that rides like no other.
This process traditionally takes a full year or more for big ski corporations due to the larger number of projects running simultaneously and often overseas manufacturing. For us, from concept to having the final design on our feet, that we love, takes a few months.
What do you think the next big innovation will be in ski, boot or binding construction?
With skis, I don’t think it’s possible to sustain the insane rate of evolution we’ve experienced over the past decade. It’s been a blast, but this has only happened because ski design really hadn’t changed for the past 200 years, so it was long overdue. We’ve now pushed the extremes of width, flex, rocker, sidecut and everyone is finally reeling it back in to a more versatile & efficient design. For this reason, in the future you’ll actually need fewer variations of skis, to ski more terrain. There won’t be a need for skis under 95 or over 115. At most you’ll own 2 skis — 95-105mm wide for park & all-mountain, and 105 – 115mm wide for pow, obviously relative to the amount of snow you get. Any skis beyond those dimensions will amount to less than 1% of total skis.
Boots need to become more adaptable to your foot shape & interact in a more naturally mechanical and anatomical way with your foot, ankle and shin. Bragging that you’re an awesome skier because your toes and shins are bruised is just dumb. That’s just really bad product design — seriously! A ski boot should feel comfortable because it works with your body & skiing, not against it.
Don’t get me started on bindings. Our entire industry should be embarrassed of our passive attitude over the past 40 years. After releasable bindings were invented to eliminate broken legs, we stopped evolving them! Bindings still don’t protect you against backward twisting falls that cause you to “blow your knee”. Every binding manufacturer knows what causes knee injuries and can develop a binding to eliminate it, they just don’t want to make the game changing investment and entire industry wide product design overhaul required. From beginners to the best pro skiers in the world, knee injuries are costing people tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and causing permanent life long disability. Humans have solved more difficult product design challenges; it’s time ski binding companies set their sites on eliminating knee injuries.
What’s it like building skis on the east coast? What are some of the benefits and challenges?
The ice coast is a place where passion is high, mountains are low, the weather is cold and powder is far far away. It’s not ’til later in life you realize this, so growing up you unknowingly adapt your skills to be an incredibly technical skier with a one-of-a-kind sensitivity to react to every granial of snow/ice under your foot. If you don’t, you’ll be sliding on your ass won’t enjoy skiing much. . . haha! You also never take skiing for granted, you’ll ski every chance you get on anything slideable. I think this is part of what drives such an unusually high ratio of ice coasters to become some of the best and most inspiring skiers in the world.
When it comes to ski design and building skis, any ski feels great in soft snow — on hard snow it’s a different story. Testing skis in the East enables me to feel every subtle attribute and exaggerates the difference between the good skis and the great skis! I obviously also send the skis out to athletes all over the country to test, but starting in Vermont and Quebec really gives us a great head start and sets the bar super high for ski performance in the harshest conditions. There’s good reason Burton never moved west. . .
When will we get to see a J Skis Powder specific, rockered skiboard/snowblade, aka powblade?
Thanks for asking; I can’t freakin’ wait! Seriously, people are constantly asking when I’m going to bring back the skiboard, so many funny as hell vids out there now, I love it! I just need to find the time to re-create the ski that started it all. . .
What do you like the most about your new company?
I like having the ability to wake up everyday and try whatever is on my mind and do it at the same speed I think it up. New ideas in a big corporation requires months of meetings, discussions and layers of people and planning, which at best, may come to fruition a year or two later, if at all. In my case, I’ll randomly be talking with a friend or customer on the chairlift or online and if something makes sense, I just go for it and try it out! A week or a month later I see the results, or lack thereof, and continue to evolve the idea so that I’m able to do today what others are hoping to accomplish years from now.J Skis The Allplay “Twister” Limited Edition Skis 2015" class="wp-image-27053 size-full post-image" src="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/twister2.jpg" alt="J Skis Allplay Twister" width="587" height="392" srcset="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/twister2-300x200.jpg 300w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/twister2-150x100.jpg 150w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/twister2.jpg 587w" sizes="(max-width: 587px) 100vw, 587px" /> J Skis The Allplay “Twister” Limited Edition Skis 2015" class="wp-image-27052 size-full post-image" src="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/twister.jpg" alt="J Skis Allplay Twister" width="587" height="881" srcset="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/twister-150x225.jpg 150w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/twister.jpg 587w" sizes="(max-width: 587px) 100vw, 587px" /> J Skis The Allplay “Freedom Rock” Limited Edition Skis 2015" class="wp-image-27048 size-full post-image" src="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/freedom.jpg" alt="J Skis Allplay Freedom Rock" width="587" height="587" srcset="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/freedom-150x150.jpg 150w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/freedom-300x300.jpg 300w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/freedom.jpg 587w" sizes="(max-width: 587px) 100vw, 587px" /> J Skis The Allplay “Freedom Rock” Limited Edition Skis 2015" class="wp-image-27049 size-full post-image" src="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/freedom2.jpg" alt="J Skis Allplay Freedom Rock" width="587" height="881" srcset="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/freedom2-150x225.jpg 150w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/freedom2.jpg 587w" sizes="(max-width: 587px) 100vw, 587px" /> J Skis The Whipit “Inspired” Limited Edition Skis 2015" class="wp-image-27051 size-full post-image" src="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/inspired2.jpg" alt="J Skis Whipit Inspired" width="587" height="392" srcset="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/inspired2-300x200.jpg 300w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/inspired2-150x100.jpg 150w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/inspired2.jpg 587w" sizes="(max-width: 587px) 100vw, 587px" /> J Skis The Whipit “Inspired” Limited Edition Skis 2015" class="wp-image-27050 size-full post-image" src="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/inspired.jpg" alt="J Skis Whipit Inspired" width="587" height="880" srcset="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/inspired-200x300.jpg 200w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/inspired.jpg 587w" sizes="(max-width: 587px) 100vw, 587px" /> J Skis The Whipit “Creeper” Limited Edition Skis 2015" class="wp-image-27047 size-full post-image" src="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/creeper2.jpg" alt="J Skis Whipit Creeper" width="587" height="392" srcset="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/creeper2-300x200.jpg 300w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/creeper2-150x100.jpg 150w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/creeper2.jpg 587w" sizes="(max-width: 587px) 100vw, 587px" /> J Skis The Whipit “Creeper” Limited Edition Skis 2015" class="wp-image-27046 size-full post-image" src="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/creeper.jpg" alt="J Skis Whipit Creeper" width="587" height="880" srcset="http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/creeper-200x300.jpg 200w, http://culture.evo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/creeper.jpg 587w" sizes="(max-width: 587px) 100vw, 587px" />