WAITING FOR THE MONK

TEXT: PIOTR GNALICKI, WORKSHOP PHOTOS: KAMIL JANOWSKI, ACTION/LIFESTYLE PHOTOS: TOMASZ RAKOCZY

WARSAW 31.10.2016

DESIGN LIFESTYLE

When passion, strong will and determination accumulate in one person, the result is often something extraordinary. Such was the case of Szymon Girtler, founder and creator of Monck Custom – a workshop which manufactures hand-made skis on request. Not only do they look unusual, but, much to many people’s astonishment, they also slide better than the mass-produced equipment made by great companies.
He made his first pair of skis in a garage near Warsaw, inspired with what could be observed in the USA. It happened far away from the mountains, without complex knowledge of the qualities and properties of materials and, last but not least, without a workshop full of technologically advanced machines. However, there were other ingredients there: enthusiasm, diligence and passion for skiing cultivated since childhood. “It’s an adventure of my life, which has already lasted through the fifth winter. In 2009, we cut open the first ski produced by a big manufacturer and made sure that a lot could still be improved,” says Szymon.
A pneumatic heat press machine, a moulder for wooden cores, a bender for edges and many other devices necessary to produce skis were built from scratch. At that stage, the experienced skier did not plan to found his own brand – he simply wanted to check if it really was possible to make good skis by oneself.

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It was. The first pair touched the snow in 2010 and it dawned on the founder of the modest workshop that he could make it his profession. That way, a brand called Monck Custom appeared on the market.

Girtler wanted to highlight its Polish character, so he made reference to the tradition of Tatra Mountain skiers from over 100 years ago: from the very beginning, his skis were to possess as many wooden elements as possible. The name and logo allude to a very characteristic Tatra peak – Mnich (“monk” – editor’s note), rising up by Morskie Oko (the biggest lake in the Tatra Mountains, situated 1395 m a.s.l.). Nowadays the Monck Custom team makes skis on request. It’s a bit like ordering a suit from a tailor: you know it will fit you perfectly and look fantastic – just on you. It’s similar with Girtler’s skis. “Our production system does not allow for stocks. Works on a new ski set begin after an order is placed and the project is agreed on with the customer, not earlier. It takes about three weeks for the skis to be ready; throughout that time, the customer can observe how the works proceed and how the production progresses,” Szymon explains.

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First, the shape, geometry and materials of the skis are agreed on with the constructor. The aim is to let a specific user experience pleasure when skiing.

The production is a masterpiece of craft: it’s a sequence of grinding, cutting and matching individual elements. At the beginning, metal edges are attached to a perfectly cut synthetic base to create the lower part of the ski. However, the heart of every high-quality ski, mass-produced or hand-made on request, is always a wooden core. This very part makes the ski springy and allows for the accumulation of energy when taking a turn; an experienced skier uses that energy to “jump” with power into the next turn. The core is given a specific stiffness by gluing together several kinds of wood longitudinally. Monck Custom uses ash, spruce and bamboo. During mass production in great factories, where cost reduction is important, they also use poplar and maple, but these don’t maintain their properties as well as ash. The final quality of stiffness is achieved by adjusting core thickness in various spots of the ski.

When the base and the core are ready, the most difficult and complicated production stage – so-called “lay-up” – follows: all layers of materials are put on one another to make a “sandwich-like” structure. From the bottom up, the ski consists of: a base with edges, modern plastics (such as glass fibre and carbon fibre impregnated with epoxy resins), a wooden core, the second fibre layer and a top coating made of various types of veneer. This stage allows for influencing the behaviour of a given ski on the snow: using glass and carbon fibres with various weave patterns or basis weights as well as positioning them in various ways has a real impact on ski springiness. If you change even the smallest details, a good skier will be able to feel the difference. Therefore, the walls of the Monck Custom workshop are literally wallpapered with dozens of sheets containing recipes for particular ski types.

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The “sandwich making” process requires full concentration because after epoxy resins are mixed with a hardener, they are suitable for use only for a specified time. Thus, the constructor must first plan and practise every move they make when assembling individual elements.

After such preparation, the components are put for several hours in the heat press machine, where the resins glue them into a whole. When the skis are taken out from the press machine, it’s time for the most pleasant part of the process from the customer’s point of view – the selection of a look and a pattern. Monck Custom follows a rule which says that the ski surface is always made of various types of natural veneer. It’s possible to put any pattern on it or design your own composition taking advantage of various wood colours using the incrustation method. At the very end, the ski surface is lacquered or oiled, depending on the preferences. After that, the customer usually begins to check the weather forecast increasingly often, waiting for the snow to test the new equipment!

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Many sceptics thought the workshop had no chance to make high-quality skis. The production process is indeed difficult, but with a great deal of determination, it’s possible to create your own brand and workshop offering high-quality, original, personalized products. Let the grades given by independent testers serve as the best proof invalidating all the disbelievers’ arguments. The skis were tested on a well-prepared ski route and in fresh, deep snow, in downhill and freestyle as well as in terms of speed and precision. The promises were kept: three models of skis by Monck Custom were ranked in very high positions in the most important ski test in Poland conducted by the magazine NTN Snow & More. Surprised? Check out how they slide. www.monckcustom.com, www.facebook.com/MonckCustom

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