Praxis pride: Truckee-based ski company earning quality reputation
Drew Tabke charged toward a particularly harrowing, yet untouched hunk of Squaw Valley terrain. Fueled by an anxious crowd goading him on, the professional freeskier maneuvered into a notch surrounded on three sides by granite, eyeballed his landing and pointed his skis toward the only escape route ” a 40-or-so-foot drop to a wide-open landing.
“I decided to go for a line they called ‘The Gate,’ because it was this really beautiful, obvious cliff drop that no one had done yet. It was kind of scary, maybe unreasonable,” Tabke explained Friday from his Seattle home, thinking back on that February 2007 day at Squaw Valley USA, site of the second stop on the Subaru U.S. Freeskiing Series.
Upon his crash landing, “the skis punched straight into the slush and stopped,” Tabke said. “I fell out of my bindings and the skis stayed in the place where they landed.”
Tabke, who tumbled end-over-end, fared considerably better than his skis, a pair of Volant Spatulas that snapped under both feet on impact.
“He was gunning for it,” said Squaw Valley skier Kevin O’Meara, a fellow competitor and first-hand witness.
O’Meara, coincidentally, was competing on skis similar to the Spatulas ” super wide with a reverse-camber and reverse-sidecut design. Only his were made by his cousin, Keith O’Meara, in his Donner Summit garage.
Confident in the quality and performance of his handmade Praxis Skis, and eager for another pro athlete to test them out, Keith asked Tabke if he was interested in a sponsorship.
So Keith got to work, pumping out a pair of Praxis Skis within days and shipping them overnight to Tabke, who was then living near Snowbird, Utah.
“It was cool because not many people were using that shape and ski design,” Tabke said. “So they (Keith and Kevin) were stoked I was into that idea of the progressive design.”
With only two days to master the feel of his new skis, Tabke went on to win the Subaru U.S. Freeskiing National Finals at Snowbird. The word was out in Utah, and soon elsewhere as Tabke and Kevin O’Meara continued to compete on the U.S. Freeskiing Series.
Fast forward to the present and Praxis Skis are more popular than ever, boasting eight models of big-mountain freeride skis and one park ski, with sales ranging from locally to Salt Lake City to Canada and beyond.
Most recently Dean Cummings, owner and head guide of H2O Heli Guides, joined the Praxis crew, adding a third signature pro model to the fleet.
Keith O’Meara takes much pride in the Praxis line after developing his first skis ” conveniently named “Powder Skis” ” in his Kingvale garage during the 2005-’06 ski season.
Unable to ski with a broken femur at the time, he called on Kevin to give them a test run.
The feedback was encouraging.
“They were so good, so perfect,” Kevin said. “I didn’t know what to say because I was having so much fun on them.”
When Tabke was asked to describe the differences between the Spatulas that betrayed him on that 40-foot landing in 2007 and his current Tabke Pro Model, he said Praxis are considerably tougher.
“They’re a lot beefier. Everything is thicker and not as easy to break. They’re made for skiing with more force,” Tabke said. “That’s the cool thing about the company, is that Keith has never had one of his skis break, which is unheard of in the ski industry. And that’s what I tell people. It’s a really cool claim, that the skis don’t break.”
Keith, who has since moved his business to a spacious shop in Truckee’s Pioneer Commerce Center, uses wood cores consisting of ash for strength and aspen for its light weight. Praxis uses symmetrical cores, which means all pieces of wood in the core come from the same tree, making for a nearly identical flex pattern between the left and right skis.
In researching ski construction, Keith cut a bunch of industry skis apart to see how they were made.
“What I realized when I was in my garage was that ski companies aren’t building them to last,” he said.
So he builds his skis to last. And he has no plans of skipping town anytime soon.
“We could move to Reno and it would cost us a fraction of what it does,” Keith said. “But the ‘hand-crafted-in-the-Sierra’ brings something to the skis, and the consumers have to pick up on that.”
Drew Tabke is set to compete on his Tabke Pro Model Praxis Skis in the Nissan Freeride World Tour Tram Face at Squaw Valley USA on Feb. 28. For more information about Praxis Skis, visit http://www.praxisskis.com or swing by their shop in Truckee’s Pioneer Commerce Center.
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