For more and more people who love the mountains, spending a couple of winters as a seasonnaire is no longer enough. “I have to go back to the real world to have a career and a tube commute,” sigh many seasonnaires as the snow melts and they pack up their skis. But do you really? If you’ve got ambition, a chalet host’s work ethic and an idea, there’s no limit to how high you can go in the mountains. The Alps is fast becoming a breeding ground for entrepreneurs showing you can have it all- the mountain lifestyle AND career success.
Hoping to follow this rocky path to fulfilment is Gabriele Nicotra, who has just set up a workshop crafting his ‘Poleplant‘ natural bamboo ski poles in Tignes.
Strong, light, unique
Gabriele’s idea of producing “beautiful one-of-a-kind ski/hiking poles handcrafted by true mountain lovers using sustainable bamboo; strong, light and unique” came after skiing with bamboo in Japan. He says: “Bamboo is everywhere over there and I fell in love with the material and its properties. It’s light, strong, very quickly renewable, so mega-sustainable – that is why people should want them, as well as for the fact they look cool – and I realised that nobody makes them any more in Europe.
“Old school ski poles were made of bamboo but back then there were no effective ways of treating the bamboo so it would resist parasites and insects through the years. In recent times it is not in the interest of the large manufacturers to make bamboo ski poles because bamboo is a natural material, never exactly the same, so it would be very difficult to mass-produce them to minimise costs.
Stronger than aluminium’
“I made some prototypes with bog-standard bamboo canes from the garden centre last year, and was pleasantly surprised with the results. I skied with them for about 150 days in Japan last winter, and I only managed to crack one, after a huge stack. In the meantime I have educated myself more and sourced the strongest bamboo species, so the final models will be much stronger. Comparing shafts of the same diameter, our bamboo is about 2.5 times stronger than aluminium. Bamboo is the fastest growing renewable source on the planet, and I source it from responsible farmers, who look after their workers very well. And no, we are not starving pandas; they live in different areas of China from where the cultivations are.”
Gabriele began skiing seriously at the age of 8 in his home country of Italy, after he won a fun race against some older children on a family holiday. Joining the local ski club, he got into racing and became regional champion at age 12. However, he says: “Life drove me away from skiing and from Italy (I spent many years in the UK) but in recent years I have reclaimed the mountain lifestyle, becoming a ski instructor and moving to Tignes.”
‘Where my heart is’
He chose Tignes as a base because of its access to “amazing terrain while being fairly humble and real”, and aims to grow the business to the point of being able to employ a few people and develop new products in line with Poleplant’s philosophy; using sustainable materials to make products to improve our life in the outdoors.
The idea is catching on fast and gaining momentum – international freerider Silvia Moser (overall 2nd in the 2014 Freeride World Tour) is endorsing Poleplant poles and will be using them on the FWT 2015. The online Kickstarter campaign, set up with the aim of raising €2,000 to fund the workshop and first batch of materials, is almost halfway there. Anyone who backs the project receives something for their cash – from a sticker for a €5 pledge up to custom engraved poles, ski tuition and a holiday. Pledges must be made be 28 June for the project to go ahead.
Gabriele says he’s already had requests from a dozen shops to stock the poles, as well as orders from ski instructors and pro skiers, before he’s started any marketing.
Currently leading a double life, working as a sound engineer at live music events in summer and ski instructing in the winters, he hopes Poleplant will enable him to “spend more time in the mountains all year round as that is where my heart is”.