Rossignol manufactures a recyclable ski

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As gear gets more technical and more capable with each season, many sustainability-conscious brands are trying to find a way to keep their older products out of the landfill. The skis, the vast majority of which only see around seven years of use, are no exception, which is why Rossignol’s announcement of a new limited version 75% recyclable all-mountain ski for the 2022-23 season topped Earth Day noise on Friday.

With just 69 millimeters underfoot, the new Essential is a carving ski aimed at the European public (as opposed to the wider skis you’ll find everywhere on American slopes). It has a short turning radius and is available in 156, 161 and 166 centimeter lengths (a 171 centimeter length will be available winter 2023-2024) and is designed for the intermediate to advanced resort shredder.

To make the ski recyclable, the designers reduced the amount of materials used. Most other skis are built with at least eight different types of materials that don’t easily separate from each other, making it impossible to recycle more than 10% of them. In contrast, the poplar core, aluminum frame, steel edges and polyurethane base of the Essential are designed to separate cleanly in the recycling process that Rossignol has developed with its partner, the waste management company MTB Recycling waste.

Once you’re done with Essential skis, you can’t just throw them in your recycling bin and expect them to be broken down at the local municipal facility. Instead, Rossignol collects the skis and breaks them down into components at its factory in France. From there, the majority of materials from the ski will be salvaged and repurposed for use in industries like construction, which already purchase recycled materials. Eventually, when Rossignol has the volume, it hopes to implement a fully circular system where components from its old skis will be used to manufacture new ones.

However, recyclability was not the designers’ only focus. “When we talk about recycling, we are talking about end of life”, explains David Bouvier, senior marketing director of the Essential Ski project. “Of course recycling is important, but in between we can also do a lot.” The Essential’s materials were also sourced with the planet in mind: Rossignol says 62% of its materials are recycled or come from low-impact sources, like all-natural resin and wood sourced from producers practicing sustainable forestry.

According to Bouvier, the performance and design of the ski are the most comparable to those of Rossignol React 8 ($1,000 CAD) and Multi-turn Hero (CA$950), both narrow race-style skis designed to hold the edge on hard snow or at high speed. “It’s not for runners,” Bouvier said. “You’re not going to go to the world championships with this product, it’s just not there yet.” But for anyone looking for a stable carving ski, he says it’s a solid choice.

To make the ski recyclable, the designers reduced the amount of materials used. (Photo: Courtesy of Rossignol)

And for the rest of us, the brand plans to expand the Essential line over the next five or six years to include a range of other shapes, potentially including freeride, all-mountain and powder skis. Rossignol’s goal is to make around a third of its skis easily recyclable by 2028. “We are already working for the future with new styles,” says Bouvier. “But I’m sure the technology won’t be the same as what we’re using now, because we’ll learn.”

Jordan Garrett, assistant ski buyer at Evo, says there is a demand for more environmentally friendly products. And businesses are listening. “Brands are all going for this all-around, do-it-all ski,” says Garrett. “So the performance kind of plateaus, and everybody starts looking for other ways to stand out.” Many snow sports companies have tried to do this by launching increasingly ambitious environmental and climate-conscious projects, such as Technica boot recycling program and WNDR Alpine biotech skis.

Rossignol hopes the Essential will do its part to move the entire industry towards more planet-friendly design and production. “We’re all trying to move the needle in the right direction,” says Nick Castagnoli, the group’s brand marketing director. “The hope is that we all start putting this at the forefront of our branding and product development going forward.”

We’ll never kick anyone for trying, but there are still other questions that still need to be answered before we know how functional a recyclable ski program like this will actually be. For starters, even the most eco-friendly product won’t take off unless it’s as good or better than what’s already on the market – and we haven’t been able to test the brand’s performance by ourselves. It also depends on how aware consumers become of the ski and the program, and whether durability is a high enough priority for them to take the plunge on such an expensive item.

In the end, completely ignoring energy and material-intensive manufacturing and recycling processes will always be the best decision for the planet. After all, the most durable ski is the one you already own. And it comes down to durability and repairability, which only time and plenty of laps will tell.

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