Courtesy of Avant
Joel Nashett grinds the mold for a ski.
 
Courtesy of Avant
Ben Callaghan applies the finishing touches to a pair of Avant Big Tupper skis.
 
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A pair of ski manufacturers who developed their passion for powder sports on the slopes of Big Tupper mountain are hoping to transform their hobby into a business this winter.

They are also hoping to return to the Adirondacks and set up shop in Tupper Lake.

“This year is our real initial launch into the market,” said 28-year-old Joel Nashett. “This is the first year we’re really selling skis. I’m not saying we’re going to take off this year, but we’re hoping to gain exposure.”

Nashett and his childhood friend Ben Callaghan, who both grew up on Upper Saranac Lake, have been making skis since they were in college. The driving force for production came from Callaghan’s requirement for a senior exhibition show to earn his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Alfred University. The idea was in place, but it became a reality when Nashett added his Master of Business Administration in mechanical engineering degree from the University at Buffalo and helped his friend design, build and present a pair of skis in a matter of six months.

Now, after several years of research and development, the pair are selling skis on the open market under the brand name Avant. Their first ski series is called Aviator and features twin tip, carbon composite, all-mountain skis. They have three ski sets: Ace, Bomber and Wasp.

Callaghan, 26, classifies the skis as advanced all-mountain skis, but he says they are more lightweight than most because they are made with carbon composites. They are also made of traditional sandwich construction and have a solid wood core.

Both men have been working on the skis in their free time. Callaghan works full time as a graphic designer at a company named Fathom, which specializes in marketing and website design, while Nashett works as a market development engineer at a company named Henkels, which among other things, specializes in adhesive technologies. Both men live in Hartford, Conn., although they still spend time in the Adirondacks.

The men share responsibilities because Avant is a small company, but each takes the lead in their respective fields. Callaghan handles most of the designing, aesthetics, marketing and website design while Nashett develops tools, builds ski presses and is in charge of much of the manufacturing end. The testing is mainly done in the Adirondacks.

“We almost exclusively ski up there, especially Whiteface Mountain and Big Tupper,” Nashett said. “Those are the only two ski mountains that we ski at, unless we go out west to Colorado or anywhere else out there.”

Because they ski so much in the Adirondacks, it has influenced the design of their Aviator series, especially the model they call Ace, which costs about $800.

“It’s one of those skis you can put on almost every single day of the year, and it’s the ideal ski for the day because the mountain’s never the same,” Nashett said about the Ace. “These skis are really the jack of all trades.”

Callaghan agreed the skis are made for skiing the Northeast.

“The big trend now is to have super crazy wide skis, which is great when there is waist deep powder, but for the east and even 90 percent of the conditions out west, they are kind of overkill sometimes,” Callaghan said. “So people usually have a wide ski and a skinny ski, so I’d say ours fit somewhere in between. Its wide enough for powder, especially in the east, and it can also ski really well in groomers and mixed crude.”

The challenge for the ski makers is to find businesses to distribute their skis. Right now, they are available for sale on Avant’s website.

“The market is definitely big enough,” Nashett said. “It’s whether we can get people out of the traditional, big brand skis and into the nontraditional market that is emerging here.”

If Nashett and Callaghan are able to turn their passions into a successful business, they hope it happens where their dreams were born. Nashett and Callaghan came up with the idea for Avant Skis on the slopes of the Big Tupper Ski Area, and now they want to bring their Connecticut-based business home to Tupper Lake.

“To relocate back there would be amazing, because it’s kind of full circle,” Callaghan said. “We love the Adirondacks. Connecticut’s OK, but it’s nothing like the Adirondacks.”

If the Adirondack Club and Resort project, which would overhaul the Big Tupper Ski Area and develop the land around it, gets a permit from the state Adirondack Park Agency and eventually gets the Big Tupper ski area running at full tilt again, it could open up a variety of opportunities for them.

This winter, Big Tupper is open, but only on a limited basis because it doesn’t have snowmaking capabilities. The mountain opened last winter for the first time in 10 years. It is run by volunteers and dependent on natural snow.

A successful Big Tupper would potentially allow the pair to return home. Callaghan said they’d like to open both a showroom and a manufacturing facility in Tupper Lake. He said they’ve thrown around the idea of a tourable factory, like the Ben and Jerry’s or Vermont Teddy Bear factories in Vermont.

Callaghan and Nashett have been meeting with developers from the Adirondack Club and Resort, as well as representatives from Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy, a group formed to support the ACR, about the prospects of working together. The ideas for an alliance between the ACR and Avant came about when Callaghan and Nashett met with ARISE and ACR representatives about the possibility of creating a line of custom commemorative skis to recognize the reopening of Big Tupper.

This winter, Avant has been in the process of making 19 pairs of the Big T Classic, which were available for direct purchase. A 20th pair, which will feature an embedded lifetime ski pass to Big Tupper, was auctioned off on eBay between Dec. 13 and 23, 2010 and eventually sold for $3,100. A portion of sales for each pair of skis benefited ARISE’s effort to run the ski area this season on a nonprofit basis.

The skimakers launched the Big Tupper skis at a public unveiling in December at the Train Depot in Tupper Lake, where they received strong support from the public and the Adirondack Club and Resort developers and ARISE.

In a way, it was another big step in the pair realizing their childhood dreams.

“We have to do everything we can to bring them home,” ARISE leader Jim LaValley said.

Jessica Collier contributed to this report.