PBL on the Peaks: Wenatchee High School PLTW Engineering Students Design, Manufacture Alpine Skis

This past school year, four seniors at Wenatchee High School (WHS) in Wenatchee, Washington, pioneered a new design-and-build project in our PLTW Engineering class: They made their own alpine skis. The students went from zero to completion in six months, one class period at a time. Well, until the first of March – then it was numerous late nights of setting the security system and several Saturdays.

The young men had a variety of skiing abilities, from novice to advanced, but worked together closely to learn the ins and outs of ski design and construction. With strong determination and a deadline that kept creeping up because of a rapidly receding snow line, they researched forums and scoured websites to learn the lingo and see what the craft ski business was all about.

Prior to the project, I had only attended a two-hour workshop on vacuum pressing skis, so I relied heavily on guidance from teacher, workshop presenter, and friend John Hadley from Columbia High School in White Salmon, Washington. He’s a well-traveled skier and has been teaching his woodshop students the craft ski business for over a decade. John graciously shared with us his 66-page how-to manual to help guide us through the process.

The Wenatchee School District’s community partnership program, Wenatchee Learns Connect, also helped us connect with community members, adding richness to our STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experience. The project – a true team effort – also benefitted from the expertise of Ph.D. chemist Matt Wight and Kelso High School CNC milling specialist Cory Torppa. A special thanks also goes to Mike Rolfs, my Engineering Advisory Chairman at WHS. Without his encouragement, expertise, and base grinder, we wouldn’t have made it to the slopes before the snow disappeared.

The whole adventure was captured beautifully in the short film “Designing the Edge.”  It was created under the direction of another WHS senior, Luke Strahm, while he was completing his internship at North 40 Production.

At the moment, we have more skis in the works and are expanding our project this year to include vacuum pressing longboards and a skin-on-frame canoe. If you know about skin-on-frame boats, please don’t hesitate to reach out; we’d love to create a new partnership.