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New Uses for Old Ski Equipment

PHOTO: This is what skis, snowboards, helmets and ski boots look like after going through a six-step grinding process to recycle them. Courtesy of SIA Snow Sports Recycling Program.
PHOTO: This is what skis, snowboards, helmets and ski boots look like after going through a six-step grinding process to recycle them. Courtesy of SIA Snow Sports Recycling Program.
January 28, 2013

PARK CITY, Utah - Skis and snowboards, ski boots and helmets can only be traded at ski swaps for so long before they're worn out and no longer safe to use. The ski industry is working on new lives for old gear, starting in Utah and Colorado.

The Snow Sports Recycling Program is collecting outdated equipment by the ton and sending some of it to Washington State University (WSU) for testing recycling options. The old equipment is being ground up and pressed into panels, like particleboard.

Professor Karl Englund of WSU's Composite Engineering Center, says ski gear is made to be tough, so it has been quite a challenge.

"Different types of polymers in there all have different attributes, different processing requirements, and a lot of 'em don't blend together very well. Thus, it becomes more of an economic hurdle to get these things into a usable material again."

Other recycling possibilities are making flooring or blocks for landscaping, or incorporating the material into cultured rock. Englund says they can most definitely make products out of the deconstructed ski gear. The question is, can it be done profitably in the long term?

Greg Schneider, who heads the recycling program for SnowSports Industries America (SIA), says they want to get more retailers on board and expand the program into other states. Stores have to work out the logistics for stockpiling the old gear. And skiers have to realize that although it is sturdy, even the best equipment does not last forever, he says.

"We're encouraging people to clean out your garages, clean out your attics and bring this equipment in - to find a home, let's say, for these old skis that nobody's using anymore," Schneider explains. "And then, it also gives them the opportunity to try the new equipment, the new technologies that are out there."

Making other items from ski equipment is only a temporary solution, Schneider adds. The industry wants to create a sustainable design model that would allow the materials in an old snowboard or pair of ski boots to someday be re-purposed as new ski gear, he says.

More information about the program and a list of places that accept used gear for recycling are online at www.snowsrp.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT