The Soul Behind Soul Poles: Our Interview with Bryon Friedman
I got my first pair of Soul Poles several years ago as a Christmas present. I was ecstatic, because not only was it a great conversation starter on every chairlift, I was also impressed with its functionality. These shred sticks made out bamboo and post-consumer plastic grips were durable and fluid. With a background in environmental studies, I often lose sleep over how detrimental the ski industry can be on the environment. But, my passions lay both in skiing and the environment and I know with creativity, consideration, and enthusiasm there is opportunity in the industry for sustainable products to thrive. Soul Poles is doing just that. Their mission is this: “Build quality products that inspire momentous living and the protection of the mountains we love.”
Spread Stoke is about stories, whether it is the story behind a four day trek into the mountains or a story behind a brand that is looking to make a positive impact in the outdoor industry. I sought the brains behind Soul Poles out because I not only loved my own bamboo poles and it was a local company, but I also felt their brand resonated with how I felt about the ski industry.
I met Bryon Friedman, professional ski racer, musician, and co-founder of Soul Play (soul poles mother company) for an interview at the Soul Poles Shop. His office was similar to mine… huge white erase board with ideas, visions, and future goals on how to grow the company. I first noticed the ‘Vision’ on the board: “Reduce our impact on the environment, make durable and quality products, and connect mountain-minded individuals to our brand by having fun and producing uncompromising customer service,” which made me more excited to delve behind the scenes.
Bryon moved to Park City at a young age from Atlanta, Georgia where his love for skiing perpetuated with having access to skiing all winter long. His passion then flourish into a ski racing career where he raced on the USA ski team for 10 years. Outside of racing, Bryon’s love for the mountains came in all shapes and forms, “We have all the seasons, not just skiing, but also mountain biking and fishing. You build some sort of relationship with your surrounding and environment. I was very fortunate enough to grow up in this town” beamed Friedman. We both shared how stoked we were to have a big playground at the tips of our fingers. We also agreed that it is imperative to protect these playgrounds.
Thus came the founding of Soul Poles. Freedman and co-founder, Eric Schlopy, developed the idea by taking a look at the past. People first started skiing with sticks and eventually bamboo, a natural carbon fiber. The industry then shifted to aluminum, a light-weight and malleable material that innovates design, yet also contributes to harmful effects like erosion, deforestation and water contamination. Taking it’s destructive consequences into matter, Friedman and Schlopy looked to create a product with a renewable resource. Making a sustainable ski or even boot would be too difficult, so to make a quick impact they reevaluated the ski pole (and soon to be ski+hike poles).
The founders started by ordering a bunch of bamboo and glued existing grips from other poles to try it out. “Every lift ride, someone would be asking about our poles, this was before we even had a name for the company in 2010″ reminisced Bryon. With their fresh new product, they took it to SIA to show buyers and to their surprise…they got orders! Bryon smiled, “We jumped in and went for it! We started solving problems.”
Soul Poles has gotten more refined since then. They are now in their 4th year of business. They hold ‘quality’ above all in their business model.
“The idea is to be sustainable. You have to have a quality product, and it has to work, it has to survive. Soul Poles isn’t about how many poles can you complete in a day, but about taking the time to make quality shafts.”
In order to get these quality shafts, they go through a phase production.
They first seek out the best bamboo, making trips to China frequently to search for the right people that will hand pick the bamboo. The bamboo growers become family to Bryon and the Soul Pole team. They want to make sure everyone is benefiting from this incredible grass. They look over the bamboo, making sure it has the right wall thickness, plus inner and outer diameter. Once the bamboo is in the shop, they sort through it, count it, re-hydrate, and let the bamboo rest.
“The bamboo needs to acclimate to our really dry climate, we learned how to do that with providing the right temperature and treating it with an oil blend,” explains Bryon.
Aw man, it’s like a spa day for the bamboo, I thought.
After the bamboo rests, it is time to go into second phase where all the sanding and grinding is done. This is the awesome dirty work that the boys in the shop bond over. The bamboo then goes to the laser for engraving and is ready for final assembly, attaching the grips and tips. As if bamboo wasn’t enough to create a sustainable pole, they make sure to use grips that are from recycled postindustrial plastic with straps that are recycled PET plastic (the stuff that holds your strawberries in the summer).
“It makes sense to reuse, if you already have product lying around, put it to good use.”
The bamboo pole is more than a sleek, sustainable product… it is a message. Bryon hopes to see more people following suite, using re-purposed material and straying away from wasteful practices. All in all, Soul Poles would like to see more bamboo ski poles then aluminum poles. I would, too!.
Outside of Soul Poles, Bryon also hopes to grow Soul Play as a lifestyle outdoor company encouraging individuals to protect the playgrounds we care about. Their bamboozie (perfect attire for your PBR) and 100 percent recycled hoodies are great examples of sustainable products that align well with their philosophy.
Another admirable aspect of Soul Poles is their athlete program. Like their mission, they want their athletes to care about their surroundings. Bryon emphasizes working with like-minded individuals.
“Who do we want to be involved with? As you grow as a a brand, you discover where you are, who you want to spend time with, from the people who work here to the athletes that are brand ambassadors, to the people who you do business with. If an athlete has any environmental studies background or works with a cause that they have purpose for, we are all about.”
Bryon pauses and then laughs, “It basically comes down to doing only awesome shit, with only awesome people.”
That is definitely a motto I will have to adopt, I thought.
To learn more about Soul Poles, check out their site here: https://www.soulpoles.com/
You can also help support their Kickstarter campaign and pre-order some of their awesome new ski+hike poles.
Follow them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook (@soulpoles) to learn more about their custom ski pole workshops or follow them on their cross-country mobile tour.