The learning curve

On a recent morning, a room away from the buzz of saws and the sparks of masked welders, a quartet of Big Sky High School seniors toiled over a nondescript white snowboard lying on a shop table. A few feet away stood a hand-made, $2,000 pneumatic press, which can apply 40,000-50,000 pounds of pressure, and a computerized numerical coding machine.

The snowboard is the first product to come out of this mini ski and snowboard shop tucked away in the back of Big Sky High School, and the culmination of the senior projects of Justin Beschorner, Damien Bourdon, Nora Rector, and Jeff Stahl. Their last day of high school is just days away, and they're hurrying to complete another snowboard and two pairs of skis before the final bell rings.

"If we whip some of these out, I mean, there's still a lot of snow. We could go up somewhere and make a track," says Rector.

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Their teacher, Scott Traeder, usually has his shop students craft wooden canoes, but last year, while he was skiing with a ski patroller and former Big Sky High School counselor, the ski-building concept hit them. "I mentioned the idea to a couple students," Traeder says, "and then it just skyrocketed. The light bulbs went on. So we funded the entire program, and we raffled off a canoe, and the proceeds from that helped go into building the ski press."

"It's a demo board," Traeder says of the first prototype. "It didn't turn out that great, but the learning curve was great." He hopes the ski shop, part of the school's industrial education department, will allow future students to build their own skis and snowboards, too.

This crew of seniors, all headed to either the University of Montana or Montana State, may continue with the craft. Asked if they'd thought of going into business together, they all nodded their heads. "We've definitely talked about it," says Stahl. "We'll try pressing out a few boards and sell them to friends next season."

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