A new take on ski school: Summit County students craft custom skis, earning valuable experience and college credit

Ski manufacturing program teacher Thomas Lutke helps students use equipment to make their own snowboard.
Thomas Lutke/Courtesy photo

For the past several years, Summit High School has offered students an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the ski manufacturing industry through a collaboration with Colorado Mountain College.

This year, the Summit Foundation stepped in to make this already popular program even more sought out. Thanks to the foundation, students don’t only receive college credits. Now, they also walk out of the class with their own pair of handcrafted skis. 

The Summit Foundation covered expenses for all the tools in the shop as it seeks to support education through its Bright Future Fund.

“In 2024, we are proud to announce the Bright Future Fund, which symbolizes our enduring dedication to education and the empowerment of our community,” said Jeanne Bistranin, executive director of the Summit Foundation. “This fund expands on our impact in education and is above and beyond our usual community support.”

Senior Lily D’Onofrio found so much value in the class that she is looking into colleges where she can continue the craft. D’Onofrio is a go-getter with a pretty full plate. The senior is enrolled in college courses and is taking part in the school’s International Baccalaureate program. She said the ski manufacturing program is what she looks forward to most in school.

Students Dalton Sapp and Lily D’Onofrio work on a design graphic during class for the ski manufacturing program.
Thomas Lutke/Courtesy photo

“Ski class has just been so incredible because it’s just been like fresh air in my schedule,” D’Onofrio said. “I can go in and do something with my hands and just focus on creating something.”

D’Onofrio has her sights set on the University of Vermont and has ambitions to intern with J skis whose headquarters is mere minutes from the campus. 

High school principal Doug Blake said the donation from the Summit Foundation has been invaluable to the school’s mission to expand its postsecondary readiness programs. 

“Our district is doing a lot of work with postsecondary pathways, postsecondary preparation and seeing how we can find those different programs, those different opportunities to engage students in relevant learning experiences that will ultimately lead them to meaningful, high-paying, relevant jobs in the future,” high school principal Doug Blake said.

Ski manufacturing teacher Thomas Lutke has taken the helm of the program and expanded it to be a multidisciplinary experience. Students graduating from the program don’t just emerge knowing how to make skis and snowboards. They also walk away with business and marketing skills. 

“You build this actual product that is your dream — your vision — and then you actually have to create a marketing campaign around it. We are actually selling skis right out of the classroom here,” Lutke said.

To cover some funds, D’Onofrio and the other students were asked to find sponsors to buy skis from them. In addition to making their own skis, the class will collaborate on making an additional seven pairs of skis for their sponsors. Sponsors mostly include family and friends. The Summit Foundation also purchased two sets of skis from the program. 

Lutke is also giving the students a lesson in market research by bringing their work to Arapahoe Basin Ski Area so they can get input from mountain-goers. He reached out to Arapahoe Basin and was able to secure a prime beach spot in the parking lot for Dec. 1 so the class can conduct market research. The ski area also provided Lutke with a pass for every student in that class to ski that day. 

Lutke said he had the idea for this specific program for about two years. For the past eight years, the high school had offered ski manufacturing as a Level 1 program, but this concept is considered Level 2. Level 1 is the class students take as a prerequisite. Students take Level 1 through a collaboration with Colorado Mountain College, which is where they can secure the college credits. 

Level 2 is the hands-on aspect of the program where the students are actually manufacturing skis and snowboards.

“We spent a year writing grants and talking to different people, and then the Summit Foundation heard about this. We wrote a grant, and they said, ‘Yes, we will cover all of the supplies, all of the tooling to make this happen,'” Lutke.

The district’s director of postsecondary readiness, Bill Gilmore, had been and currently is working toward identifying what post-school pathways students are most interested in taking. 

Gilmore is currently gathering student and community input in order to do so. He said he has already identified a few popular pathways, and Lutke’s program seemed to support those perfectly. 

“I’m pretty sure advanced manufacturing, engineering, business and entrepreneurship will be contenders if not locks, and so Tom’s program fits really nicely into those pathways,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore said he is thrilled with the direction Lutke took this program in its pilot year and looks forward to seeing it grow.

He also noted he believes the program could greatly benefit from partnering with companies in the ski industry. 

Henry Calvin work a ski tip during class for the ski manufacturing program.
Thomas Lutke/Courtesy photo

“If there’s organizations out there, if there’s ski industry people who can see value in this and they’ve got equipment that they’re phasing out and they want a tax write off, hey, guess what, we’d love to have it,” Gilmore said. “We can use industry-grade equipment to create industry-grade products.”

This year, Lutke secured his students a visit and demonstration from professional skier and Salomon representative Drew Petersen.

“He is actually going to bring over Salomon’s entire demo fleet and walk us through the building process,” Lutke noted.

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