Nix | Building Our Perfect Ski In North London

In a converted bus factory near Caledonian Road, Nix are busy creating some special truly winter sports gear. Hugh Francis Anderson popped in to pay them a visit, and turn his vision for a custom ski into a reality

Nix-skis

Featured image credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

It’s a mild January morning as I exit Caledonian Road station in North London and walk towards Busworks, a coworking space within a converted Victorian bus factory and timber yard. As I strolled along the mammoth building, an arched door swings open at foot-level and the head of James Mechie, founder of the micro ski brand Nix Snowsports, pops out brandishing a broad smile. “I’m down here,” he laughs. I squat down and peer inside. Skis and snowboards adorn the walls, a state-of-the-art CNC machine hums away on the side-lines, and the smell of wax radiates around the small workshop. Of all the places to find a micro ski brand, this is surely the most unusual.

“Of all the places to find a micro ski brand, this is surely the most unusual”

According to a study published by Absolute Reports earlier this month, the ski gear and equipment industry is worth a staggering $6277 million and expected to grow annually by 4%. You’ll be unsurprised to hear that 25% of this amount is shared by the top three players, with the likes of Amer Sports jostling for top spot. Yet within an industry worth billions and dominated by powerhouses, there has been an explosion of micro ski brands in recent years. You’ll be hard pressed to find a mountainside without an array of them: Black Crows, DPS, Faction, Movement, the list goes on. But even within this niche, there are the little guys, the hand builders, grinding away in epoxy-dusted workshops to produce bespoke skis for an array of clientele. Founded in 2013, Nix Snowsports is one of these unicorns.

At 6’6” and 15 stone, a fondness for skinning up and stomping down, and a need to ski resorts as part of my remit as a writer, the ideal single ski has long alluded me. Granted, any all-rounder has is compromises, but it dawned on me that a ski made specifically for my compromises might just be what I’m after. I had first heard about this guy building skis in North London back in 2017, so after a quick email, the journey to ski perfection had begun.

Nix-skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Custom-Skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Custom-Skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Customs-Ski

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

James didn’t start skiing until his teens, but like so many of us have, he fell in love with it immediately. Seasons in European resorts followed, and after studying industrial design, his plan was to build either bikes or skis. “All the processes, the CAD and CNC work, are the same, it’s just a different product,” he tells me. “I chose skis and just decided to jump in and have a go.” Under James’ own admission, his early designs were rough and rudimentary, but he moved out to Meribel with his partner Lucy for the 2016 season, packed as many different designs as he could, and began the whittling process. “I just started building things and seeing what happened, experimenting and having fun,” he says. “I have friends who are instructors and guides, so I just gave skis to people to get their feedback.”

When James returned to London, he took over an old theater set-building studio in the basement of Busworks and got to work turning Nix into what it is today. From the made to measure range – a series of designs James has formed over the past 5 years and hand-tunes to individual needs, to long-lead fully bespoke skis, the Nix arsenal is focused on freeride, freestyle and backcountry, and today has even branched out into snowboards, too.

“I just started building things and seeing what happened, experimenting and having fun”

I clamber into the workshop to see my skis being made. It is a process that James urges all clients to do. “It’s really nice because it means you can actually visualize what goes into making your skis, and it’s something you can’t do with bigger manufacturers.” The Sentinel 105 is Nix’s flagship freeride ski, a 138-105-125mm directional twin and the base for my own set. Tuned to my specific needs and style, this would become my all-mountain weapon.

Nix-Customs-skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Customs-Skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Custom-Skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Custom-Skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Each ski begins life long before the build process. With acute industry knowledge, James starts by figuring out not only what you like, but what you’re really going to use it for. “If you like skiing on Völkl, for example, then I know you like a stiffer ski,” he says. “And then during a dialogue I find out what you’re actually going to use it for.”

Many want that luscious powder ski but if you normally ski resorts, and only occasionally head off-piste, then there’s little point. For me, I wanted a stiff tourer capable of sticking an edge in corduroy but also floating in powder. For James, that challenge was duly accepted, and he walks me through the processes. Once all is researched and honed, he adjusts the designs using CAM software, which translates pure design into something the CNC machine can use. He also mocks up and finalises the topsheet design, which can be fully bespoke on all Nix skis.

“It’s something like seven double decker buses worth of pressure”

Nix-Custom-Skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Custom-Skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Custom-Skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nearby, James points out the printer that is finishing my topsheet; it’s a black and white film image I shot in Lysefjord, Norway, and which featured in Issue Two of Mpora magazine. “It’s a two-part printing process where you start off by printing it and then you heat it, and the image is literally sublimated into the surface of the material,” he tells.

“You start off by printing it and then you heat it, and the image is literally sublimated into the surface of the material”

This means that when the topsheet gets nicks and scratches, the image remains as it is within the material itself. The base, a bright yellow one for a punch of colour, core and topsheet are then laid out and assembled between aluminum cassettes – plates that hold everything together when it goes into the press. With touring my primary focus, James reduces weight in my skis by using a bamboo core, precisely laying carbon fiber for the necessary stiffness to hold an edge, with the use of flax sheets to act as a dampener to reduce chatter, all finished with carbon tape in specific locations to adjust how much and where the ski flexes. Using a sandwich construction, the pieces are layered together – base, carbon fiber, core, flax, carbon fiber and topsheet. It’s saturated in bio-resin as the layers are built and then it’s heated and cured in the press.

“We can drop in different tip molds, rocker profiles, camber profiles, and then a big airbag squashes everything into shape,” says James. “It’s something like seven double decker buses worth of pressure.” After a few hours curing, it’s then a process of hand profiling the edges, grinding the base, waxing, polishing, and installing the bindings. I chose the Salomon S/LAB Shift MNC 13, the leading hybrid binding, which I find offers a better forward pivot position for smoother walking uphill, and one James himself highly recommends.

Nix-custom-skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-custom-skis

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

The entire process features the kind of attention to detail that can never be achieved with an off the shelf ski. A lone wolf in a huge ski industry, I wonder what James thinks when facing the big brands. “It doesn’t faze me that much,” he says. “The big difference is access to materials, as there are limited producers of ski materials. But the use of carbon fiber and flax is proper cutting-edge stuff and as it’s more expensive, it tends to take a while to feed into mass-produced skis.”

The perk here is that when new materials are brought to market, it’s easy for builders like James to trial them on a small scale. But it is also the personal approach. For myself, as a customer in this case, meeting and talking to the person building my skis is one of the greatest delights. And before complaints about pricing come in, let’s quash that here. A made to measure ski from Nix starts at just £895, and a fully bespoke set from £1,675. It’s obviously not pocket change but considering both options produce a ski that is made precisely for you, the price point is totally considerate. Plus, in an age of mass-consumerism, there’s also value in championing craftspeople, of knowing and seeing exactly where your money goes.

Nix-Customs-ski-workshop

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

I leave the workshop filled with a newfound appreciation for the tool that provides me such freedom, adventure and thrill. A week later, I receive word from James that my skis are ready. “They’ve come out at 194cm and 1.9kg apiece, which is a great sweet spot for their size.” With bated breath I make my way to the workshop, and my what a sight. They are the skis I always knew I needed, and I ceremoniously name them Greta.

But Greta’s real test is yet to come, and you’ll have to wait until Issue 3 of the Mpora magazine to read about that…

**********

Skis – Nix Snowsports Made to Measure Sentinel 105, from £895. Visit nixsnowsports.com and drop James a line.

Bindings – Salomon S/LAB Shift MNC 13, £450. Visit salomon.com

Nix-Customs-Ski

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Customs-ski-workshop

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-customs-ski-workshop

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Customs-Ski

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Customs-Ski

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Customs-Ski

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

Nix-Customs-Ski

Credit: Hugh Francis Anderson

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