Blades of Glory
Introducing Zai Skis, the boutique Swiss company making skiing an altogether more life-enriching experience
Article by Scott Harper
Pablo Picasso once said, “A painter is a man who paints what he sells. An artist, however, is a man who sells what he paints.” This rallying call to creative individualism – and thus, imperviousness to market forces – has been driving Zai Ski founder Simon Jacomet’s approach to his craft since he created his company in 2003, having become disillusioned with the whys and wherefores of mass-production while working for two of the world’s major ski brands in the early-1990s.
Jacomet, a former technical coach for the Swiss national ski team, regularly puts in 18-hour shifts at Zai’s workshop, a hive of artisanal industry in the town of Disentis at the foot of the Swiss Alps, in his tireless quest to redefine what makes a top-quality downhill blade. He created and personally tested over 200 prototypes before releasing Zai’s first ski, the Classic, and to this day insists on testing every prototype himself.
Key to his approach is a highly innovative approach to materials – and an on-going quest to find new ones. Thus, the Zai for Bentley ski, created in partnership with the British car marque, has a natural rubber surface, cedarwood core and stainless steel edges. Zai’s most recent model, the Scadin, features a layer of natural wool fibres which have been converted into a highly durable and flexible material by a special pressing process. Realising some years ago that a stone core could improve a ski’s performance he managed to find a way of pre-stressing 50-million-year-old Swiss Alpine granite to make it bend without breaking – enter, stage left, the Zai Spada, which also has an elegant surface mosaic made from natural rubber.
The phrase “spoilt for choice” leaps to mind – which is why the company’s renting division has come up with a scheme called Zai Ski Concierge, whereby you can arrange to test all the different types of Zai skis, varying your blades for each session on the slopes. Depending on factors such as your level, and whether all-piste terrains or ploughing through the powder are on your itinerary, you can choose various different programme options. Door-to-door delivery anywhere in the Swiss Alps is all part of the service.
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Meanwhile, ever keen to encourage its fan base to live and breathe Zai’s ‘reduction to the essential’ philosophy, the company has teamed up with one of Europe’s oldest working Benedictine monasteries, close to Zai HQ, to offer accommodation boasting panoramic views of Disentis village and the surrounding valley. The Zai monastery stay is part of a two-day package that also includes a tour of the Zai factory, a day on the slopes on hand-crafted Zai skis and an optional ski-building workshop.