DESPITE an abundance of rugged, snow-capped mountains, Scotland is unlikely to be at the top of many people’s lists when planning a skiing or snowboarding holiday. Jamie Kunka, founder of Perthshire-based Lonely Mountain Skis, a micro ski manufacturer with a distinct Scottish flavour, is on a mission to change that.

Since 2013, Kunka has been creating hand-crafted, Scotland-centric skis, working predominantly with Scottish materials to craft products that are not only for Scots, but are perfectly suited to helping outdoor enthusiasts navigate the country’s tough, often unforgiving snowy terrain.

Kunka was initially inspired to give ski-making a go after watching a TV show fronted by acclaimed woodsman and survivalist Ray Mears. In the noteworthy episode, Mears met with a Swedish ski-maker who made a ski from dead standing pine. Kunka, upon seeing that something sleek, beautiful and altogether practical could emerge from a fallen, rotting tree, found that he wanted to do something similar.

At the time of this light-bulb moment of realisation, Kunka was studying product design at Dundee University, so had the perfect workshop environment to learn the necessary skills, and create various ski prototypes. Reflecting on his initial designs, Kunka admits they were basic and not especially beautiful, but says they were good enough for him to consider that, with some refinement, they would be good enough to not only use personally, but could potentially be sold to other skiers.

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“It was the response to my honours project at university which finally gave me the confidence to explore the idea of a Scottish ski company,” Kunka said. “During my last year [at Dundee] I not only thought about what I wanted a Scottish ski for the future to look like, but also how the business could be shaped. Once I had my final prototype built it caused a bit of a frenzy among die-hard Scottish skiers who loved the idea of a ski made in Scotland.”

Kunka quickly realised that not only was there a market for quality skis made in Scotland, but he discovered that these enthusiasts would happily part with their hard-earned cash to get their hands on bespoke equipment that was uniquely Scottish.

“This spurred me on to go and raise as much money as possible to start making a serious production model, and later the first production run. I already had a fair amount of composite and woodworking skills from university and felt I was proficient enough at skiing to be able to analyse and test my own skis.”

The National: Jamie Kunka, owner and founder of Lonely Mountain Skis, with his dog Hemp in his workshop in Birnam, Perthshire, where he hand makes custom skis from woodJamie Kunka, owner and founder of Lonely Mountain Skis, with his dog Hemp in his workshop in Birnam, Perthshire, where he hand makes custom skis from wood

While he admits to not having vast amounts of business experience at the outset of his ski-making journey, Kunka is adamant that seeking out — and listening to — guidance afforded to him by several business and coaching experts not only gave him further belief in his business concept, but gave him room to focus on the development of his skis. Now, almost a decade later, taking a hands-on approach remains the thing that gets Kunka up in the morning. “My all-time favourite part of the process is probably laying down the first coat of varnish on the skis and seeing all the wood suddenly come alive,” he said.

Designed in Scotland, for Scotland

FROM the very beginning, Kunka knew that he wanted his skis to not only be crafted with love, care and precision, but was determined that they be perfectly suited to the mountains of Scotland. He was — and still is — intent on playing a part in providing a much-needed boost to the Scottish snowsport scene, helping to cataylse interest as well as pushing for further infrastructural development. “Most of my skis are designed to work around the sort of mixed snow conditions that you find in Scotland,” Kunka confirmed. “This means that there are no wacky or off-the-wall designs that would only work in perfect snow on foreign slopes. And, as with the Scottish mentality, the skis are modest, traditional, and punch above their weight in terms of quality and attention to detail.”

So, according to Kunka, what exactly does a Scottish ski look like? What are the key features or components that make a ski perfectly suited to thrillseekers determined to conquer Scotland’s tricky slopes?

“It’s a recipe of solid construction, particularly incorporating a mixture of high-tech and natural materials, which makes the ski perform well whether switching from pockets of nice snow to wind slab and névé,” Kunka noted. “Perhaps the biggest reason they work well here is that they are all tested around Perthshire on the slopes of Glenshee, or on other nearby backcountry spots. “For me, making a truly Scottish ski has been about trying to channel some of the Scottish ski culture. This meant designing, making and testing the skis in Scotland, and also sourcing as many materials as possible from Scotland. While some of the materials are exotic and made elsewhere in Europe, I always make sure there is never cheap labour or any kind of exploitation involved. It would be easy to import many of the components, but I take the hard path and build everything in house. It’s important to me that I can say my skis are truly Scottish products.”

The National: Kunka says his skis are made to work especially well on Scottish terrainKunka says his skis are made to work especially well on Scottish terrain

EVEN amid Kunka’s efforts to date, Scotland’s snowsport sector remains relatively underdeveloped, especially when compared to European countries like France, Italy, Austria and Bulgaria. There are numerous reasons for this, including lack of investment and the fact that snow-laden winters aren’t habitual, but Kunka believes that, despite these hurdles, there is a huge opportunity just waiting to be grasped.

“Snowsport is such a bittersweet game in Scotland because of our fleeting winters, but I think skiing is actually a huge part of our culture, with nearly everyone having a funny tale or story to tell about learning to ski in the wind and ice at a Scottish ski resort,” he said. “Even though we do have unpredictable winters, I would love Scottish snowsports to receive the investment and support they deserve. It’s an intangible pillar of our culture and of Scottishness generally.

“I feel that, perhaps, people look upon the success of our ski industry in the metrics of profit, tourism and Olympic medal generation. However, I would argue that it should be considered a cultural asset that needs to be protected and invested in for Scottish people to enjoy.”

Kunka suggests that this could begin with the building of off-grid, manned mountain huts for skiers and mountaineers and the creation of some high forest cross-country skiing trails, as well as additional support and funding for skiing resorts. This is a message that is also being pushed by Scottish ski star Kirsty Muir, who has previously called on Scots to hit the slopes and give skiing a chance, suggesting that such a move could inspire a new generation of Scottish Winter Olympic Games superstars.

Ski to success

KUNKA’S designs have not only won widespread acclaim from skiers, but have also won various industry awards. This degree of recognition, Kunka admits, is something he never expected when he started working on his initial designs at Dundee University, or even in the very early days of Lonely Mountain.

“One of the most memorable occasions was when I won the ISPO Gold trade show award for the Sneachda ski,” Kunka said. “At this point I had only sold one pair of skis. I imagined that customers were unsure of the untested skis and higher pricing. I was invited to Munich to pick up the award and had to go on stage in front of the whole ski industry. All of the big companies had teams of people on stage picking up their awards and I think I surprised everyone being a one-man band, and also coming from Scotland, which the presenters didn’t even know had a skiing scene.”

Another standout moment, Kunka says, was when young skier Finbar Doig won the Scottish freedom series at Meall nan Tarmachan, only a stone’s throw from the Lonely Mountain workshop, while wearing a pair of Kunka’s skis.

But, for Kunka, skiing has grown to become more than a profession. Even in his free time, he admits that skiing in Scotland is rarely far from his mind.

READ MORE: Scottish ski star Kirsty Muir calls on nation to try snow sports

“One of my very favourite winter activities is to disappear off with my Nordic skis, a stove and the dog into Highland Perthshire, and ski out into a forest or next to a loch. Then it’s just a matter of brewing up a hot drink, sitting back and looking at the snow-capped landscape! Also, there are a lot of mountain bike trails here in Perthshire to enjoy, while many Scottish towns can boast hidden trails that would, anywhere else in the world, be at ski resort level. The Dunkeld area [near Perth] is a particular favourite.”

In terms of future plans, Kunka wants nothing more than to continue on the same path. Creating hand-crafted skis in his compact, homely workshop shows no signs of losing its allure, and Kunka wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I never wanted to make thousands of skis and have a huge team or factory,” he admitted. “I much prefer the idea and mystique of a lone craftsman working away, producing one-of-a-kind products in a small workshop.

“I think a lot of what has made my company popular over the years would be completely lost if I was suddenly churning out thousands of skis. The idea is to remain true to the philosophy of craftsmanship and make quality skis by hand, even if that comes at the expense of time and profit.”