NEWRY — For those who believe if you love what you do for work, then you’ll never have to work, meet Will Tole.
Tole grew up in Portland listening to his dad tell stories of ski racing at Plymouth State University. Inspired, Tole and a friend started the first Cheverus High ski team in 1997. Later, he went to Denison College in Ohio, where there was no skiing, and graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in art. But his love of skiing – and ski racing – never disappeared.
Tole, 35, is the ski tuner for Gould Academy at Sunday River. After years of trying his hand in different aspects of the ski industry, he came back to his first passion, a trade he calls an art. He shapes, perfects and creates beautifully fast race skis.
We caught up with him in his workshop on Barker Mountain, where he was surrounded by dozens of colorful skis, a workbench, high-tech machines and classic rock music.
Q: How long have you been a ski tuner for Gould Academy and what did you do before that?
A: I’ve been doing most of Gould’s skis for the past four years. Before that, I was working for Tecnica Blizzard skis and boots. I was the competition rep for them. I would go to demos and talk about their products.
After college, I moved out West to Colorado for a couple of years, then went to Canada for a winter. I was teaching skiing, coaching racing. And then when I came back East, I ended up working for Joe Jones in Scarborough, boot fitting for them and tuning skis, and I was the bike mechanic for them. That allowed me to start practicing my craft, to stone-grind skis. I really learned there what I can do with a pair of skis and a pair of boots. I went up to their store in North Conway and got a little more specialized on race skis.
Then, after my three-year stint as a rep for Tecnica Blizzard, Sunday River asked if I wanted to come here. Now, I handle the race kids exclusively. I do the initial prep on the skis out of the wrapper, grinding (each ski) flat, getting structure in it, getting it sharp, getting the sidewalls shaped and polished, waxing it. People don’t realize a new race ski still needs work. Most commercial skis, you can ski them write out of the wrapper.
Q: Is ski tuning a craft, like woodworking?
A: It is. I grew up ski racing, my father taught me how to tune my own skis at age 10. I always tuned my own stuff. I had my very first job when I was 15 at a sports store in South Portland. At 15, I was a competent technician. I tuned skis and fitted boots. That was kind of how I got into the retail side of it when I was young.
Now, in the beginning of the season, I work anywhere from 70 to 80 hours a week. I am responsible for 200 race skis, give or take.
In the offseason, I stay here at the mountain. I’m the head coach for the (mountain) bike park. We’re a (downhill) gravity park. What I do there is take anyone from a novice to upper intermediate and show them the basics. My goal is to take people who have never done this and give them the tools to safely go out on their own and have a little bit of fun. Last year was the best year for the bike school.
Q: Would you call ski tuning an art?
A: At the risk of sounding cheesy, it is an art. Every technician has a signature they leave on the ski. It’s hard to explain. I don’t do anything to the ski to make you know it was me, but I can look at a ski and know if I tuned it, or someone else. And sometimes, if you know a certain technician’s product, a ski racer can tell, if they stay loyal to them.
I do enjoy it. It’s kind of meditative, it’s always been that way for me. Going back to the art side of things, I was an art major in college. I never went anywhere with my art degree. This is now my art. I enjoy what I do.
Q: When you see one of the Gould Academy racers have a great race, do you take satisfaction in that?
A: Absolutely. We had one girl, she had one of my favorite finishes of the year. She is a first-year FIS racer. When you first race in FIS, your points are 999. As you do better your points drop. So a World Cup ski racer usually has points in the single digits, a 4, 5, a 0. This girl, in one of her first giant slalom races, scored an 86 (points). It was an incredible move. I was so proud of her. And she was thanking me for tuning her skis. I love that part of it. This is why I do this. I take pride in the athletes I work with, and if they do well, I share a little bit of that excitement and accomplishment.
Q: Can you see doing this another 30 years?
A: Yeah. Although, if it’s 30 years from now, I would hope I have my own shop somewhere and can make a living for myself rather than as someone’s employee. But I still would like to do this. Race work for me is the pinnacle of it. You get to share in those athletes’ victories and root them on, being a part of something a bit bigger. That’s cool.
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or: