Ski Manufacturer Goes Green with Microalgae Technology

WNDR Alpine engineers skis using sustainable high-performance materials derived from microalgae instead of petroleum.

(Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

(Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Sustainable innovation is not generally associated with skiing. WNDR Alpine (pronounced “wonder”) is a ski equipment manufacturer that is rapidly changing that perception. Based out of Salt Lake City, WNDR Alpine is a subsidiary of Checkerspot, a biotechnology company responsible for developing a methodology to derive polyurethanes and textile coatings from oils extracted from microalgae. The company launched WNDR to create a platform that would showcase its innovative technique.

Skis are traditionally made of a wood, foam or composite core with an outer layer of fiberglass and carbon fibers. The base of the ski is polyethylene. Epoxies hold these components together. The majority of these components are petroleum-based and mass-produced by global chemical suppliers with little thought to the performance demands of skiing. WNDR Alpine avoids much of this petroleum-based plastic, and instead uses microalgae oil to create purpose-built plastics for the ski’s core and sidewalls. 

Microbe Management

Checkerspot has created a propriety technique called AlgalTech to grow oil-rich microalgae in fermentation tanks. The microalgae oil is then harvested and mixed with other chemicals to create a veritable smorgasbord of substances that can be used in manufacturing, including the polyurethane compounds in WNDR Alpine’s skis.

Growing microalgae in the lab. (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Growing microalgae in the lab. (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Working directly with Checkerspot’s lab allows WNDR to tailor compounds specifically for its needs. The ski’s core, branded the Algal Core, is a composite of vertically laminated materials utilizing a bio-based polyurethane foam with a carbon content of greater than 40 percent. This combination reduces the ski’s weight and offers damping properties otherwise unattainable in solid wood core construction.

The sidewalls that protect the ski’s core, nicknamed the Algal Wall, are 60 percent bio-based carbon content polyurethane. To integrate this material directly into the ski’s construction, the liquid sidewall material is poured into a channel outside the core, which acts as a mold. The liquid then naturally polymerizes to form a native unbreakable bond with the aspen wood, increasing the overall structural integrity of the ski.

Top: Pouring Algal Wall into a channel that acts as a mold. Bottom: Algal Wall naturally bonding with the core as it hardens. (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Top: Pouring Algal Wall into a channel that acts as a mold. Bottom: Algal Wall naturally bonding with the core as it hardens. (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Fusion of Manufacturing and Science

The skis are put together in several steps. First, steel borders are added to each side of the ski’s base layer. The edges are further protected by the addition of rubber, and a block is added to strengthen the ski’s tail. This is then covered by a layer of composite reinforcements. After the Algal Core is laminated against the wooden core and bonded with the Algal Wall sidewall, it is attached to the rest of the ski by a binding plate. Another layer of composite reinforcements is added on top of the core, and the ski is finished off with a topsheet displaying the company logo and design.

The WNDR Alpine team simulated the entire process on Autodesk Fusion 360. By utilizing the software, the team was able to design, manufacture and apply the algae in order to enhance product integrity and minimize process waste. Matt Sterbenz, general manager of Checkerspot Wintersports and founder of WNDR Alpine, provided details of the process in an interview with

“We’re able to bring the ski to life on the screen and identify areas where we could streamline the tolerances of this channeling process, so that we’re only using as much of our urethane as we’re actually going to need in the final good,” Sterbenz said. “Without Fusion 360, we would not be able to realize these waste savings.”

A rendering of the ski on Autodesk Fusion 360. (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

A rendering of the ski on Autodesk Fusion 360. (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Daniel Malmrose, director of manufacturing at Checkerspot, agreed: “Autodesk Fusion 360’s integrated CAD/CAM software is straightforward to use. We can draw an idea and cut a part in a matter of minutes. Having all the tools in one place means we can rapidly prototype and validate our designs.”

WNDR has also designed specific tools in-house, according to Xan Marshland, manager of brand development.

“A lot of our manufacturing process involves custom tooling, including house-made ski presses and form blocks,” Marshland explained. “Additionally, we use a Techno CNC for shaping, M&R screen printing press for topsheets, and GS Manufacturing urethane pumps in our Algal Wall casting process.” 

“A huge advantage of utilizing custom machinery is that we are our own supply chain,” noted Malmrose. “This allows us to manufacture our own components and materials in scenarios where other ski manufacturers have to buy premade materials from a supplier.”

In this way, WNDR can create a new concept, design materials and products, build and test a product in its lab, and take the new product out and provide immediate performance feedback—all within a matter of days.

“Using Fusion allows us to have this rate of acceleration to market,” said Sterbenz. “The speed of innovation it provides WNDR Alpine is unparalleled, because that can give us the ability to react to trends before any of the big brands can step in. Being a direct-to-consumer brand, we are not held to the same type of market rollouts as brands that are dependent on retail distribution.”

Performance Under Stress

WNDR’s Algal Wall compares favorably to skis made from traditional materials. The WNDR team performed the following comparison tests and came out on top in all of them. It should be noted that all tests were performed at WNDR’s in-house material science lab.

Flexural Strength (Failure)

Flexural strength is a measure of how much the material can bend without breaking. The Algal Wall was found to be 15 percent stronger than petroleum-based ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, a type of thermoplastic) sidewalls at room temperature, and 60 percent stronger at lower temperatures.

Flexural strength test (left) and the test results (right). (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Flexural strength test (left) and the test results (right). (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Ultimate Tensile Strength

Ultimate tensile strength is a property of the material that quantifies the point at which it fails under tension. The Algal Wall tested 11 percent stronger under tension than traditional ABS at room temperature, and 55 percent stronger at lower temperatures.

Ultimate tensile strength test (left) and the test results (right). (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Ultimate tensile strength test (left) and the test results (right). (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)


Damping is the material’s ability to absorb energy from an impact. A higher damping in a ski means a smoother and more stable ride over variable snow surfaces. The Algal Wall had a 278 percent better damping than traditional ABS.

Damping dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA) test (left) and the test results (right). (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Damping dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA) test (left) and the test results (right). (Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

WNDR’s first ski, the Intention 110, was a success when it was launched in 2019—winning Fast Company’s 2020 Innovation By Design Award in the Sports and Recreation category. Powder Magazine conducted an in-depth review of the Intention 110 and concluded: “All in all, this ground-breaking ski totally lives up to the hype. For the freeride skier looking for a playful backcountry companion, the Intention 110 is a solid choice for everyday winter use.” 

WNDR followed this with the Vital 100, which won a Style & Design Award from Men’s Journal. The verdict was: “The bio-based build is no eco-conscious gimmick. The lively, responsive ski punches above its weight class with high-speed stability on variable snowpack, while remaining nimble in steep and technical situations.”

Be the Change

Even though WNDR Alpine’s plastic is generated from microalgae, it is still plastic. To counter this, WNDR has a program where it can take back three-year-old or younger skis in exchange for a 20 percent discount off a new pair of skis, and encourages customers to return any of its skis for recycling at the end of their life.

(Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

(Image courtesy of WNDR Alpine.)

Because of the use of the Fusion software, the WNDR team was able to significantly reduce the amount of waste generated by about two pounds of landfill input per manufactured ski. Additionally, microalgae matures in five to seven days—as compared to millions of years for fossil fuels—which makes the former material a renewable resource. The company asserts that plastic developed using microalgae is not only more environmentally friendly than its fossil-fuel counterpart—it also produces less waste and results in better performance.

Developing and selling skis is only what Checkerspot utilizes to display its methodology. Its main aim is to share its technology with others.

“The goal here is to ultimately create solutions to decade-old manufacturing problems through innovative material design and processes,” expressed Sterbenz.

As an example, Checkerspot is bringing another biomaterial to market in partnership with Beyond Surface Technologies (BST), a Swiss lab and world leader in green chemistry. BST’s brand partners include Patagonia, Adidas, Levi’s, The North Face and Lululemon. Last year, Beyond ST supplied fabric for upwards of 150 million garments, ranging from soccer jerseys to outdoor baselayers. Checkerspot is commercializing an algal oil formulated into BST’s wicking textile finish, miDori bioWick.

“We are working with Gore of Gore-Tex to realize a non-petroleum-based solution to waterproof breathable, also known as DWR,” added Sterbenz.

On top of developing sustainable products, Checkerspot also uses sustainable energy.

“We really want to look at our manufacturing as a holistic ecosystem and how we can improve on every element of it,” explained Marshland. “So, of course, the energy that we use to manufacture skis is a huge part of that. Checkerspot as a whole company has recently become B Corp certified. So, what we’re actually doing is sourcing 100 percent renewable energy from our grid.”


Based on their excellent critical reception, WNDR Alpine skis are setting a new performance standard in the world of skiing. The company is not secretive about its proprietary breakthrough technology. Instead, it is inviting other companies to explore the benefits of microalgae in everything from tennis shoes to jackets and even other brands of skis. This will allow economies of scale to lower manufacturing costs and help the planet at the same time.

Let’s hope this company’s generous philosophy will spread like the algae it grows.