About a decade ago, Jeff Thompson cut apart a pair of skis to make a contraption called a ski bike. He looked closer. “I thought, 'This really doesn't look that complicated. I could make one of those.'” The result: Shaggy's Copper Country Skis, a three-person business that makes and sells hand-crafted skis out of an abandoned Knights of Columbus hall in Boyne City. The skis are becoming a familiar sight at northern Michigan ski hills and have been purchased by customers from Vermont to Colorado to California.
Walk in the front door and you need not look far to find the principal characters in this story – there's Jeff's father, John, 55, operations manager; his mother, Shari, 54, office manager; and Jeff, 25, a 2012 graduate of Michigan Technological University, design engineer. “I thought it was another one of their hobbies,” Shari said. “I thought, 'It will be over in a year or two.' It just started becoming part of our lives.”
The business began on an even smaller scale in a pole barn in South Lyon in Oakland County, where John Thompson ran a home-building business. “We started selling them in 2009 and 2010,” Shari recalled. “But it was just a pair here and a pair there.” But when the construction business slowed, John and Shari Thompson had a decision to make. Just how serious were they about the ski business? With a summer place in Boyne City, they sold their house in South Lyon in 2011. They bought the Knights of Columbus building and put about $80,000 into renovations. In September 2011, they held the grand opening of Shaggy's Copper Country Skis.
The name was inspired by John's great-uncle, Shaggy, who carved a pair of wooden skis around 1940 for John's mother in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Crafted from wood cores wrapped in fiberglass, the skis range from just under $500 to more than $1,000 for a pair built to customer specifications. The firm buys its wood from a lumber company in nearby Boyne Falls, the scent of ash permeating the small production area. They all think Uncle Shaggy would be proud.
- Ted Roelofs