U student’s custom ski poles headed to the Olympics

The idea came to Alex Carr one day in 2011 when he was hiking down a mountain ridge from a backcountry skiing trip. He recalled questioning the purpose of the poles in his hands.

“[I] just thought to myself, ‘Why are ski poles so useless?’ ” Carr said. “There could easily be a screwdriver on here.”

Carr, a junior in entrepreneurship at the U, has combined his passion for skiing with his interest in business to create CHAR Poles in 2012. The poles are a ski industry trailblazer aimed at transforming ski poles into more than just sticks.

“Carrying sticks is a tad prehistoric,” Carr said, referring to the first ski poles, which have not evolved much since the mid-1800s.

The main features of Carr’s ski pole design differ from the current industry standard to include topper handles equipped with universal camera mounts, a built-in toolkit that fits down into the shaft, a bottle opener as part of the basket and a strap design. The service of customizing color combinations, length and basket type is an added feature.

Carr’s company recently won five industry awards at the 2013 SnowSports Industries America Trade Show. He attributes this to making a versatile pole focused on functionality.

The company’s first pre-sale was held through an online campaign website called Rocket Hub on Dec. 22, and Carr plans to jump into the larger retail market soon. Although Carr is still debating selling the product overseas, he has already received orders from Norway and Sweden.

Carr anticipates the current snow season to be a busy and exciting time with a product that is just right for the current market.

“A lot of times businesses fail by making things that people really don’t want or need,” Carr said.

His experiences on the mountain cultivated some pragmatic ideas, which led him to the sketchbook. He then took those sketches to the U’s incubators to learn how to start a business. Carr attributes his progress and much of his success to U professors and librarians who provided him with resources and research databases that helped guide him.

Kathy Hajeb, director of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, helped Carr take his idea forward through the Innovation Scholar Program on campus.

“Students come to college knowing they want to make an impact in the world, but they struggle to know how to do it,” Hajeb said. “This is a program that really helps them customize their own unique plan.”

The innovation scholar roadmap class, which Hajeb teaches Fall and Spring Semester, was the first step in understanding how to put a plan together. The class addresses how to pitch an idea for funding or enter an idea into a competition.

Carr realized from taking this class that it takes a lot more time to launch a product than anything else involved in his start-up.

“It’s crazy we got this far. Nobody wanted to invest in ski poles to begin with,” said Carr, who is now the CEO of his company with a team of six full-time and part-time employees.

The designs for the CHAR Poles were patented in 2012, making them the first to market in the action sports/camera support niche.

Currently, CHAR Poles is in the process of designing an Olympic pole to debut worldwide at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Freeskiers Jamie Crane-Mauzy, Noah Wallace, Kyle Smaine and Lyman Currier are all hopeful 2014 Winter Olympic athletes, and they plan to carry CHAR Poles with them to Sochi in February. The company also plans to market at the world’s largest trade show in Munich, Germany.
Carr also expressed some of the challenges in starting a company as a full-time student, but has taken large strides in advancing the market of winter sports. He hopes to break even for his first of business.

“I see the opportunity for CHAR Poles to have many affiliates in the action sports industry,” Carr said.

m.mckenna@chronicle.utah.edu