Interview by Sarah Tuff Dunn | Photographs by Joel Caldwell
The inventor and Northern Vermonter built catapults as a child, and for a while studied engineering at Clarkson University, but he had his first triumph when he stumbled upon a non-Newtonian polymer named Hyper Damping Technology, or HDT. The polymer behaved a little like Silly Putty, but with a strange attribute of deadening vibration. Schenck theorized HDT could dampen chattery hardpack—if he could only get the stuff into a ski.
Enter countless 18-hour days in a prototype lab, and summers washing windows to fundraise. By 2014, he’d dropped out of college so he could introduce a product that resembled a traditional ski—174 centimeters long, 90 millimeter waist, 16.5-meter sidecut—but thanks to the incorporation of HDT, could adapt to snow surfaces. That adaptive quality is the crux of the invention: Schenck’s HDT enabled skis stiffen on hardpack and soften in powder, possibly reducing a quiver from, say, three skis to one.
Three months later, Schenck accepted the prestigious ISPO Gold Award for his invention. And last year, the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce awarded his new company, Renoun, and his new ski, the Endurance, first prize in its LaunchVT competition, in recognition of the brand’s potential to transform business in the Green Mountain State. But even more rewarding were the reactions of testers ranging from X Games winners to Teton Gravity Research staffers, who’d “end a run saying, ‘I just skied a line that I never would have without these,’” says Schenck.
We caught up with Schenck in his headquarters in Burlington.
I was always playing outside as a kid. Built a lot of Legos. I didn’t really have any friends until my junior year of high school. I never fit in with the cliques at Clarkson, either. People told me I was outgoing, but I felt pretty awkward and out of place. That’s part of the reason I dropped out.
Our real eureka moment came in a note: “Holy [expletive], this stuff is insane.” That was the email we got from a professional tester at the lab, but in exclamation points and all caps.
The skis are adaptable. Period. As vibrations increase, the material becomes more resistant. So one minute they act like powder skis, and the next, they turn into Lindsey Vonn’s race skis.
East Coast snow is harder, that’s the reality. So the Endurance might work best there. But all skiers hit ice, and when the Endurance does, it reacts. So really, anybody anywhere can benefit.
We took an industry that is saturated with foofy marketing and said there are actually ways to do something that’s straight up different.
I can’t tell you what’s next for us, exactly, yet. But let’s just say there’s a reason we’re called Renoun and not Renoun Ski Company. I think of Renoun as a tech company. There’s so much more we can do that we don’t even know yet.
The science community loves HDT. Some guy from overseas called and said, “We think you’re genius.” That’s because we actually started the business using the scientific method. We tested the material and proved it worked in a lab before we ever sold a single ski.
Right now, sales are about 90 percent domestic, with the market shifting overseas this winter. We expect Japan to be huge. But in the ski industry, even if you do everything really well, the economics can be brutal. So I’ll keep washing windows as long as I have to.
From the Early Winter 2016 issue.