Friedman was one of the top US World Cup Downhillers and a member of the U.S. Ski Team for 10 years before an injury forced him into retirement in 2009. Every year, Friedman was handed a load of new gear specifically sized for him that by the end of the year would be go to waste. “They’d hand me a stack of brand new poles at the beginning of the season,” Friedman explained. “By the end of the year I would have bent or broken most of them and what was left wasn’t of much use to anyone else because they were perfectly sized for me.” So when he retired, Friedman, along with his friend and former racer Erik Schlopy, decided to create a more sustainable and less wasteful product – one that would hopefully reduce climate change rather than add to it.
Soul Poles began in 2010, with Friedman at the helm and and Park City engineer, Mike Wong, in charge of designing the poles. After a long search, he found a family of bamboo growers in Guangzhou, China that took him under their wing and taught him all about the rapidly renewable material. The bamboo grows straight and tall and is cut after three years of growth when it’s the right size for the pole’s shaft. After one big shipment of poles, the company has enough material to last a couple years. Once in the US, at the Soul Poles factory in Park City, UT, the bamboo is dried in a kiln and soaked in a special veggie oil mixture to help seal and protect them.
As for the other materials, like grips, straps, baskets and tips, all are made in the US and mostly from recycled materials. An injection molder in North Carolina uses 100 percent recycled PET plastic to make the grips and straps. The tips are made in Ogden, UT from 80 percent recycled aluminum. The baskets are not yet recycled, but the team is working to come up with a new design that can handle stronger loads and use recycled plastics. The parts arrive in the Park City facility and a team of dedicated builders work on putting them together. Bamboo poles are cut to size, grinded down, and grips and tips are stuck on with a re-heatable, non-toxic glue.