HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. — It was perhaps inevitable motorized skiing would become a thing. The fact it is coming out of Labrador—where snowmobiles are as much transportation necessity as recreational fun—is hardly surprising.
The Skizee, now a product being pre-sold by Roshell Industries for winter 2019, exists for one reason, explained inventor and chief technology officer (CTO) Jim Maidment.
“The Skizee is a lot of fun,” he said. “When you’re breaking trail and you’ve got virgin snow and you’re going through the trees and the sun is shining, it feels like you’re powder skiing, because you’re not on (the machine) or in it, it’s just empowering your existing technology which is the skier; your body is doing everything except propulsion. It’s so much fun you want to share the experience. It’s all about fun, that’s why I made it.”
As a young teen in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Maidment was one of the early adopters of Snow Goose Mountain. When the ski hill originally opened, the lift had not yet been installed. Skiers had to climb to the top to ski down and Maidment dreamed about a device that could propel him, not just to the top of that hill, but anywhere he wanted to go on skis.
Maidment went on to become an accomplished alpine skier, competing provincially. He studied to become an industrial mechanic/millwright in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and left Labrador for a time. During a career in the manufacturing industry, the motorized skiing idea continued to percolate, and Maidment started tinkering with prototypes.
In 2009, he got serious about it, building several prototypes and testing them during winters for reliability and safety in geographic locations across Canada, from the Kootenay Mountains in B.C. to the Avalon Peninsula, and, of course, in Labrador.
He put it through its paces over every kind of terrain and in all the weather conditions he could find,” said Donna Paddon, Roshell chief executive officer (CEO).
Within the first couple of years, the machine got a lot of attention. Maidment was featured on Discovery Channel and media reports followed, but the Skizee was still a long way from ready for prime time.
After six seasons of rigorous testing and tweaking, Maidment was ready to take it to the next level and invited Paddon, a consultant in communications services and business training and a lifelong Labradorian, to join him in turning the dream into a business.
Roshell Industries was born.
Paddon knew the first step was to develop a business plan. For that, Roshell got some financial help from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Paddon downplays her role in fundraising, but Maidment gives her full credit for obtaining the funding.
“It probably would not have happened without her,” he said.
Took a chance
The business plan opened more doors, including those of the Genesis Centre in St. John’s, the largest technology incubator east of Toronto.
“We took a chance on moving down here to St. John’s,” Paddon said. “Jim pitched to the Genesis Centre board, the business model and the product, and gained entry into the Genesis Centre.”
Roshell is the first Labrador company to be accepted into Genesis.
Along the way, the company received financial support from the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the National Research Council to develop the business.
The machine itself is kind of a modified snowmobile track with a self-contained, electric-start, eight-horsepower, four-stroke engine and four-litre gas tank attached to two handles, one of which contains a throttle. It weighs 115 pounds and will go up to 40 km/hr. It can be used with all kinds of alpine and back-country skis, boots and bindings.
Maidment says the best thing is the Skizee’s technological simplicity. All the components are high end and have been tested for durability and reliability, he said, but if the machine does break down, it is easily repairable, unlike modern snowmobiles.
Paddon says you don’t have to be an accomplished skier, or even a good one, to use the Skizee.
“I tried the machine and I’m not a skier,” she said. “I didn’t do the Snow Goose Mountain thing in my teen years in Labrador, but I tried it and I found after two or three times, I was able to master it and it was a lot of fun.”
Paddon and Maidment hope this year’s sales and the initial production run will give them the demographic information about who their customer base is that they need to attract large-scale investment.
They are currently targeting three main markets: industry that needs access to wilderness areas, such as the military, search and rescue organizations and hydro providers; tourism-related business, such as ski resorts looking to expand their existing customer base; and individual recreationalists, who are looking for another means for outdoor recreation.
The latter is a natural for Labrador, Paddon said.
“I’m a northerner,” she said. “I grew up in Nain and Makkovik and wherever, and I totally get snowmobiles for transportation. And I get, what do you do on a weekend?
“You use your snowmobile and you go ice-fishing, or you go to your cabin, or you go for a ride or whatever. (The Skizee) just allows people to pursue a healthy lifestyle, just to be able to get out there and get that fresh air and exercise. And, as Jim said, it’s the glide that’s amazing.”
To learn more about Skizee visit the website skizee.ca.