Interview by Ethan Stone

All photos © Ethan Stone/ 2004

NS: Who the hell are you?

CMcK: I’m Campbell McKeogh, owner and operator of Ninthward skis. But I usually go by the guise of marketing manager.

Where are you from?

Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana.

How does skiing tie in to growing up in New Orleans?

[laughs] It doesn’t at all, it doesn’t factor in at all. I didn’t ski until I was 22. Some people would go to Aspen or something for Mardi Gras, but we were never that family. I’d always stay and party for Mardi Gras… I didn’t even know about skiing then, you know?

What got you involved in skiing?

Its kind of hard to say, I don’t really know. My first year skiing was when Degenerates came out. A lot of friends of mine were hitting rails the year before. I tried to snowboard first because I skated and I thought I could be better that way, but it didn’t really work out, I kinda sucked. My friends were hitting rails and stuff, like railroad rails two inches off the ground, and kids were hitting that on skis. And then Degenerates came out, and everyone was like, hell yeah!

I went to college in Durango, Colorado, so I rode Purgatory Resort all the time. They have all kinds of natural terrain, really cool tables and stuff. I just followed behind my friends and hucked shit with them, I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Owner and founder Campbell McKeogh watches his boys at work.

When did you start thinking about a ski company? How’d that come about?

Basically I was looking at other companies to invest in, and what they were doing and the opportunities I was going to be given wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do. People that I talked to really influenced me to start my own thing. A lot of the kids on the team I’d known before, and I went to college for art, so I really hadn’t been accomplishing anything. I wanted a job where I could ski, do some artwork, and ride with my friends.

In one summer it really all just came together. I got some support from some pretty big people who patted me on the back and said, “This is a cool idea, I think you should go for it.� Without that kind of support, I never would have done it.

Did you see an opening in the ski market for new independent, rider-driven companies?

I don’t really know if I was that analytical about it at the time. I really thought of it as an opportunity for us to do what we wanted to do. Regardless of what company you mention, they’re bigger than us, they have more owners, more investors. There’s a lot more people who have control over what the company is putting out. We really wanted to put out what we wanted to do: everything is rider influenced, and I wanted to be as true to that as possible. I think that was the main thing: aesthetically, travel-wise, creativity-wise, team-wise, we just wanted to do our own stuff. I’m not trying to sound selfish, but there are other options. It’s so hard to explain, it really just all fell into place.

Team rider Kyle Dempster, doing his part for R&D.How’d you go about figuring out to make a pair of skis and building a company?

The guys that are on the team, 90 percent of them are such good friends that if I was team manager for some other ski company, they’d all be riding for that company. We all laugh at the same jokes, we watch the same TV channels, everything fits. We were all together when it happened. I met all of them water ramping at Park City. Utah is such a wealth of talented skiers. They’re all really cool kids, and on average I’m twelve years older than all of them, but we’re all on the same page, we all feel the same way about skiing. On the gondola ride up on a pow day we all won’t be talking about where we’re going; we’ll all know where we’re going.

As far as making skis, researching that and finding resources was one of the most time-consuming and difficult aspects of the whole deal, considering that I had no connections in the ski industry whatsoever. Some companies got upset when they found out I wasn’t going to invest, and I feel really hindered my progress as far as production goes, but at the same time I was able to find companies that had nothing to do with skiing are now making skis, making our outerwear. You know, skate companies down South are now taking notice of a ski company. In that aspect, I think it’s worked out well.

From top to bottom, the one guy that really blew the cork off the bottle of champagne for me is a guy named Mark Curren. He was an engineer for his own company, but he also used to make Brotherhood Snowboards. I was friends with his younger brother, and together they took me under their wing, gave me a lot of people to reference, and basically opened the door for me. From that point I had to learn everything about it from day one.

It’s a really cool process though. If you’re halfway analytical, you’ll be into it. You’re making skis. The dopest thing is just watching your concept come out of a mold. Mark and his brother Steve really pressed it upon me that I needed to do this on my own. And I did. These guys really hooked me up big time.

Want to say anything about the allegations that you stole business material from another ski company?

My official response to the allegations that I or Ninthward had stolen confidential material from another company is that that’s a falsehood; the situation is dead, and all that is heard about the situation is secondhand. However, I would be lying if I felt that there was not a personal crusade led by unnamed individuals who purposefully spread lies about the situation to hurt my company’s reputation. It was one of the hardest times of my life; I have never been accused of anything of that nature, ever.

So what about the skis? I’ve heard they’re bombproof.

The main concept is that we wanted a longer turning radius. We wanted a ski with a lot of energy, but wasn’t fidgety- you tell it to go to point B, it goes to point B. The main thing about it, is that it’s really just a hunk of wood. Swiss poplar is a just a completely congruent piece of wood, it’s just one piece of wood. I don’t know what it is about poplar, but it’s just awesome. The wood is really light, and it just makes the ski ride great. I think we lucked out with out our shapes to begin with. They’re very universal. Your basic ski construction is pretty simple. It’s a laminate construction with certain little features here and there like an ollie pad, a progressive lee-spring design. If you’re buttering, the more you press on the tips of your skis, the more energy the ski will store. You can really get a good pop off the tails or the tip, you can really load them and ollie them really well. It’s really fun. They really don’t ski like anything else I’ve skied. You flex them in a shop and they’ve got a really stiff flex, then you ski them and they ski so damp and so well, it’s just awesome.

Travis Perkins conducts R&D over the stepdown at Superpark.

At the same time, we wouldn’t be at the position we’re in now where we have a great ski to offer to the public without all of our R&D. We literally did a year of R&D, I put a lot of money into it. we went through so many pairs of skis- if we rode a ski for 90 days, I’d still break them and see how they broke. Without the R&D process I don’t see how we could ever be close to the product we have now. Without the team it would have been a futile attempt to put out a ski. You look at the team- they’re our demographic of the type of skier we’re interested in getting, so it all really worked out. There’s a lot of other physical details; like the 180, when the ski flexes, it has more effective edge than normal, so skiing a longer ski feels a lot more stable and a lot more predictable. The design really isn’t new- it’s just certain companies choose to do it or not to do it. Whether they choose to concentrate on our aspect of skiing is what really matters. Our riders rode them every day, pow days, icy days, the kind of stuff we do all the time just being a skier, so we know how they react in every instance. Without the R&D we’d have nothing.

What should people look for from Ninthward as a company?

I’m not going to try to compare us to any other industry because I think we’re really different. Skiing is a really old sport, and yet we’re a new genre trying to grow, and we’ll just have to see where it grows. What I think is essential for the type of growth everyone is looking for is an influx of new photographers, filmers, magazines, websites, you name it. Nowadays it seems like there’s an independent film company for almost every part of the country that you can ski. The media attention you can get from it, the amount of riders that can get exposure from that, is at least tenfold from when I started skiing. It’s essential for everyone to see the same way. Ninthward has had opportunities to sign big riders, to get this guy or that guy�there’s only a couple of people who I feel would fit us anyway�but, at the same time, I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to take away from the opportunities for our younger riders. I think they’re all very talented, I think any one of them could go big, win a contest. I want to convey the message to skiers that it’s really easy for all of us to progress this whole thing. I’d like to have kids that really relate to us as everybody else.

What skis will be on the racks from Ninthward this winter?

Our overall park twin is called the Butterlicious. It’s offered in 179, 169, each with its own turn radius. The ski we’re really stoked on right now is the 160, the MIP. Basically it was the Tosh Peters’ de facto pro model. He gave us tip, waist and tail, we engineered it, he tested and picked the flex, and there you go. All wood core, ABS sidewalls; it’s a really cool ski for a junior ski. It’s like 80 underfoot, so it’s fat for a little ski. He influenced the graphics, the colors are what he picked.

That’s one of the things that people can look forward to. I’m really interested in expressing as much creativity as possible through our clothing, our softgoods, our skate design, our ski design. I think its all one big burrito of artwork, honestly. The video, the website, the riding, the graphics all make it one entity. That’s what we’re really into. Depending on who does well, probably a few pro models in the next few years. Graphics and softgoods are really rider influenced. A lot of the graphics we’re going to be doing for the SIA show this year are really pretty crazy. One of main goals is I really want to progress the artwork, take a step up every single year. I like graphics that tell stories. I want people to have to look at it and think about it. Naked chicks on a ski is so cliché. I really want people to think. Whether they agree with what we’re up to or not, I want people to at least be into the graphics.

"Whoa dude, sick Ninthwards to dumpster to garbage can to picnic table to eight kink."

The ski that we’re just developing now is Tha 187, it’s slated for a January release. Right now it’s all maple core, but that might change- that’s one of the coolest things about R&D. We’re about to run ten or twelve cores through the 187 with all different flexes and ski them all, and just see where we want it to be. We want it fairly stiff and straight, probably a sheet of titanium in it, just an all mountain cruncher, like- air the 40-footer and straightline the rest of the face at Mammoth, two in the afternoon in the chunder. We’re constantly doing R&D; whatever we learn is going to be put into the skis that we’re riding. It’s cool to watch a ski like the 187 be made. You could be riding a pair one month that you think is awesome, and then change one little thing and make it ten times worse or ten times better. You gotta just keep riding it until you get in all aspects- this core, this camber, this shape, this flex pattern, until it all fits. It’s a fun process, but it takes a long time.

The final ski is the First Blood, we carry that in a 179 and 169. It’s a park twin, but almost twice as stiff as the Butterlicious. On a rating of 1-10, I’d rate it an 8 for stiffness. It’s got twice as much fiberglass in it. It’s a wider core so it has more wood. All of our skis have a carbon runner top and bottom, and this one just has double of everything. I’d like to call it a backcountry powder twin, but how often do kids really get to go out and hit a pure backcountry powder kicker? What I really wanted to do is make it for those 12-inch days when you want to go ride your twins. Like, you want to ride your Teneighties but they’re too soft and too narrow. You still want that kind of maneuverability, and the ability to say, “Hey, I want to pop a 3 off this little rock or do a 180 over this rope,� just basically playing around on the hill. This gives you a wider platform and the same lightness and maneuverability you’d have in a park twin. They just don’t dive on you- you can actually stomp stuff. That’s how the whole inspiration for this ski came from- making the most out of your mountain on a ten-inch day. It’s an awesome ski, and by far my favorite. I’m really stoked on it.