Outdoor Enthusiast and Founder of Tacoma-Based SkiByk
By Jillian Chandler
Born and raised in Hawaii in the town of Kailua on Oahu, Chris Schuler spent many holidays visiting his relatives in Tahoe, where he fell in love with skiing. “It was a very natural sport for me, and I wanted to do it more,” he recalls. After graduating from high school, Chris was intent on living and working in a ski area. Pat Deneen, a friend of his father’s, managed the Hyak Ski Resort on Snoqualmie Pass at the time. Chris gave him a call, and Pat invited him out to work at the resort. It was October of 1981 when Chris made the move to Washington state. After his first season at the resort, Chris was hired with Riblet Tramway Company out of Spokane to build chair lifts at ski resorts, and then he worked at Pac-West in the winter. “I was the ultimate ski bum and having a blast,” he smiles.
Today, you will find Chris utilizing his love of the slopes at his company SkiByk, based out of Tacoma.
Q. SkiByk is the number one selling SkiBike in the United States. Can you tell our readers a bit about this journey and what inspired it? And for those who don’t know, what is a SkiBike?
A. So, let’s start with a SkiBike, as a SkiBike in one form or another has been around for a long time. There are pictures of wooden SkiBikes that were used in Germany and Austria way back in the day. Today’s SkiBikes are classified in three categories by the American SkiBike Association. Type 1 SkiBikes you ride sitting down with little skis on your boots—these were very popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s and continue to have a strong following in Europe. Type 2s, or freestyle bikes, are similar to a downhill mountain bike with full suspension and skis instead of wheels. The Type 2 SkiBikes are what we design and distribute at SkiByk, and they are growing in popularity and have seen huge growth in the last five seasons here in North America. Type 3s are SkiTrikes and are a newer addition to the sport.
It was a fortuitous post on Facebook that was the start of SkiByk, LLC. I saw a post from a guy named Alfie Fernandez, who is now my partner, and he had developed the first prototype in conjunction with a mountain bike manufacturer overseas. He lives in California, so I flew down and we went to Sierra-at-Tahoe and rode his prototype. Over lunch we discussed a partnership and my vision for building a high-quality, low-cost SkiBike. He agreed, we came to an agreement, and SkiByk, LLC was formed in 2015. We launched with our mainstay product the SB100 SkiByk, which has become the number one selling SkiBike in North America and the primary SkiBike of choice for rental operations in the USA. Two years ago, we launched the SB200 that offers the same geometry of the SB100 but with suspension upgrades for the SkiByker that needs a more dynamic ride.
For the sport, high-quality and low-cost were key to growth. Prior to us bringing a SkiByk to market, the only real options were custom-built SkiBikes that were $3,000 to $4,000 each. We obviously were correct on our assessment, as we have sold out every year since our first year.
Q. You also build SkiByks to help amputees—notably veterans—to help get them up on the mountain with their children. Why is this so important to you? And what do you find most rewarding?
A. In our first year, we had many customers who were transitioning to a SkiByk due to bad knees, lower back issues, etc. (Most of us are aging skiers and snowboarders.) About midway through our first season, I took a phone call from a customer who asked me if he could ride a SkiByk with a prosthetic leg. I put him in touch with one of the board members of the American SkiBike Association Jim Weiland, who rides a SkiByk with a lower leg prosthetic as well, and he shared with our customer his experience. That opened a new road for us that, to this day, we still travel.
Over the last five seasons we have donated SkiByks to adaptive programs and most recently have partnered with a foundation that will provide small grants to 501c3 adaptive programs who want to use SkiByks in their programs. We always offer Military and First Responder discounts and will continue to work with adaptive programs and customers to help get them back out on the slopes.
Q. You are on the board of the American SkiBike Association and donor for Life Christian Church. Why are these organizations important to you? And what inspired you to get involved?
A. Easy … They need help. With Life Christian, all our kids went to school there, my wife volunteers there, I am on the board for the Endowment Fund, and it’s a great place to be. The school was a blessing for our family, and so we want to give back as they gave to us. The American SkiBike Association is necessary for the continued growth of the sport. Their mission statement is to grow the sport of SkiBiking by gaining access to ski areas for SkiBikers, through educational programs, events and adaptive programs. As a manufacturer, to be on the board as the vice president is an honor, and I enjoy working with the all-volunteer group of SkiBiking enthusiasts to get access for all.
Q. What do you enjoy most about the city of Tacoma? And why did you choose Tacoma as the home base for SkiByk?
A. My wife was born and raised here, her family lives here, we live here, and I think it’s a great city. We love living here! In terms of business, Tacoma wants businesses, and I have found it’s a great place to base SkiByk out of. Recently the decision to operate in Tacoma has proven to be quite fortuitous, as we ship our SkiByks in from overseas, and the port of Tacoma is not backlogged to the levels we are seeing in California.