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Converting Skis Into A Stretcher

Four avid skiers, all U of I students, are ready to pitch their idea of a packable backcountry rescue kit to investors

Some may argue the greatest ideas reveal themselves in an epiphany.

At least, that’s what happened to John Erstad, a senior studying entrepreneurship at the University of Idaho, when his team of four came up with Skivac.

Erstad and childhood best friends Sam Smith and brothers Matthew and John Ryden grew up skiing together in the Boise area. The Ryden brothers and Erstad grew up just a few houses from each other. Three of the team members are now students in U of I’s College of Business and Economics and Smith is in U of I’s College of Engineering.

“We’ve all been skiing for years and recently we have been getting into backcountry skiing and there is no way to get out of the backcountry if you get hurt, except for calling search and rescue,” Erstad said. “This is an issue for a couple of reasons, such as money and it’s often a race against time to get out.”

Erstad was driving home from one powder day when he realized he and his friends could solve this issue with many of the tools they bring with them to each trip to the mountains.

That’s when the team developed Skivac, a roughly 3-pound kit that can convert skis into a rescue stretcher. Erstad said the conversion kit is small and lightweight enough to fit into a backcountry backpack. When installed, pieces in the kit turn an injured person’s skis into a stretcher that their companions can use to extract them from the mountainside.

John Erstad
John Erstad

They’re making a case for the project to investors during the Idaho Pitch competition, an April event in U of I’s College of Business and Economics where business leaders and entrepreneurs hear from student entrepreneurs from across the university about products they’re developing for market.

While they are all experienced skiers, each member of the Skivac team brings something unique to the table when developing the kit.

John Ryden, the younger of the two brothers, is a junior studying accounting and finance and has put together a business plan. The younger Ryden also deals with the financial aspect of the project.

“We’re all falling into our places, but a lot of it right now is just grunt work and trying to figure out what we are actually doing,” Erstad said.

One of the team’s goals for the design is to streamline the kit with equipment skiers already have when they venture outside the bounds of routinely patrolled ski areas.

“It’s really incorporating tools that everyone already has with them in the backcountry,” Erstad said. “We didn’t want to build an entirely separate system. We wanted people to use things that they already have to deal with, like the skis, poles and all the gear.”

Figuring out the logistics of the equipment has been a challenge for the four team members who are learning how to design outdoor gear for the first time. Some of their friends work on resort ski patrols and have urged the team to think about the durability of the stretcher itself in order to carry an injured skier out of the deep snow.

John Erstad and Matthew Ryden
John Erstad and Matthew Ryden are part of a team that has designed a kit that converts skis into a stretcher and are ready to pitch that idea to investors.
It’s really incorporating tools that everyone already has with them in the backcountry. We didn’t want to build an entirely separate system. We wanted people to use things that they already have to deal with, like the skis, poles and all the gear. John Erstad

“One of the biggest things we've had to think about is the materials,” John Ryden said. “One of the main selling points is that when you go to the backcountry, you don't want a whole bunch of heavy equipment. So we need materials that are lightweight, but still sturdy enough to get someone out.”

The team also wants the finished product to not only be quick to set up, ideally under five minutes, but be light enough to carry.

“The goal is less than 3 pounds,” Erstad said. “That'll include the binding attachment points, all the poles and the canvas for the stretcher itself. Anything more than that and people are going to start to question whether they actually need to bring it with them or not. We want to give them every reason not to leave it behind.”

Four U of I students, all avid skiers, have designed a lightweight and packable kit that lets backcountry skiers transform their skis into a rescue sled for injured skiers. They hope to eventually produce the kit commercially.

Article by Kylie Smith, University Communications and Marketing

Published April 2019.

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