Simone Thiessen’s garage used to hold only cars. Now it also holds stacks of old skis, table saws and sanders, saw horses, and almost half a dozen Adirondack chairs sporting backs and seats made from skis.
“At first I wanted to build a couple of chairs for us—our previous neighbors had them and it always stuck in my head that it would be nice for us to have,” said Thiessen. “I posted a picture of the ones I made and got such positive response from people who wanted them too.”
What the former broadcast journalist turned communication specialist thought of as a fun hobby has turned into a full- fledge business that officially launched on July 4, 2023. Michigan Ski Bum (michiganskibum.com) offers original Ski Bum chairs and footstools, apparel for men, women and children, other branded merchandise, and Fia Rox art that helps support shelter dogs here in West Michigan.
“The reason I keep going forward is that at every turn I get some sense of positive reinforcement,” said Thiessen, who lives with her family in Rockford and skis locally at Cannonsburg Ski Area. Every couple of weeks they trek to Schuss Mountain or Crystal Mountain for a ski weekend.
Skiing in the Blood
Thiessen doesn’t remember a time she didn’t ski. Her dad, who was born in Germany, as was his daughter, was part of the mountain patrol during his mandatory military service there. A good chunk of his service time was spent on skis.
“I learned probably as soon as I could walk,” she said, remembering skiing on local hills in Germany or on vacation in Austria.
Her dad’s post-military job brought the family to Grand Rapids, where Thiessen graduated from West Catholic High School. She later graduated from Columbia College with a degree in broadcast journalism, then worked for WBBM-TV in Chicago as an investigative producer with well-known investigative reporter Pam Zekman. An Emmy Award sits on a shelf in Thiessen’s living room, a reminder of her days on stakeouts, doing legal research and going undercover for Zekman’s stories.
Thiessen met her husband in while working in the Windy City, but the pair decided to move back to West Michigan. They wanted to build a house they could live in forever, where their children, now ages 10 and 12, could grow up. The kids took their first ski lessons as preschoolers from mom and dad on a small slope in the backyard.
Thiessen’s use of old skis as chair material is in keeping with her and her husband John’s desire to be environmentally conscious. They use geothermal heat in their south-facing home, use an air exchanger to bring in outside air to their fully-sealed home, and John Thiessen become solar certified to install 31 solar panels around and on the house.
“It takes a little more effort and time, but we’ve always done it that way. If we can buy it used, we do,” said Thiessen.
Which is why using old skis to make chairs is no stretch for this entrepreneur. She reached out to her state-based ski group asking for used skis. She got a positive response, made a chair, and posted a picture for the group. Then came the real treasure.
Swiss Valley Ski & Snowboard Area in southwest Michigan called and offered their old rental skis.
“We drove down there with a 5×8 trailer. The guy takes us to a storage room in an old motel and opens the door. There is a vast treasure trove of skis,” Thiessen remembers with a grin. “All different brand and colors. We came home with around 200 pairs of skis. I hit the jackpot.”
Thiessen, her son and her dad took off every binding (which were given to a scrap metal dealer for recycling) and power washed all those skis. Now she’s slowly using each ski to build chairs that combine cedar planks for the frame and skis for the back and seat.
“I’m super grateful for that treasure trove because it kick-started my ability to play with color and design for each chair and allowed me a huge amount of creative flexibility,” said Thiessen.
It’s all about the challenge for the owner of both her communications business Thiessen & Company and Michigan Ski Bum. “There is so much of a learning curve, but that’s part of the draw. I love to figure things out. There are things to learn along the way and that’s when I’m most challenged,” she said.
She’s also challenging herself to give back. A portion of proceeds from each chair and merchandise go to the Michigan Ski Patrol of the buyer’s choice. Ski patrols, often volunteers, offer first aid on hills across the state—there are about 30—and are the first on the hill to assess an injury, either patching up a skier or calling an ambulance. They are trained in first aid and issues such as evacuating a ski lift. It’s time, training and commitment.
“This is a way to come full circle. We couldn’t be on the hills without the ski patrol; they are skiers who give their time to make sure we’re safe,” said Thiessen. “My contribution goes to the team for education or training, or even for a party at the end of the season. I want to help celebrate them in some way.”
For Thiessen, there’s some girl power in Michigan Ski Bum as well. As a female entrepreneur wielding table saws, sanders and drills, and who gets asked if she’s the one who built the chairs, “we should be strong and confident and proud. From my perspective as a mom, I want my kids to see me working hard, trying something new, going out on limb. And encouraging them to find something they love to do.”
She adds, “We focus on having fun and doing good, which a great motivator for this business as well: have fun and do good.”