A Phoenix Rising: Peter Steltzner’s Rabbit on the Roof handmade wooden skis and workshop rise again.

Heading toward the cable car at Flégère, Peter Steltzner maker of handmade wooden skis and founder of Rabbit on the Roof Skis in Chamonix France stands out from the rest of the crowd dressed in colorful, glitzy Gore-Tex gear. With his woolen knickerbockers, Norwegian wool cardigan, classic cap and vintage backpack, Steltzner – who could easily pass for a 19th century mountaineer from a sepia-colored postcard – seems not to care about fitting into the Chamonix scene. Speaking about the new freeride skis currently on the market, however, Steltzner quickly shows himself to be a keen student of the sport, passionately discussing core materials, turn radius, flex patterns, and performance.

All of which define Rabbit on the Roof, Steltzner’s iconic brand of handmade wooden skis, which he’s been making by hand since 2005. A native of Northern California who grew up skiing in Squaw Valley, Steltzner’s journey to the French Alps started some thirty years ago. “It’s kind of like Homer’s Odyssey. I went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne when I was seventeen, then spent my junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, then met a French woman in San Francisco and followed her back to Paris.” Steltzner ended up staying for twenty years, working first as a fashion photographer and, later, having bought the Bois Cintre Finet – a multi-generation artisan family business – as an ebonist creating handmade wood furniture.

For the kid from Northern California, however, the mountains were always calling. So, when the opportunity to rent a historic watermill in the picturesque village of Les Praz came, he knew it was time to make a move. The building – four hundred years old with a river running through it – was perfect for a workshop, with enough space to live onsite. Steltzner fell in love at first sight, moved all his machines from Paris, and settled down with his partner, artist Anati Graetz. Later, after British artist and renowned mountaineer Andy Parkin installed his atelier at the mill, it came to be known as le moulin des artistes. A rare sanctuary for artists in the Chamonix valley, the mill was the perfect spot for exhibitions, parties and open house gatherings, and – above all – for Steltzner to create his beautiful handmade wood skis for modern skiers.

Rabbit on the Roof Skis Chamonix France
Rabbit on the Roof Skis Chamonix France

“My original idea worked immediately,” Steltzner says. “When you use a hardwood ash core, you end up with really good handmade wooden skis.” His first benediction, as he refers to it, came from Vincent Peguy, his guide in La Meije who swapped out his own skis for Steltzner’s prototypes, skied down from one of the region’s famous ice caves, and declared them “great.”

“In the beginning, I continued to make furniture as well,” Steltzner says. “Little by little, my reputation grew, and really good riders started to appreciate these were good handmade wooden skis. Now I have clients from all over, including guides and free riders.” A lengthy list that includes ski legends like Anselme Baud, one of extreme skiing’s earliest pioneers.

It was the stuff of dreams, until one night in December 2016 when Steltzner and Graetz returned from an evening in town to find the mill in flames, and with it their livelihoods totally engulfed. At the time, Steltzner was busy finishing his annual production, some one hundred pairs of skis made lovingly by hand and ready for delivery. With the help of friends and neighbors, he managed to save around thirty pairs of his handmade wooden skis, but the remainder, including large stores of unique wood and Graetz’s art, was lost.

“The fire was so devastating, it’s taken me two years to start making skis again,” Steltzner says. “I didn’t even have a screwdriver left. And the building, because it was so old, was uninsurable. The community of Chamonix gave me so much support, hosting parties and holding fundraisers online.”

Though efforts to re-build the mill are underway, for the moment, Steltzner is working from a temporary shop in town. “I found some great tools, remade all my machining templates, and orders are coming in,” Steltzner says, adding that he is as committed as ever to his love of creating skis with a lasting purpose for clients of all shapes and sizes.

Disembarking from the lift at Flégère, Steltzner heads off into the powder. A magnificent Chamois – an alpine mountain goat – appears peacefully on the peak beyond his line, against the majestic backdrop of the Mont Blanc range. An almost surreal manifestation and, for Steltzner, a magical omen.

*Rabbit on the Roof handmade wooden skis start at 1,400€