Up the hill at Placerville’s Snowline Hospice, employees know Marianne Rosenfeld as “The Ski Lady” because she picks up old skis that people donate to the nonprofit’s processing center and refashions them into chairs.
Rosenfeld hauls the skis farther up the mountain to South Lake Tahoe where, at some point in the future, they will have a date with her chop saw, she said. She likes to collect skis from the foothills and valley floor because she gets the right kind to make her four styles of chairs and benches.
“In Lake Tahoe, everybody skis. It’s the culture. It’s all we do, so in the minds of people up there, an old ski might be from ’98 or 2000. That’s old to us,” Rosenfeld said. “But people down here who don’t ski that much, when they say ‘old ski,’ they mean ’70s. When I come down here, I really get a lot of skis. The term ‘old’ is different for everybody.”
Rosenfeld prefers the older skis because their runners still have the straight edges rather than the curved, parabolic shape of today’s skis. That curve basically means there would be a big hole in the back of her chairs.
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She produces four different styles of chair: Adirondacks with their wide slats and sloping back; Missions that have bases with the vertical and horizontal lines that echo the original San Francisco designs of A.J. Forbes; light, slim Sierras that have more of a beach feel; and Yetis, which incorporate natural logs in the base.
Rosenfeld has been making her Forest Furniture for a little more than a decade, she said, but it was really just a hobby until her husband Daniel Trauber died of leukemia in 2008. Until then, Rosenfeld had earned her living as a pit boss at the Montbleu casino.
Following Trauber’s death, though, Rosenfeld had to decide what to do with her late husband’s skis. He had loved those skis, Rosenfeld said, and she couldn’t part with them. Then the idea for an Adirondack-style chair popped into her head.
She produced the chair, and as friends and family saw it, they asked her to produce some for them. As more and more people saw the chairs, demand for them built, and their sales outpaced those for her higher-end rustic pieces. Her busiest sales periods extend from September through Christmas and April to June.
She used to spend a couple of days making an Adirondack chair, she said, but she’s learned to use down periods as opportunities to make bases for all her chairs. Then when orders boom, she can work with people to choose the right skis. She keeps a supply and groups them by color, brand and production period.
Some people, however, call because they too have a loved one who died and left beloved skis behind.
“Perhaps their grandfather died and they have all his skis,” Rosenfeld said. “That presents a challenge to me some of the time because all of Grandpa’s skis conceivably could look really hideous together. I have to add from my archives another pair to have it come together.”
Rosenfeld also trawls the Internet for sales of rare skis from the ’40s and ’50s, she said, and she has what she calls “The Vault” for clients willing to pay extra for a distinctive piece of furniture that pays tribute to a bygone era.
A snowboarder, Rosenfeld also makes chairs from those broader boards. It’s not tricky, she said, to cut skis and snowboards.
“The problem is that every ski brand – Heads and Rossignols – has a different material in the interior,” Rosenfeld said. “Oftentimes, it has a plate of metal on the top, a plate of metal on the bottom, wood in the middle, plastic laminate on the top and laminate on the bottom. It could be five or six layers of different materials that are hard to cut through and require different tools. Also, snowboards ... tend to melt because they’re thinner. ”