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The Bamboo Alternative

A new synthetic product is demonstrating that it can outperform bamboo and doesn’t need to be imported

Bamboo has long been used to mark trails and runs in the ski industry due to its many benefits – flexibility, lightweight, durability and strength. However, despite these benefits, ski operators have begun to steer clear from the product in recent years.

John Jacobs, director of sales and development with Reliable Racing Supply, has first-hand experience regarding the reasons why. He remembers few years ago the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) branch of the United States Department of Agriculture demanded that his company destroy a 40-foot container of bamboo due to moisture found in the container.

Reliable Racing wasn’t the only company experiencing these types of concerns. A year later another company was forced to recall several thousand bamboo poles from the field due to APHIS non-compliance. Other bamboo orders were refused entry into the United States because the wood hadn’t been thoroughly fumigated and dried, and could propagate, or because the adhesive used on the tape that held bundles of bamboo together could prevent the wood from being fumigated on this side of the ocean.

American bamboo suppliers are no longer willing to risk importing containers of bamboo only to be flagged at the point of entry by APHIS as being non-compliant, which leaves them with the choice of either returning the shipment to its point of origin or to incinerate the contents, both at great expense.

“We’ve asked the question for years: Where does the bamboo go and why do the ski areas reorder every year? It was time for a modern, more durable product to enter the market.”

John Jacobs, Reliable Racing Supply

That led Jacobs down a path to create a new product to replace bamboo. Reliable Racing now produces and distributes Syn-Boo, a synthetic bamboo that can outperform bamboo and doesn’t need to be imported.

“We’ve asked the question for years: Where does the bamboo go and why do the ski areas reorder every year? It was time for a modern, more durable product to enter the market,” said Jacobs.

He set to work on an alternative product which led to the creation of Syn-Boo. The product is made from a post-industrial polycarbonate with UV and cold temperature modifiers. Jacobs elected to improve upon the product by making Syn-Boo fluorescent orange as opposed to the traditional dull orange taped on bamboo. The only limitation is that Syn-Boo is solid orange, not alternating orange and black, which may be required by certain states’ skier safety codes, particularly Massachusetts.

“I chose a triangular profile extrusion,” said Jacobs. “Triangular extrusion is stiffer than round extrusion. If the proper diameter drill bit is used, they don’t twist in the snow like round poles do. If you are using Syn-Boo to mount a marking disc, you can be sure the visual orientation of the marking disc will continue to face the desired direction, toward the guest. As well, if it gets run over by a groomer or skier, it kinks, but will not shatter or splinter.”

Worth the extra cost

Jacobs indicates that Syn-Boo is more expensive per pole than traditional bamboo, but since it can last longer, it’s well worth the investment. Syn-Boo is also cheaper to ship than the real thing.

Bamboo poles are usually shipped in bundles of 50, which accounts for a high price tag. Jacobs notes that the last price per bundle his customers paid was $120, which is $2.40 per pole. Depending on location, the cost to ship the poles to the end user could be as high as $300 for five bundles of poles. This means that the landed cost is roughly $3.60 per pole.

“Syn-Boo are currently priced at $3.95 per pole,” said Jacobs. “However, we don’t sell in bundles of 50, we sell by the pole. If a ski patrol only needs 73 poles, it’s no problem. Syn-Boo is half the weight of bamboo, so it costs much less to ship.”

Jacobs adds that there are other benefits for the ski industry to consider as well. From a sustainability standpoint, Syn-Boo is made from recycled materials and when its useful life is over, it can be recycled again (vinyl tape on bamboo is not recyclable). From a risk management perspective, the fluorescent orange color stands out far better than taped or painted bamboo in flat light; especially in foggy conditions, at dusk and during night skiing. Groomers will also be able to see Syn-Boo poles better on the hill during night operations and avoid running over them.

Patrollers, who often carry several poles to mark hazards and trail closures, will appreciate Syn-Boo’s lightweight material. Bamboo poles often tend to freeze and can break at the snow surface as patrollers try to remove them from the hill at the end of the day; leaving bamboo remnants behind. As the snow melts, the remnants can become a hazard to skiers, while Syn-Boo is easy to remove from the snow.

Jacobs notes that some operators have indicated the Syn-Boo is too flexible for use in rope lines, but he suggests to double-up on each end of the rope line with Syn-Boo to add stiffness.

If you are looking to purchase Syn-Boo, visit Reliable Racing’s website at, click on “Brand Finder” and then “Syn-Boo.” You’ll be able to place an order and determine shipping costs.

“The purchase and use of bamboo is traditional,” said Jacobs. “Some patrollers and operators don’t like change, but they should embrace new technologies.”