Snowmass Alpacas

Genetics by Design
In 2011, Don and Julie Skinner of Snowmass Alpacas and owners of share of Quechua Enterprises, sent several bales of Royal and Baby alpaca fiber to Perú after having collected it from their finest animals over time. Julie Skinner reports, “The five bales that we sent to Peru were from our finest white fleeced alpacas. Each fleece was individually tested via Yocom McColl testing lab in Denver, Colorado. The ranges were from 13 microns to 18 microns. The average was 16 micron. We had one bale we rated XXXRoyal which was all 16 microns and below and every fleece had a high degree of brightness. Once in Perú, they were opened and re-sorted at Inca Tops by professional sorting women alongside of the #1 wool buyer in Perú and the General Manager of the largest Alpaca Company in the world. The video clip was presented of the unveiling of the Snowmass Bales in Phoenix Arizona at our Making of Champions Sale and is now available on our website, www.snowmassalpacas.com. It was a very proud moment for us to hear of their excitement and enthusiasm of what they described as the most amazing lot of white alpaca they had ever seen. We will be talking more about the progress and advancements of the overall world market of alpaca fiber in 2013 in Phoenix February 24 and 25 at the Corona Ranch MOC 2013 Sale.”
 
After making the very long overseas trip by cargo freighter, the fiber arrived several months later in Arequipa, Perú at Inca Tops SAA, one of the largest and most recognized Alpaca top and yarn manufacturers in the world. The Peruvians were most impressed with its exceptional brightness and uniformity. This extraordinary fiber is slated to be made made into elite, high-end textiles by Grupo Inca.
In February 2012, Alonso Burgos of Grupo Inca spoke about fiber in two installments at the Snowmass Making of Champions Winners’ Circle Sale in Phoenix, Arizona. The first day, Burgos’ presentation Fleece to Textiles focused on what characteristics the industry is looking for in alpaca fiber in general, essential information for the many quality breeders in attendance. From micron to crimp and other aspects of the fiber, the audience heard directly from a key figure in the alpaca textile industry and a top breeder in Perú. 

Burgos’ desires as a commercial textile manufacturer were exactly in line with the characteristics of the Snowmass fiber. Burgos spoke about what the Peruvians saw when they opened the Snowmass bales. He reported that the five bales of fiber from Snowmass were spectacular and gave some startling numbers on the analysis of them to quantify the results.
 
Burgos said “In the more than fifty years we have in the business, we have never seen a brighter nor a more uniform alpaca lot at the sorting plant. It was a really extraordinary event to see the sorting ladies going over the material and being amazed over the brightness of the material.” 
The audience at the Corona Ranch was truly excited to learn of the Skinners’ achievement, hard won over more than thirty years of hands-on breeding, scientific advancement and a deep love for the breed.
 
The second day of the Snowmass Winners’ Circle Sale, just prior to the auction, Burgos detailed the industrial process of creating tops and yarns. He played fascinating videos of the methods involved, showing the process from reception of the just-shorn fleeces from the animals to the production of fine textiles. The inside workings of the industrial mills in Perú were shown in the process of splitting, sorting, opening, washing, drying, combing and carding the fiber.
 
Burgos emphasized the importance of reducing the micron size of secondary fibers so they are nearly undetectable to the naked eye. He also noted that the cleaner and more thoroughly sorted the fiber arrives, the more cost effective it is to produce a garment. Even something as simple as how one folds the fleece after shearing can have a profound effect on how much it costs to produce something from it and in the quality of the fiber itself. The Snowmass bales arrived neat, tidy and well-skirted. Julie Skinner reports, “This was due in part to the Snowmass shearing protocol, which optimizes the process to collect only the best and most consistent fiber. We have always striven to eliminate contaminants and to make sure fiber is high quality and clean to reduce re-sorting and minimize processing time.”[1]
 
Most evident from Burgos’ presentations and the analysis of the Snowmass fleeces is that commercial production of alpaca textiles is a scientific process that starts with exceptional animal genetics to achieve the highest quality possible.
 
Snowmass is also producing textiles here in the United States with hopes of seeing a viable American production run. The Skinners have had handwoven blankets and bedspreads made from other bales of Baby and Royal Fiber and the results are beautiful. Julie says, “We are presently working on fine woven material from these bales and awaiting samples from the mill to proceed. The Super Royal portion of our fiber will be blended with the fiber of the best fleeces obtained during the Peruvian National Contest and will be used to create a new collection of Premium Alpaca goods.”
 
The Skinners have also sent 24 bales to Nepal, India for processing. According to Julie, they are in “all colors that range from 18 micron bales to stronger 24 micron bales, all of which will be sorted, hand-carded and spun in Nepal for tapestries and rugs. We will be documenting the travel from here to there and the processes. The container is in Seattle and will soon be on its way across the sea to Katmandu.”
 
The Skinners also sent five bales of all colors, mostly of Baby grade (18-21 micron) and a bale of Suri, to Flaggy Meadow Fiber Mill. There, they will be processed into yarns for hand woven throws like the ones the Skinners gifted at the February Making of Champions Winners’ Circle Sale in Phoenix, Arizona to buyers. Read more about Flaggy Meadow here: http://flaggymeadowfiberworks.com/.
 
Julie Skinner says, “The advancements in alpaca are extraordinary and Royal Alpaca fleece is taking the industry to new levels across the world. With the struggles of the global economy, we have seen some shifts in the industry. Struggling breeders need to remain hopeful in knowing that there is indeed a growing demand for fine alpaca and fine alpaca genetics. As finer and brighter advanced alpaca fiber comes into play, the industry can shift into greater demands for alpaca. There is a healthy global incentive to continue to advance the breed of alpaca so that we can fulfill the growing demand for the finest Alpaca fleece. We hope that the U.S.A. continues to shine and be a leader in this effort of creating some of the best known alpaca genetics in the world. Alpaca is not just a fad – it is a global industry of extraordinary measures and a culture of its own.”

[1] Read a detailed account of Snowmass Alpacas’ shearing and sorting process in Making of Champions III at Snowmass.com.