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|December 4-10, 2008
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Snag some custom-made skis
by Dave Philipps
Folsom Custom Skis has a team of “ski destroyers” — big, burly pros who ski big burly lines and splinter several skis a season. But they haven’t had much luck lately. “We’ve tried pretty hard to destroy these skis,” said Mike McCabe, the head destroyer. “But we haven’t snapped one yet in three years.”
He said Folsom’s handbuilt skis are just too strong.
Folsom is a two-man ski factory that just opened in Boulder. It’s part of a growing niche of tiny ski makers in Colorado that have wiggled into cracks in the industry by offering top-end, tailor-made boards.
Prices range from $1,000 to $1,700.
“You’ll notice we don’t have a warehouse of skis,” said Jordan Grano, 30, Folsom’s founder. “We don’t build a ski until we know who is ordering it. Then we design it specifically to them.”
Customers fill out an online questionnaire with everything from height and weight to favorite ski and choice in ski runs. Then Grano reviews it with the customer, laying out how he’ll make the ski stiffer or softer in different parts to fit his or her needs.
Once a customer signs off on the design, a computerized router mills a hand-picked strip of poplar wood into a precise, bowed shape, then Grano sandwiches the wood between a custom combination of carbon fiber, fiberglass and resin under 30,000 pounds of pressure.
“It’s sort of a trip,” Grano said. “People don’t think you can make skis by hand.”
The idea came to him four years ago. He was a mountain biker, skier and “lifelong tinkerer.” He had seen one-person shops where craftsmen built custom bike frames.
“And I started thinking, why doesn’t anyone do this with skis?” he said. So he started making his own skis in his garage. Once he found he could make his own custom pair of skis, it wasn’t hard to imagine doing it for others.
By the time Folsom opened for business in October, after a few years of developing his system, Grano already had a competitor who had come to the same idea.
Pete Wagner started Wagner Custom Skis in Telluride two years ago.
He was working as an engineer, designing software to fit golfers with the perfect club.
“I had a proven fitting system,” said Wagner, 33. “So I applied it to skis.”
The process is similar to Folsom’s: Gather loads of data from the customer — what Wagner calls the “skier DNA” — then craft a ski that fits as well as a tailored, designer suit. The whole process takes about three weeks.
“We’re not doing anything radically different,” Wagner said. “We don’t have any gizmos in our skis. But we make sure a ski fits you exactly, and that makes a huge difference in performance.”
Small, independent skimakers and snowboardmakers are nothing new in Colorado. The tradition started with Scandanavian miners making their own skis in the 1860s, and it has continued to evolve. Today, small skimakers have proliferated in the shadow of a handful of industry giants. Many stake their names on the quality that comes from making a small number of boards by hand.
Brands such as Never Summer in Denver and Unity in Silverthorne make a few thousand boards a year. Tiny Donek Snowboards presses fewer than 500 and has a full-time staff consisting of the founder, his wife and their cat.
In a world where people are increasingly interested in local products, Wagner said, Colorado skis are becoming a hot commodity.
“In Colorado, there’s this ‘buying local’ movement,” Wagner said. “In a way, we’re like a microbrewery or a farmers market. We offer quality and a personal connection.”
Of course, customers pay for the connection.
Most of the world’s skis are banged out in overseas factories at a rate of dozens of skis per hour.
Folsom and Wagner take dozens of hours per ski.
Folsom’s skis cost $1,000 to $1,400 per pair.
Wagner charges $1,700.
“It’s amazing who buys them,” Wagner said.
“It’s everyone from second-home owners in Telluride for whom $1,700 isn’t very much, to dirtbags from Silverton who will probably be eating ramen for months to pay for the skis.”
The one thing they have in common, he said, is passion for the sport.
“People who love to ski are willing to pay to have a well-built ski made just for them. They can feel the difference.”
He compares a well-fitting ski to a well-fitting boot. It offers more comfort and control.
The craftsmanship, precision and ability to build any type of ski imaginable has attracted some unexpected customers, too.
Wagner now spends most of the summer serving as a high-end development lab for big skimakers.
Skis and boards made in Colorado
Folsom Custom Skis: folsomskis.com
Wagner Cutsom Skis: wagnerskis.com
Winterstick Snowboards: winterstick.com
Unity Skis and Snowboards: unitysnowboards.com
Icelantic Skis: icelanticboards.com
Never Summer Snowboards: neversummer.com
Venture Snowboards: venturesnowboards.com
ScottyBob Skis: scottybob.com
Fat-ypus Skis: fat-ypus.com
Donek Snowboards: donek.com
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