When it comes to buying skis, bigger is not always better.
source: Seneca Boards
By "bigger", we mean mass-produced – as in the kind of ski that dominates about 95% of the ski industry, and 100% of what you see stocked in your local ski shop. They're the skis that make it through hundreds of hours of engineering and crafting, testing and demo-turning to evolve into the best product on the market for mass amounts of skiers. And don't get us wrong: they're usually pretty great skis. The thing is, about ten years ago a new kind of ski climbed the ranks of the ski market: the custom ski. Born out of dissatisfaction with performance, demand for big mountain durability, and longing for personalized design, skiing enthusiasts with a knack for engineering started experimenting with building their own skis. These companies usually started as experiments out of college house garages, and with perseverance and commitment to great products, grew into highly successful businesses dedicated to making enthusiastic skiers the skis of their dreams.
There are some setbacks. One of them is cost. In general, you can expect a pair of custom skis to cash in at double the price of a mass produced pair. The upside is that the custom pair is built to last longer. Another setback is time – while it's possible to demo a pair of mass produced skis in the morning and walk out of the shop with a brand new pair of your own in the afternoon, custom skis take time. Expect to wait a matter of weeks – and sometimes months, if they're backed up – between the time of starting the design/order process to clicking in. But if you've got the time – and the investment – there's no reason you shouldn't be looking into your very own pair of custom skis. Here are five stellar reasons to buy custom skis:
1. Improved Skiing Experience
This is the big one. An improved skiing experience was the reason that companies like Igneous in Jackson Hole got into the custom ski biz. The Tetons are notorious for wrecking skis of hard charging big mountain skiers: founder Mike Parris set out in the early 1990s on a mission to develop a high quality, creative product that could carry the most serious skiers through multiple seasons. One of the first custom ski companies, Igneous set the bar for highly personalized design that caters to an individual skier's height, weight, ability, skiing style, and terrain interests. When a ski is crafted so specifically, the result is a stable, playful, intuitive connection to the slopes. Backcountry skiers can request lightweight materials, big mountain experts specialized sidewalls, and speed junkies oversized edges for maximum stability. Master craftsman will help with design, but you've got the final say in your unique product. In the end, better skis make a better skier: that's what you can expect out of custom skis.
2. Personal Flair
Have you ever chosen a pair of skis because they look cool? No? Well, plenty of us skiers have. When I was about 10 I remember feeling extremely disappointed that the Salomons I wanted that season – the ones with fire graphics on the top sheets – were out of stock. I had chosen them solely based on the cool graphics. My ski selection has matured since then, but I'd be lying if I said the graphics on a ski didn't matter to me – and I'm betting that goes for a lot of skiers. When buying custom skis, part of the process is choosing what they actually look like. Companies like Folsom in Denver take their top sheet art seriously, employing local artists to craft custom designs for their retail products. If you have your own ideas for something uniquely "you," designers welcome submission of your own graphics. You can also team up with an artist to craft something together. With custom builds, you don't have to choose between high quality product and personalized expression: the skis are entirely you.
3. Small Business Support
Supporting small businesses is not only cool – it's practical. Because of the nature of custom ski businesses, opting to purchase your pair through them directly supports the owners, artists, and community in which they all live. Custom ski companies are small operations that support the businesses in which they live by skiing and riding local resorts to test their products, employing local designers, and purchasing materials from local businesses. Companies like Praxis in North Lake Tahoe keep everything in-house: skis are designed and constructed 100% in the Incline Village warehouse, and tested on local ski hills. When you buy custom, your support stays community oriented.
4. Eco-Conscious Practices
There's a dark side to the ski industry, and that's environmental impact. In the past five years, major resorts have taken steps to decrease ecological footprints with sustainable practices – and some custom ski companies have also taken notice. Seneca, which runs out of Bozeman, prides itself on its "farm-to foot" practices, which includes using FCS certified maple and poplar woods to support sustainable harvesting and use less plastic in the skis' cores. This construction design, which is demonstrative of many custom ski companies, cuts down on plastic and therefore waste when old skis are dumped into landfills. Custom skis are also designed to last years longer than mass produced brands.
5. Commitment to Quality
Skiers love to geek out on their gear, and custom ski engineers take that to the next level. Pete Wagner, founder of Wagner Custom in Telluride, developed his signature Skier DNA Design process to craft custom skis with painstakingly serious precision. His goal was to create a "computer-assisted design and manufacturing package that could optimize shape and flex parameters for any specific skier." Today, Wagner backs its promise to quality with a money-back guarantee if a skier is not 100% satisfied with their product. In 2013, Wagner cranked out 1,000 pairs of custom skis, and were asked to rebuild 3. When you buy custom skis, you can expect a personalized, respectful exchange throughout the entire process – a commitment to quality service and quality product.