Story and photo By Max Lowe, Explorebigsky.com Contributor
BOZEMAN—In Iroquois, Seneca means “people of
the big mountain.”
Seneca Boards, a Bozeman-based company specializing
in high quality, fully customizable skis, sells skis
to the people most intimately connected to the sport,
says owner and founder Eric Newman.
In the last few years, Seneca has become a player in
the local and national ski communities. If you’re a
Bridger local or a passionate powder shredder in the
Bozeman area, chances are you’ve heard of Seneca skis.
This winter I got out for a day of skiing with Newman
and tried out a pair of his skis. Clicking into the
Bloody Marys, Seneca’s mid-sized all mountain ski,
we headed up the quad at Bridger on a sunny Thursday,
and he told me his story.
Newman began skiing at age 2, traveling with his
dad, then a ski instructor, from their home in Massachusetts
to the closest hill in Vermont every
weekend. He started racing when he was 5, and by
13 had been accepted to Okemo Mountain School, a
ski-racing academy in Vermont. He trained hard and
traveled around the country with his team.
After graduating high school in 2004, Newman
followed his brother to Montana State University.
Because he started school later in the year, he was cut
from the MSU ski team, where he would’ve been a
top ranked athlete. Newman stopped racing entirely
and instead dedicated his focus to big mountain and
backcountry skiing, a newfound passion. His first
winter, he had season passes to Bridger Bowl, Big Sky
and Jackson Hole.
“Out of these experiences my first year in Montana,
I learned that I liked nearly every aspect of the sport,
from racing to park, to the backcountry,” Newman
says. Freeskiing in particular interested him,
because it allowed him to combine his racing technique
with his repertoire of tricks in big mountain
During the winter of 2008, Newman entered several
big mountain competitions and scored well. He took
first place in the Bridger Gully Free Ride, then first
place in the qualifiers for the U.S. Nationals of the
World Freeskiing Tour. The following year, in the
qualifiers for the World Championships of the World
Freeskiing Tour, he took second in the first run,
fourth in the finals and crashed on his last run.
Somewhere between skiing and school, Newman
gained a knack for taking calculated risks. The result:
the idea to start one of the first-ever custom ski
manufacturing companies. But he was trying to finish
school, and broke his back and neck skiing, so the
company was slow to take off.
He did, however, make almost 100 prototypes during
that time. The skis were sold all over the country, and
they taught Newman “how to build a good product,
and more importantly, what people wanted.”
Newman graduated from MSU in 2010, and officially
formed Seneca in January 2011. Over the last year,
he’s fine-tuned the company’s direction, processes,
skis and goals.
“The ultimate goal of Seneca Boards is to stand for
something bigger than building skis. It’s an idea, a
passion,” he says. “Putting that passion into skis is
easy. Convincing people to believe in what Seneca
does is harder.”
It means teaching people how Seneca skis are built,
and how they work. Most often, Newman will meet
with a customer over lunch, a beer or coffee to discuss
personalized ski design, from camber to top sheet.
After our day of cliff hucks, speedy groomer laps and
more than a couple worm turns, we sat down at the
Grizzly Ridge for a beer and to recap the day.
Newman explained why his production process is
unique. With his custom press, he can create any size
or shaped ski. Plus, he uses Kevlar fibers in the sidewalls
to protect the skis during an impact.
He described his careful production process and dedicated
approach to connecting with customers. Skiing
on the Bloody Marys I could feel this passion. The
skis held par with any other big mountain ski in my
quiver, equally apt for powder shredding or blasting
through crud and bumps.
With an increasing demand in the local and international
markets for custom ski manufacturing, Seneca
has room to grow. And while Newman may not become
a rich man all too soon, he’s doing what he loves
and through that passion, he has found success.
Max Lowe writes from Bozeman. See more of his work