By Eric Ladd
I have fond memories of getting a new pair of skis as a child: the excitement of choosing boards at the local ski swap and the immediate pride of ownership I felt knowing these skis were mine. One year my skis had a previous owner’s name engraved on them and my father keenly filled in the existing letters with melted crayon wax and then wrote my name on the skis.
Today, the world of custom gear is upon us. The ability to order custom sporting equipment is quickly evolving, ranging from orthotics in running shoes to fitted golf clubs. Why not custom skis?
Based in Telluride, Colorado, Wagner Skis produces full-custom, made-to-order boards. The skis are all manufactured independently in the company’s nearby Placerville manufacturing facility, headquartered in a repurposed gas station that is wholly powered by solar and wind energy.
“It’s similar to having a ski boot fitted properly where it completely changes the experience,” says company founder Pete Wagner. “Wholly custom skis tailored to each skier can vastly improve on-snow performance.”
Wagner Skis has turned the industry’s product development cycle upside down with its Skier DNA design software engineered by Wagner, who produces more than 1,000 custom skis per season that start at $1,750 and top out at more than $2,500 per pair.
And no two pairs of Wagner Skis are the same. Individuals can complete the Skier DNA profile online in 10 minutes, choosing performance attributes including base and core materials, flex, torsional rigidity, edge materials, length and shape.
Through his rapid-response manufacturing method, Wagner creates a ski dialed into each customer’s ability level, terrain preferences and on-mountain aspirations in less than eight weeks.
“There are two types of skiers who are super fans of our skis,” Wagner said. “Those that want something premium and unique to set them apart; and core skiers, guides and on-mountain professionals who want a tool that will help them perform at their best in big mountain conditions.”
My Wagner skis arrived last season and upon opening them I was happy to see that, yes, my name was engraved on the topsheet. No need for crayon wax.
A Wagner skis owner describes the customizing process
Hometown Ski Areas: Crystal Mountain, Washington, and Big Sky, Montana
Years skiing: Almost 50. I ski 50-60 days per year.
Ski Dimensions: Length (cm): 185; Tip-Waist-Tail (mm): 144-107-129
Details: Off-piste rockered tip for easy turn initiation and float; all-mountain tail design with traditional camber underfoot and a sugar maple/aspen core with titanal layers for a stable ride and great edge hold
Stiffness: Medium. Calibrated for height, weight and skier preferences
Mountain Outlaw: Describe the Wagner ski interview and design process:
Jon Hemingway: It was a cross between a job interview and buying a sports car, taking most of an hour. Pete wanted to know where I skied, how I skied, the purpose of the skis he was designing, what skis I enjoyed in the past and why.
We narrowed the focus to a ski that would perform well on the chalky steeps at Big Sky, with a bomber base and edges, and the ability to still perform well on corduroy, powder and crud. It had to handle my weight and allow me to really direct it while still being quick from edge to edge.
M.O.: First reaction and review of the skis.
J.H.: At our home, we have an arsenal of great modern skis that we choose based on conditions. I didn’t think skis could get any better, until I got my pair of Wagners.
They arrived during a dry pattern, but were quick edge to edge and had held great on firm snow. When we finally got on chalky steeps they were rock solid and quick, and floated nicely during spring powder dumps.
We still have the arsenal of skis, but they get used by our guests. The Wagners are my everyday ski in all conditions, except early season. And when I hit my first big rock, I was relieved to find only edge scratches I could buff out with a stone.
M.O.: How would you describe the ski you had built.
J.H.: Mine. I don’t even let my sons use them.
This story was first published in the winter 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.