Ohio native Pete Wagner, 36, first used his engineering degree at a company that made golf-club shafts tailored to a player’s swing characteristics. Skiing since the age of 3, Wagner figured the same custom mindset could work for ski production. He left the golf world, earned an M.B.A. at the University of Colorado, and started Wagner Custom Skis in 2006. The 11-employee company now makes about 1,000 pairs of skis a year in a funky little factory building on the highway to Telluride, Colo.
“I’d been spending all of this time developing software and fitting systems to help golfers understand what the right equipment was,” Wagner says. “That’s when I had the aha moment that here’s something that I know how to develop and didn’t see anybody in the ski industry taking this kind of approach in a fitting system for skis.”
Much like he did for golf equipment, Wagner created computer software that matches a “Skier DNA” profile– a person’s physical attributes, skiing style and terrain preferences—to a unique set of ski-design specifications. The custom process can even draw upon a spec database for mass-produced ski models that a customer may have liked—or disliked– in the past.
A questionnaire on the company’s website starts the process, generally followed by a phone conversation to decide upon the unique characteristics of the skis. Rather than choosing a mold that might be somewhat close to the desired specs, a computer-controlled milling machine cuts the shape exactly as desired.
“The beauty of our fitting system is that it doesn’t matter if you know little or a lot about ski design,” says Wagner. “We guide you through the process. Our assumption is that the general public and just skiers in general are not experts in ski design. That’s our expertise. With our system, we will guide them and figure out what’s perfect regardless of their background or sophistication with ski equipment.”
Along with complete control of the skis’ physical properties, customers can even choose to create their own topsheet graphics. The custom skis can also be enhanced by a variety of high-tech construction options that are unusual offerings for a boutique ski maker. Carbon fiber torsion wrap and an impact resistance package with reinforced sidewalls are just a couple of the possibilities.
The skis start at $1,750 and can exceed $2,000 with options. At that hefty price point, most customers are rather serious about the sport. Nonetheless, Wagner says they do receive a surprising number of orders from less experienced skiers. “For a beginner or terminal intermediate skier, it will help a lot and they will progress at a faster rate when they’re on the right set of skis.”
Shipping orders around the world, the company relies on word-of-mouth from existing customers who have found the right fit. “What happens is that we will make a set of skis for a person, then they tell their friends and we end up selling to their friends, and then the friends’ friends,” Wagner says. “It’s an organic business growth strategy that thus far has been very encouraging.”