Not all snowboards and skis are made in our neighbor’s garage—or even in the USA. At Garage Grown Gear, we set out to find boutique ski and snowboard companies that are making their customers’ sticks via a conscious business model. We definitely uncovered a handful of operations that are leading the pack. Our selections spotlight businesses that hold a parlor of impressive qualities, including products made locally in a sustainable fashion using eco-materials. Many of these leaders also feature an artistic, educational, or community-based thread.
Here’s our top 10 list of shred-worthy boutique ski and snowboard companies:
Icelantic skis are not only made with high quality construction, but could also be considered works of art. Located in Denver, Colo., Icelantic Skis are hand-made at the Never Summer Factory, a fellow Denver-based snowboard manufacturer. At just 14-years-old founder Ben Anderson began the research and development for his life passion: to create the perfect skis that are mobile, stable, and speedy. After years of Anderson’s self-taught motivation (and countless failed prototypes built in his parents’ garage) he teamed up with Art Director Travis Parr to launch the company in 2004. (They’d been best friends since the 7th grade.) Parr helped develop the brand’s unique identity, which has continued to evolve each season. Rather than focusing on designing a ski graphic, Parr has developed a thematic series of paintings on canvas, which are standalone pieces of art. The skis have become a space to showcase those paintings, as well as Icelantic’s office, which features a mega gallery showcasing Parr’s work.
Icelantic Skis Factory Tour from OneDegreeTV on Vimeo.
RAMP Skis and Snowboards
Based out of Park City, Utah, RAMP (Riders Artists Musicians Project) manufacturers its boards and skis right in-house, along with a heap of other green initiatives. Rather than using poplar (a lightweight, durable, generally inexpensive wood) as the core base material, RAMP creates a completely bamboo core, which is renewable and nearly four-times harder than poplar. They purchase the bamboo from Plyboo, which is located in California and holds a Forestry Stewardship Certification. Plyboo harvests responsibly, and uses little to no pesticides and fertilizers.
RAMP also uses a pine byproduct resin, called Super Sap. The small ski company ships its goods in reusable ski and snowboard bags (a gift to you), and repurposes its factory scraps as art projects benefiting the local community. Their tech innovation is pretty sweet, too.
Here, RAMP President Mike Kilchenstein explains the company’s vacuum molding process:
Maiden Ski Crafting
At Maiden Ski Crafting you can customize your skis, snowboards, and sit skis, and also get hands-on in the process. Owner Kelvin Wu opened doors in Jackson Hole, Wyo. in 2012, and invites customers to join him in the workspace at any or all points during the creation. Skiers and snowboarders first tell him what they envision, and Maiden builds their ride. The process typically takes eight hours over the course of 3 to 4 days, and the customer gives feedback after testing it on the snow. If the pair isn’t up to snuff, Wu returns to the drawing board to make another piece. Customers also choose (or create) their own graphics; the shop has a printer that is able to produce any graphic scanned into a computer.
Rooted down in Mammoth, CA, Community Skis has built more than 1,300 custom skis based on the parameters of, “who you are, how you ski and where you ski.”
To start, skiers have three options: They can complete a survey and Community Skis will create their custom ride; they can collaborate with the shop on the design; or, skiers can start from scratch and completely design their own skis. The price ranges from $450 (for any-shape, any-size custom skis) to $825 (custom skis made with ultra lightweight carbon plus custom graphics). Basically, customers decide how involved they’d like to be in the process. “What we found to be most important is the environment where all of this takes place, the factory. Central to the design of the Community Ski factory is the human being. How it is we move through space, utilize tools, organize pathways, communicate to each other. Taking these things into consideration as we built our factory, we've been able to create a space that is slightly enchanted, amazingly efficient and welcoming. Please stop by. We’d be happy to give you a 10 minute tour.” –www.communityskis.com Meier Skis This Colorado-based company makes its skis from local harvest, which not only supports the local economy but also furthers the health of the forest. Each pair of skis helps to clear out and recycle fire-ravaged trees, as well as beetle-killed pine and spruce wood.
With a background in architectural design, Glenwood Springs resident and Meier Skis founder Matt Cudmore started experimenting with building skis in 2009. His brother, an employee of the Forest Service, suggested that he use local wood—aspen, douglas fir and lodgepole pine—to build the product. Cudmore chose to also use a clear top sheet, so that skiers can see what’s inside, a testament to high-quality craftsmanship (if there are manufacturing defects, you’ll see ‘em), and it gives the boards an edgy look.
Venture Snowboards Husband and wife team, Klemens and Lisa Branner, own and operate Venture Snowboards in the middle-of-nowhere mountains of Silverton, Colo. Each board’s composite core is handmade on site using only sustainably harvested wood. Devoted to preventing environmental impact, the factory has operated 100 percent on wind power since 2004. One of our favorite attributes is that each deck—the Zelix, Storm, Odin, and Euphoria—is offered as a splitboard too.
Creating skis in Telluride, Colo., Wagner Custom makes each pair in a shop that’s totally powered by wind and sun. How do they choose their base materials? With the help of “mad genius chemist” Urs Greissbuhler, the head of product development at InterMontana Sports. Basically, the plastics used in base creation contain different levels of crystalized material, and all of those bases thrive in various conditions of snow. Depending on where and what you ride, Wagner Custom helps you figure out what’ll get you to the goods fastest. To offer protection from debris impact, the skis incorporate Kevlar (better known as bulletproof vest fabric). And, when a skier requests high-speed sticks, the metal that Wagner uses is a high-alloy, heat-treated aircraft aluminum—the same stuff that’s used by Boeing for critical aircraft parts. “Using advanced computerized diagnostic and design tools we prescribe a ski shape and flex pattern to match and advance your skier DNA, along with a bill of materials—core, base and structural lay-up—to achieve the design goals in a lively, predictable and durable product. And they'll be assembled by hand, slowly and carefully, by expert hands who know how to create a World Cup quality product.” –www.wagnerskis.com
Going into its fourth season, ULLR Ski Company is grounded in Sandpoint, Idaho. A man of many skills, Matt Neuman started from the ground up with his ski building. Neuman is ULLR’s owner, ski designer and shop technician. He reached out to Michael Lish, owner of 333 Skis, and Michael took Matt under his wing as an apprentice for six weeks in a small trailer in Mammoth, Calif. “I couldn’t believe [Michael] was so willing to share his knowledge. He isn’t just giving it away, though. He expects his apprentices to share their knowledge in the same way to encourage a community of ski smiths that are willing to continue the tradition of sharing knowledge and technology.” –Matt Neuman, www.ullrskis.com On the menu, the company works with skiers to design a pair, or lets the customer choose a pre-designed model and custom graphics. The full-length red oak and birch used to make the cores come straight from Oregon. They are FSC certified and have LEED credits; a resource that can be costly but lowers the company’s carbon footprint while supporting the local economy. (Previously, ULLR was ordering Baltic Birch from a European company.) Way to go for making the change!
The vision for Grace Skis was to create high quality, simplistic, big mountain free ride skis for experienced skiers. The company’s first ski press was set up in the kitchen and garage of founder David Liechty. The company moved to its present factory location in Denver, Colo., where David—a big mountain skier, industrial designer and landscape architect—and the company set up shop. The team handcrafts each pair of skis for their customers, and beyond the construction, the aesthetics catch our eye; a signature bamboo top and bright orange bottom. And, who is Grace? That’s David’s grandmother, who the company was named after and inspired by. “She was a tenacious and hardworking woman, who taught Dave the importance of being brave, yet beautiful, and of course graceful. Legend has it that she knit him wool sweaters made from the softest porcupine fur that she plucked from between their quills.” —www.skigrace.com
Spring Break Snowboards
Spring Break Snowboards offer the most nonconventional, handmade, and artistic approach we’ve seen among snowboards and skis alike. These boards are just as much abstract works of art as they are tools for making powder turns. Crafted in Lake Tahoe, Calif. by owner Corey Smith, he decided to focus on making one-of-a-kind shapes for each wooden board. We’re talking angular, outlandish, weird designs, with particular riders’ styles in mind for each cut. Essentially, Corey sought to strip away the expectations of what a board should be in order to return to the essence of what snowboarding is all about: love for nature, connectivity and community—true surfer style. Riding one of his boards is a gateway to experiencing the sport with a new perspective. Up ahead, for the 2014/2015 season, Spring Break Snowboards has teamed up with Capita Snowboarding to release a new ride. Don’t miss the collaboration. We know there are more boutique ski companies to call out—what skis and snowboards do you shred with? Eco-conscious, local, handmade, and unique: Tell us about why you love them! Maybe we'll write a Part II and make it a series.