Can an infant ski startup in Switzerland survive amongst fierce market competition?

At first I was skeptical. After hearing about countless boutique ski start-ups in recent years, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is it even possible for a small, custom-ski manufacturer to create a viable business among current widespread suffering of retail sales? Heidi Blum, an American ex-pat living in Switzerland and founder of Heidiskis, is sure of it: She talked energetically for 15 minutes straight in response to my first interview question. This year her crew will churn out 500 pairs of handmade ash-core skis in their factory in Switzerland. Her original plan for the company was unique—create custom skis for corporate clients (to use as sales incentives, marketing tools, or event giveaways) that were more than just a mass-produced ski with a branded topsheet slapped on. She brought her original models to different testing events and got so many order requests that she decided to sell to individuals.

Before launching her company in 2007, Heidi was adamant about not getting into retail. She had worked in the marketing and design departments of companies like Scott and Salomon, but what gave her essential insight into ski design was her time working as a product tester for K2 and Salomon. She found out about two ski-molds that a friend was selling, and soon became the only female entrepreneur in the boutique skis market.

“The most difficult part [of launching a company],” Heidi says, “is differentiating yourself in an already over-saturated market, and finding your niche.” She is quick to say that she isn’t “in this to get rich or retire.” Producing the highest quality product for a small number of appreciative people is her only goal. She found out last winter that adding a layer of titanal would increase the torsional rigidity without adding weight. Adding this new material is also costly, but she refuses to compromise on quality just so she could sell at a lower price.

For 09/10 Heidiskis offers three models in addition to their custom skis—a powder, big-mountain, and all-mountain model. They sell for 1,200 euros, and the U.S. price depends on the current exchange rate.

When not rigorously testing prototypes, lugging bags of skis around European airports, and communicating with engineering experts, she is planning a ski-touring trip to Antarctica, but is slow to talk about it. “I don’t mean for it to be a big PR stunt,” she says cautiously. “I am just going with a few friends because the area has personally interested me for a long time.”


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