Eric Edelstein is the founder of Exoticskis.com, a nonprofit website dedicated to connecting skiers with smaller ski makers. This year Edelstein, who is able to work remotely as a software engineer, moved his family from Vermont to France for a firsthand look at the small European manufacturers.
“Five years ago I started a list of ski companies that I had never heard of or ones that didn’t have a market presence. My list became our website and it’s up to over 220 different companies. It keeps growing.”
“I’m not sure why the growth has really taken off because for decades people have been happy with K2, Dynastar, Rossignol, Elan, Fischer, Head, and these small ski makers just weren’t even on the radar. I think it may be kind of a backlash to the mass marketing and the mass production factory production. People are saying they’d like to have something different. Take the microbrewery for instance, all of the sudden someone down the road started making their own beer and started selling it or a pub started brewing their own beer and people decided it was cool."
"In the North American market, no one started taking the chance to build their own skis except for all the powder freaks in the Western states. They couldn’t find what they wanted because the big companies weren’t making really good powder designs. So they started laying up their own powder designs and fat boards with their own geometries. The technology now is that you can mail order a lot of these materials. You can buy bases and edges and cores and do the shaping yourself. The skibuilder.com guys could probably tell you why on earth anybody would start to make their own skis and when you get crazy enough to try and sell them.”
“There are three kinds of small ski manufacturers. There are the emerging garage builders who are really passionate, kind of like garage bands. And there’s the artisanal solo builder, who is like a high-end cabinetmaker gone off the deep end. Then there are the emerging corporate ski builders that have graduated to making 50 pairs per year. A lot of companies get to that stage and don’t quite know how to handle it. Some of them get funding, then build around 400 pairs a year.”
“Then there is the custom market. What’s cool is that these guys will entertain designs. If you are a savvy enough skier and you know what you want your ski made of and you know how you want the layers built, you know exactly what flex you want and what shape you want, they will make you exactly what you want and you can get anything you need and that’s probably the new thing. Of course, you might pay for it. Sometimes when a luxury, high-tech, or custom builder shows me his skis, I feel guilty that I’m not wearing white gloves to hold them.”
“If you are going to buy any of these skis, demo before you buy, ask about their replacement policy because custom skis usually can’t be rebuilt and shipped as quickly as stocked skis, search the internet for reviews by other skiers, call the builder and ask what the ski feels like compared to more-popular brands you’re familiar with, and send the builder a small gift. They appreciate it.”
—As told to Sarah Klingelheber