Jodan Grano began building skis four years ago. Professional skiers tested his handmade boards out on the mountain and returned with positive feedback. He started gathering a volume of data on how a ski could be tailored to a specific individual’s needs, and focused on working with athletes, analyzing their reactions, and designing their perfect ski. That system became Folsom Custom Skis, a company that started selling skis in October 2008 out of their Boulder, Colorado, warehouse. They specialize in designing high performance all-mountain, big-mountain, and backcountry skis. Skiing Magazine’s Paul Sliker stopped by their factory to have a chat with Grano and ski tester/designer Mike McCabe.
Why should I buy custom skis?
[Mike] Before I got involved with Jordan on this project I was averaging 20 to 30 days on a set of skis before they would be un-skiable. I’ve been doing big-mountain competitions off and on for the past six years, so I’m going over rocks and cliffs everyday, and my skis really take a beating. Skis built by hand with more attention to detail hold up much longer. I’ve been riding on my Folsom skis for over 200 days. I’ve never ever gotten this kind of life out of a ski, and we still haven’t shelved a broken pair yet. We’re still waiting for our first pair of skis to come back through warranty because they’ve been broken or haven’t been performing highly.
How does someone get a pair of Folsom Skis?
[Jordan] The process all starts with our online questionnaire. There are about 20 questions, meant to treat every customer like an athlete. Tell us how you want the ski to perform for you. Tell us your height, your weight, what you skied on before, where you normally ski, what runs you like there, things like that. It’s basically a model for when a designer is working with a pro athlete—we’re going to handle the engineering side for you. After you fill it out, send it in, and then Mike and I will review it. We’ll send back a design proposal, which outlines the graphic that you picked and the shape you are interested in. There are 30 different designs on the website, but we can do anything. We have the ability to take any digital image and put it on the ski, so if you’re an artist, we can use your work. We laminate our own core blocks and handpick our own wood. Then we’ll send you back a PDF document with what we will build you and how we’re thinking of building the flex of the ski.
What types of skiers are ordering your skis?
[Jordan] It’s been interesting because our customer base is so diverse. We’ve had the customer who finds out about us and saves up money to buy a pair. We have competitors and professional athletes. One skier has enough money to go on a number of heli trips each year and wanted a heli-specific killer. So we get the whole spectrum of skiers; even telemarkers and jibbers.
How long does it take for you to build a ski?
[Jordan] Generally it’s a two to three week process to get the skis in your hands. But if we have 60 orders at once, we get backed up because we make our skis one at a time. We make them as fast as we can but we also don’t cut corners; we make sure we put an equal amount of time into each and every one of our skis.
As far as sustainability and your environmental impact, where do you guys stand?
[Jordan] We use sustainably harvested poplar and bamboo. Poplar is one of the fastest growing hardwoods in the sustainable market and is a great core material for our skis. The only bad thing about the bamboo we use is that it comes from China, so it takes a long time to get here. But we get our bamboo certified where it’s harvested sustainably and that’s important. We also don’t use toxic lacquer coats on the top of our skis. We minimize some internal ink coats using different methods of construction. We actually just spoke with a company that is figuring out a way to completely disassemble an old ski and pull apart the layers, break them down, and recycle all the materials.
[Mike] The super low VOC epoxy toxin that we use to bond everything together in our ski is so low that we don’t even have to wear masks. You can’t smell it. A chemist in Kent, Washington, is making it specifically for our use. It’s not ordered in large quantities; we order small amounts and use it all. Another big thing is that we’re not building a lot of skis that are just going to sit on a rack and hopefully sell. A lot of big companies pump a whole bunch of skis out into the market that are never used. And then you see these skis on the rack for years to come.
How is the shitty economy affecting your business?
[Jordan] We started our company in one of the worst times to start a business. But all I can say is that everybody who’s heard about us has been blown away after they’ve seen the process and tested our product. We’re currently set up to only build 200 pairs a year. So as far as the economy goes, I think that people are still going to pay for a higher quality product.