You’re making custom skis?
Yeah, and as part of that, over the last couple of years I’ve been building prototypes and taking courses in ski manufacturing. I’ve always wanted something to be really handcrafted because I’ve got a real passion for woodwork. I’ve travelled to a lot of the factories over in Europe and been into their custom ski components of their factories and it looked to me like I could tool up and do something similar here in Alberta.
Interesting business you’ve got.
I’ve got a couple of other businesses in Cochrane and I’ve kind of realized over the years that anything we can do to keep from driving into the city tends to be a more popular enterprise. That’s why I set up the tuning shop, because we’ve got a lot of skiers and snowboarders in the community that would just as soon get there stuff tuned up here before heading out to the mountains.
So, this is the first season you’ve done custom skis?
We’ve prototyped for a year and a half now and we decided that we could settle in on about eight different profiles, four for the kind of new-schooler genre of skiing, which is being able to ski switch, and the other four are primarily for guys like myself who need their eyes down the hill.
Are those more for slicing through the powder?
Like I said, I’ve got four different profiles of each, so eight overall profiles. All primarily are profiles that will really excel in the local area. What I wanted to do was build skis that I would use. Just skiing in the couple of hundred mile radius, so anything from powder skis right through to frontside, ice gripping kind of skis. So we’ve got the full gamut in there.
How steep was the learning curve given your experience with fixing skis?
Well, it’s been 25 years since I’ve been racing and coaching. I’ve been involved in the ski community, I’ve been to the factories and have obviously worked on a lot of stuff over that time, but nothing really prepared me for the amount of engineering and CAD camming and development that went into this thing. The tooling up was quite extensive because this is a precision product and we have to come out with very high tolerances when it comes to our cutting and ultimately our finishing.
Did you expect the amount of work you’re putting into it?
I did actually. Because I was able to go to some of these other smaller boutiques and see how they’re doing it and realized that it’s not about volume. You can’t come into this business thinking you’re going to do an exceptionally high amount of volume because really you’re not tooled up to do that kind of work. If you want to do that, then like K2 and some of the other manufacturers in the U.S., they’ve taken the vast majority of their manufacturing offshore to China where these factories are spewing out skis pretty much in a homogenous fashion. Whereas we can simply tailor-make a ski to the skier’s requirements. Once the skier comes to our site, they can look at our profiles, gather some interest and information, do some research on our line and get a hold of us. We’ll take all the parameters of where they ski, how they ski, who they are, their weight, their gender and, you know, basically develop something on a custom basis, for no more than you’d pay in a ski store for a normal pair.
I imagine you were the test client?
Have you enjoyed riding them?
Absolutely. Not to say I didn’t come up with a whole bunch of real duds, but that’s part of the prototyping. You make your mistakes out there and then you can deliver, to the client, shapes that are really going to perform and have a high degree of pleasure for the end user.
This is new, but has there been good demand so far?
It’s brand new, but because of my contacts in the marketplace, we’ve got a lot of semi-pro skiers who are starting to take our product out and get the word out. We’re really working with a grassroots distribution model, where guys that pretty much live on their skis, whether they be coaches, ski patrol, pro patrollers, backcountry guides, those kind of guys are on our product and the feedback is just starting to come back. They’re the ones that are going to be introducing the product to the general public. Just as our ski season starts to pick up now, we’re starting to get interest from everywhere from Whistler to Colorado. That’s what the web does, right?
How many skis can you make in a season?
This year’s run is 250 pairs. Next year, I’m hoping to do 100 pairs of each profile, so that would be around 800 pairs. You have to understand that we have all summer to build these things. The whole process here is to provide a limited amount of product per model and then get those out to our customers and support any retail base that wants to engage themselves with us.
Beyond designing for the client and the local conditions, is there anything that sets your skis apart?
I think so. One, we’re kind of trying to work towards the 100-mile ski diet. Our cores are all sourced with locally grown wood, they’re all built domestically. We know that we are getting wood that is primarily conditioned and grown in the same climates that they are being skied in and, believe me, it makes a difference when it comes to elasticity and density of the wood itself. So, we’re trying to maintain as much domestic sourcing as possible and be that unique entity that can really work with both the corporate sector and the individual skier in providing distinctive graphics. So you could have, or Fast Forward could have, a one-off ski with their own corporate logo on it and still have the same quality ski underfoot.
Are you the only person making custom skis in the area?
There’s been attempts. It seems every decade there’s someone that comes up with a concept, but it never really flies. We’ve done our research. I guess the big thing is the timing and the success that we’re able to work with is that since so much manufacturing has left to offshore for the lower cost of production, that there’s a number of little boutiques like ourselves throughout, primarily, the Rocky Mountain chain bubbling up. We’re the only one in Alberta at this point. Really, we want to provide skis to Albertans, more than anything else. We’ve got over a quarter-million skiers right in greater Calgary alone.
You have a couple of other businesses in Cochrane. What are those?
I’ve got both a small business accounting and tax shop here in Cochrane, it’s called smartcontractor.ca.
A little number crunching and skiing?
We’re coming at this as a business. There’s too much money in tooling up and branding and everything else that goes into this to not take this thing seriously. After a couple of years of research and development, we put up our shingle this year with our tuning shop to provide both sides of that service. Next year we’ve planning to get some snowboards going. That should round out our portfolio nicely.
How many models will you have?
We’ll have, initially, four models of snowboard. And again, providing the same kind of custom profiling.
For more information go to snoday.ca