If nothing else_ 25 winters in the San Juans _a sub-range of the by runout


									                                              words - lance waring                     facilitate rigging an emergency sled, and slight notches in the tails to retain
                                      photos - brett schreckengost                     skin clips. He thought for a moment before replying, “We’d have to seal the

                                                                                       holes so the core stays dry. That’s not impossible. But we wrap the edges all
      f nothing else, 25 winters in the San Juans (a sub-range of the aptly-           the way around the tails for durability. I’m not sure how we’d create a notch
      named Rocky Mountains) have taught me that skis are disposable. Sure,            without sacrificing some integrity.”
      I appreciate new boards, and I confess to visiting the ski shop every
      fall to fondle them on the rack. However, I never purchase, because              The words “durability” and “integrity” brought me back to my senses. I told
I can’t justify paying retail for p-tex I’ll trash in a few months. Frankly,           Wagner I’d be afraid to ever use these custom boards for fear I’d damage
I’m a ski-buying bottom feeder, haunting the summer sales in search of                 them. “For San Juan skiers, we often use a bomb-proof maple core, opt for
deeply-discounted demos or sifting through the stacks of used boards at the            thicker bases and beefier edges, and add Kevlar to the sidewalls. You sacrifice
ski swap. With my cheapskate attitude, I can’t be too fussy about design               some weight, but they’ll hold up,” he answered. Wagner backed up this claim
features, such as flex, turning radius, or shovel dimension. Give me some              by telling me that Chris Drew—a 225-pound local kid with a serious downhill
comfortable boots, and I’ll have fun on a pair of beveled two-by-fours.                racing background, who now combines his need for speed with a penchant for
                                                                                       pounding bumps and hucking cliffs— had skied a pair of Wagner skis all last
Nevertheless, I was eager to meet ski manufacturer Pete Wagner at his                  season and didn’t break them.
factory in Placerville, a few miles downstream from Telluride, Colorado. For
the last two years, Wagner has been building custom skis and snowboards,               Durability concerns assuaged, Wagner ushered me to a rack of finished skis.
and his products are quickly gathering a following that ranges from young              “You’ll have to decide on a top sheet,” he said. “We can do anything from
bump fiends to veteran powder hounds. I was curious why these people—                  a simple solid color to custom graphics based on artwork you provide.” My
many of them hardcore ski bums living close to the bone— are willing to pay            hands caressed a pair with a gorgeous wood veneer; their simple, old-world
$1,595 for a pair of boards.                                                           elegance captured my soul. “That’s Brazilian rosewood,” said Wagner. “We
                                                                                       have a buyer who sends us scraps of sustainably harvested exotic wood.
I pulled up to the factory on a hot August afternoon. The exterior was                 We’re trying hard to be green—heating exclusively with solar power, buying
unassuming— vintage early 1900s rough stone and ramshackle wood                        wind-generated electricity, minimizing our waste stream. Did you know this
framing. The only hint of advanced technology was a large cluster of solar             factory is carbon neutral?”
panels on the roof. Inside, though, the production room looked like a science
lab with spotless white walls and an immaculate concrete floor. A tidy                 I did not, but the news made me even more inclined to write Wagner a check
plastic tubing system routed compressed air along the ceiling to a gleaming            to start making my rosewood skis. I asked if I could demo a pair before
pneumatic press; nearby sat a large computer-controlled milling machine and            I committed. Wagner shook his head. “Every pair we make is customized
top-of-the-line edge- and base-grinding equipment.                                     for one person. We don’t have demo skis, because every pair is different.”
                                                                                       Instead, he offered the following guarantee: If I didn’t love my new skis in the
In the center of the room was a long plexi-glass layout table where technician         first 30 days, he’d make it right—even if it meant building me another pair.
Scott Hargreave was carefully holding the pieces of a pair of skis while his
colleague Marty Bonnaci ran a trickle of surprisingly benign-smelling glue on          I momentarily set aside my ski lust to ask about Wagner’s background. I
top. “Scotty, where’s the centerline?” asked Bonnaci. Without losing his grip,         learned that he grew up skiing on a 200-foot-high landfill in Dayton, Ohio. At
Hargreave pulled a pen out of his pocket, squinted down the length of the ski,         age 18, he “escaped” to San Diego, where he studied mechanical engineering
and ticked the spot. Smoothly, the two lifted the skis off the table and slipped       at UCSD. He applied for his first patent his sophomore year. Before he
them into the press. Hargreave’s impromptu pen stroke proved to be spot-on.            graduated, he was already working in the golf industry, where he created
With the skis safely in the press, the slender, long-haired fellow who had             software to analyze and design custom clubs.
been quietly watching stepped forward and greeted me. “Welcome to Wagner
Custom Skis, where computer technology meets craftsmanship.” “Hey                      Nine years later, Wagner moved to Telluride to ski. He continued working as a
Pete,” joked Bonnaci, “I thought our motto was ‘where brute force meets                design consultant, writing software and using computer-assisted design and
ignorance.’”                                                                           predictive engineering to provide his clients with rapid prototyping abilities.
                                                                                       After a couple of seasons, he enrolled in an MBA program at the Leeds School
Pete Wagner led me to the adjacent room, where a host of skis from various             of Business in Boulder, Colorado, where one of his academic assignments was
manufacturers lined the walls. “We’re creating a database of flex and shape            to project the future of a hypothetical business. He drew up a plan for Wagner
specifications for all skis made in the last four years,” he explained. “When          Custom Skis, and he knew what he wanted to do next. “It’s a low-volume
clients tell us their favorite current skis, we’ll incorporate that information into   business model,” he concluded. “We’ll make between 500 and 1,000 skis and
the fitting process.”                                                                  snowboards this year. I like the intellectual challenge of shaping the finest
                                                                                       materials for passionate skiers.”
I asked about the fitting process, and Wagner flipped open his laptop. “Let’s
run through it,” he offered. “I call this ‘getting a skier’s DNA.’” An hour later,     Wagner’s genius-level bona fides gave me confidence. His environmental
I was still answering Wagner’s questions regarding my skiing preferences. He           consciousness swayed me. Top-of-the line materials built to my own
wanted to know where I skied, how fast, my favorite conditions, my optimal             specifications made me drool. And the thought of that glowing Brazilian
powder depth. He inquired about my previous injuries, bindings, and boots.             rosewood nearly pushed me over the edge. Desperate to avoid an impulse
He asked if I skied with a pack, and then requested the approximate weight.            purchase, I told Wagner I’d sleep on it. He handed me a business card. “Get
We even talked about other sports I pursued beyond skiing. Every answer I              in touch when you want us to make your skis.”
gave was carefully entered into his computer.
                                                                                       I called Wagner the next morning.
In the midst of talking about skiing, I forgot about the price tag. When
Wagner asked if I wanted anything special, I requested holes in the tips to
                                                                                                                                               Issue XXXIV Off-Piste 19

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