Wagner Skis: The “Custom” of our Country
It’s a neat trick if you can pull it off and Pete Wagner is that kind of guy. He skied straight off a mountain onto the pages of Forbes magazine into ski industry history, having broken the mold by using no molds at all. How did he do it? The short answer: fresh tracks. Pete, an engineer, used a business plan that broke all the rules, based on a successful model from the golf industry where his career began.
Instead of betting on the come each spring about winning ski models for the upcoming winter season, the antiquated paradigm, Pete reckoned the way to ride was one pair of skis at a time: bespoke rather than bewildered.
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- Rather than make 100,000 each of 10 general-purpose models, he makes one copy each of 1000 custom-tailored models.
- Rather than spend huge sums on molds that can make thousands of skis in one shape each, he bought a computer-controlled milling machine that can cut parts of any shape. Therefore: no molds.
- Rather than buy vast quantities of cheap materials, he buys small lots of the best materials in the world.
- Rather than rely on cheap labor in a Chinese or Eastern European factory, he formed a nine-person production team of passionate skiers and craftsman and set up a state-of-the-art, green factory in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.
- Rather than “lend” hundreds of thousands of skis to shops around the world in the hope of getting paid next winter, he is paid up-front for each pair of custom-made skis.
- Rather than work long hours with accountants and bankers, he works and skis every day.
The logic is simple: each pair of Wagner Custom Skis has unique specifications because every skier has unique needs. Wagner Custom, the nexus of craftsmanship and technology, art and science, designs and optimizes every set of skis according to length, side cut radius, tail-waist-shovel width, camber, tip-tail shapes, flare angles and flex—all to suit the skier’s unique goals, weight, body type, skiing background, strength, agility, riding style and preferred range of terrain and snow conditions. And the buff little company works its voodoo in an eco-friendly fashion: from soup to nuts, the operation is 100% carbon neutral.
Founded in 2006, Wagner Skis is headquartered in Placerville, Colorado, near Telluride, in a recycled gas station that today gets 100% of its energy from wind and solar power. An array of solar panels on the roof supply space heating and radiant heat for the entire factory floor. Wagner has contracted to receive only wind-generated power from the electric utility to run the lights, computer, milling equipment and presses. Conventional ski factories do a lot of plastic and foam molding, which generate toxic gases that are vented directly into the atmosphere. Wagner Custom uses only clear-grain laminated hardwood cored. No injection molding operations means no gas venting. Grinding processes are minimized and cleanup is done with a push broom. There’s no floor drain and nothing to get into the water table. Conventional skis get shipped from Eastern Europe or China, but Wagner skis are shipped direct from the Colorado factory.
Lean, mean and green (environment and dollars). The story of the man Forbes described as “the most advanced cobbler of snow planks on the planet,” begins in the Midwest, in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.