Buying a ski off the shelf is hit or miss. There are racks of options, and it's a confusing process. Unless you can test a quiver of models on the slopes in a variety of conditions, it's practically impossible to know which is best for you. Getting a ski built for you, and how and where you ski, can make a huge difference. (And now, more skiers — and not just racers — are customizing the insoles in their boots for a better fit, too.) While many other custom ski companies do custom graphics only, or tweak a pre-designed ski for skier weight, Colorado-based Wagner Custom Skis, located near Telluride, is the only company with a highly evolved scientific process for creating perfect custom skis for each user.
Wagner Custom's skis are entirely tailored to the skier. The founder of the company, Pete Wagner, who was an engineer and computer scientist in the golf industry before he started Wagner Custom, laid down the clubs and turned to skis when he was having trouble finding himself a pair he loved. In the golf industry, Wagner designed custom carbon fiber golf club shafts. He took that knowledge and applied it to skiing, writing algorithms to optimize ski design and materials based on skier size, skills and experience, terrain preferences, and the skier's "mission statement" for his skis — when and where he is going to use them. Wagner calls this "skier DNA."
Wagner Custom's solar-powered factory near Telluride, Colo.
Photo by Brett Schreckengost
The process, which Wagner Custom has honed over the past decade, starts with filling out the company's online questionnaire. Then, skiers are guided through the fitting process. You have a phone interview with a designer, who makes a recommendation based on your skier DNA. Wagner Custom determines the perfect geometry — length, width, camber rocker, tail shape, and the appropriate materials so that your skis have the perfect feel.
For example, if you're primarily skiing Eastern hardpack, Wagner Custom would likely make your ski more torsionally stiff — and choose the right materials. They also calibrate stiffness and flex. "Much like getting a properly fitted boot improves your balance, control, comfort, efficiency, and power, a custom ski is optimized for you and how you're going to use it," says Wagner. "It doesn't matter if you know a little or lot about ski design. We guide you through the fitting process, so you get exactly the feel you want on snow."
The fitting process is one thing that differentiates Wagner. "Agile manufacturing" is the other. Wagner doesn't use molds — nearly every other manufacturer does — but 21st century computer-controlled milling to fabricate parts to precise tolerances. Each ski is a 3D jigsaw puzzle that snaps together perfectly. Then it's placed in Wagner's adjustable ski press. "We go through the same steps every time," Wagner says, "but each ski is totally custom."
And you get custom graphics, too. Wagner's eye-catching limited edition wood veneer top sheet skis are collectors' items that you actually use. Wagner personally curates the veneer collection, choosing "the coolest ones," regardless of where in the world they come from, including West African bubinga, Australian walnut, and American-harvested, striped cherry and camphorwood. Each veneer is used in half-a-dozen pairs of skis, and then it's gone. Wagner also has a dozen pre-designed graphics to choose from, or you can design your own top sheet with help from his in-house graphic artist.
Over the company's seven years in business, housed in a renovated gas station, and powered by solar and wind energy, Wagner has built more than 5,000 successful designs — each pair a unique creation suited to a specific need. Every pair of skis comes with a guarantee: If you're not 100 percent happy, Wagner will refund your money or build you another pair. Get fitted for free, even if you're not sure you're ready to buy. If you are ready, allow three weeks from start to finish.