Are You Good Enough for Custom Skis?
Just because custom skis are pricier and take skier input to build does not mean you have to be a World Cup racer to enjoy them.
In fact, while experts certainly appreciate Wagner’s craftsmanship, it’s actually the aspiring experts who may have more to gain from such an investment.
To help you fully understand why, you should first meet Pete Wagner, who on first glance, is the opposite of what you’d expect for a guy who started a ski company in his garage. He’s more mechanical engineer and computer scientist than he is ski bum, and while he’s certainly not short on passion for the sport, he’s just refreshingly devoid of the typical bro-ego.
Pete Wagner showing off a pair of wood veneer skis.
When Pete moved to Telluride, he was working remotely writing software for enhanced-performance golf clubs, using a swing monitor to collect information about how players were hitting the ball to design the perfect custom equipment for them. He read buyers’ guide reviews and purchased a pair of boards, but soon realized they weren’t a good fit for him. “They were too demanding,” he says, but there was no way of knowing that before actually skiing on them.
Thus the seed of Wagner Skis was planted: “I was creating all this tech about how to fit people with their perfect golf clubs, and I didn’t see anyone doing that in the ski industry,” he says. “The golf world seemed to be operating on a much higher level than the ski world.”
So, instead of just buying a different pair of skis, Pete wrote an algorithm and software for designing custom skis. Because he didn’t have the capability to measure someone’s turns like he did a golf swing, he created a questionnaire and used predictive engineering to determine stiffness based on weight, terrain preference, and ability level. He also catalogued the materials, flex index, shape, and other characteristics of the mainstream skis so that he could incorporate similar characteristics to skis customers have liked in the past.
“With that info, we can figure out how stiff, what kind of materials, and what the flex pattern and shape should be,” he said.
He programmed milling machines that cut cores to the specifications of his algorithms. He then built customizable ski presses, built supply lines for more than 200 top-shelf materials, and launched his business. He made every part of the process customized—right down to the vacuum in the shop that sucks up the sawdust. “There wasn’t really anybody else doing what we were doing,” Pete said.
Scott Hargreave works on a set of cores.
Fast-forward to now. Wagner Skis is one of the only brands making truly custom skis in the United States. Other brands may customize the topsheet or materials, but Wagner customizes everything—sidecut, profile, mounting point, etc. And, evidenced by Wagner’s followers, their results in every ski test they’ve ever participated in, and the fact that while Wagner guarantees every ski they make, they end up rebuilding only a few pairs a year (a failure rate of .32 percent, said Pete, ever exact), his strategy of building skis perfect for their skier works, well, perfectly.
While it’s true that most of Wagner’s customers are expert skiers—“This week I designed a pair of skis for an industry guy who’s all about harmonics and metal and weird things most people don’t want to talk about,” Pete says—ironically beginners and intermediates are the folks who would benefit most from having skis built specifically for them. “Just getting the right flex pattern alone can make a huge difference—it gives you better balance, comfort, control, and they work better in more conditions.”
Cormac Bourke takes a break from the CNC machine.
Another reason custom skis can make the sport easier is that he has a dedicated team that is listening and responding to every skier’s specific needs—something that manufacturers who mass-produce skis in China and Eastern Europe are certainly not doing. “If you have a ski that’s specifically built for you to be easier to turn, that just makes it more fun.” Pete says.
He also uses superior materials, which are more durable, higher performing, and, most importantly, will enable a skier to grow without outgrowing their skis. Most meat-of-the-market skis for the lesser-skilled demographic are made with cheap materials like foam, which degrade over time.
But there’s something else, too. “Mainstream brands build maybe six to 10 prototypes a year,” Pete said. “We do that on a Tuesday.”
Dreaming of new skis? Start your pair of Wagner Custom Skis now.
Custom skis make skiing more comfortable, more fun, and allow you to perform better, because they’re built just for you. If you’re afraid you don’t know enough about skis to be able to articulate what you want, don’t worry. Wagner’s ski designers are trained to determine what you want without you even knowing what you want. “It works—people love them.”
Article by Kimberly Beekman
Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Steamboat, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.