Where You Should Buy Custom Ski Gear Before Your Next Trip
Just a few miles down valley from Telluride in Pacerville sits a formerly abandoned service station that’s now home to Wagner Custom Skis. Inside is owner Pete Wagner, a boyish 38-year-old with a messy Beatles haircut. Describing the differences between stock and custom boards, Wagner says, “All the big companies make nice skis these days. Our advantage is focusing on fit. As most experts know, a custom-fit boot performs better. Same goes for custom-fit skis. The big companies can’t tailor products to each individual skier. We can.”
Making a custom ski is a complicated process. Wagner has customers fill out and e-mail back an eight-page questionnaire. The detailed questions (What are your top three terrain preferences? What do you like or dislike about your current skis?) determine your “skier DNA.” Computers in an upstairs aerie digest your DNA and create a ski recipe just for you. Then they transmit it down to the factory floor. Whereas some custom builders merely switch between a selection of molds, Wagner forms “a complex 3-D jigsaw puzzle of your proposed ski, built from scratch.”
Wagner grew up in Dayton, Ohio, skiing a 300-foot-vertical molehill 10 minutes from his house. He left the Midwest to study mechanical engineering at the University of California, San Diego, which led to a job designing high-performance golf shafts for Carbite Golf and Penley Golf, mastering carbon-fiber models for PGA pros such as John Daly.
He spent his winters in Telluride though, seven of them, working on new golf club designs at night and skiing by day. Then one day it dawned on him that skis involve variables golf clubs don’t have to worry about: differences in terrain, environment, and skiing styles are much more complex. It was an engineering challenge ignited by his passion for the slopes. Accordingly, Wagner quit golf, tweaked his software to conceive gear for mountains instead of country clubs, and started making skis.
“We didn’t—and still don’t—need to reinvent the wheel, here” Wagner says, “just focus on fit and design improvements.” His company does this by building each ski by hand, with workers carefully assembling sandwiches built with premium hardwood cores: maple and ash. Structural layers blend fiber- glass and Kevlar.
The result is a pair of skis that start at $1,750, a price that buys “the highest quality materials we can find,” Wagner says, “like extra thick base material and oversized edges. Those make the skis less prone to damage from rocks.” In a good snow year, Wagner sells only about a thousand pairs. “It’s labor intensive,” Wagner says. “Lots of craftsmanship goes into it. Lots of love, too.”
Because Wagner uses no molds, it’s impossible to recommend a Wagner “model” for heli-skiing. But the company makes as many powder skis as hard-snow skis, and will happily build a fat ski to match the terrain accessed by Helitrax choppers and produce a 100-percent Telluride skiing experience.