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Indie skis- why now?

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 

I noticed the seemingly recent proliferation of new smaller independent ski manufacturers on the market, there is now a bunch of companies that I would have never heard of a few years ago- Liberty, Ninthward, Movement, Moment, PMGear, Icelantic, you name it.   At least based on the reviews their skis can compete in quality and design with the established manufacturers, the Rossis and Volkls of the industry.  Armada already seems like an old kid on the block.   I was wondering what happened, and why these indie firms burst on the scene now.  Has the manufacturing process change to allow a low-cost entry on the market?  Is it the internet that allows viable distribution channel without an established network of dealers? 

 

post #2 of 28

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by alexzn View Post

I noticed the seemingly recent proliferation of new smaller independent ski manufacturers on the market, there is now a bunch of companies that I would have never heard of a few years ago- Liberty, Ninthward, Movement, Moment, PMGear, Icelantic, you name it.   At least based on the reviews their skis can compete in quality and design with the established manufacturers, the Rossis and Volkls of the industry.  Armada already seems like an old kid on the block.   I was wondering what happened, and why these indie firms burst on the scene now.  Has the manufacturing process change to allow a low-cost entry on the market?  Is it the internet that allows viable distribution channel without an established network of dealers? 

 


It's not like all of these upstarts are building a factory or making skis in their basements. With the web things are so much easier. You find a manufacturer and between e-mails and pdfs you can have these things built in Europe, Asia, or wherever, and with pretty small runs.

post #3 of 28

small companies producing small runs for limited markets. Essentially, a Volkl or other big guy can't move fast enough and make it worth-while to produce a ski that has limited market share.

post #4 of 28

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by alexzn View Post

I noticed the seemingly recent proliferation of new smaller independent ski manufacturers on the market, there is now a bunch of companies that I would have never heard of a few years ago..... 


Because there has always been independent thinkers who believe they can do something different and maybe better than the mainstream (after all, Ferruccio Lamborghini started building cars when he wasn't happy with his Ferrari).  Take the blinkers off and there are a lot of great skis out there (and they don't all have Volkl stamped on the topsheet).
 

post #5 of 28
Thread Starter 

Hey, I never owned a Volkl ski, (or met a Volkl ski that I liked, but that may be changing), so I was not asking the question out of brand loyalty.  I was just wondering why these independent companies have proliferated now as opposed to, say, 10 year ago.  Or maybe I just was not following it 10 years ago and now with the internet those upstarts have become much more visible. 

post #6 of 28

I think it's a combination of phenomena.

 

The conventional distribution model requires vast volumes to succeed, because you need to have stock on hand to sell that day to the consumer in your shop.  As with so many other products (e.g., wine), the need for mass appeal typically leads to homogenization.  On the plus side, the conventional model allows consumers to demo -- trying before buying.

 

The internet is not just a disintermediating market maker, but also a source of information that otherwise might not be distributed.  For all the inane rants on the boards, you also find information about skis you've never tried, and probably couldn't before buying.  It's hardly unbiased, but it's something, and for many people (myself included) it's enough to give a level of comfort when purchasing a product you can't fondle in advance.

post #7 of 28

"Tribes are what matter now."

 

Read Godin. (my author of the year.)

 

 

 

 


Edited by samurai - 5/19/2009 at 12:33 am GMT
post #8 of 28

Its been said before, we're not the average skier.

We're the (how did Philpug say it) the  5%, the ski fanatic.  

Although it seems like there are a lot of boutique skis popping up, which I believe there are, I wonder if we have a heightened sense of awareness of these skis because of this kind of forum participation.

 

That being said, I'm enthusiastic about skiing something from PMGear and the ilk because there is a personal connection, a real possibility of meeting and spending time with the very people who created them.

 

TheDad hit on this mark quite well...

Quote:

The internet is not just a disintermediating market maker, but also a source of information that otherwise might not be distributed.  For all the inane rants on the boards, you also find information about skis you've never tried, and probably couldn't before buying.  It's hardly unbiased, but it's something, and for many people (myself included) it's enough to give a level of comfort when purchasing a product you can't fondle in advance.

 

Blossom and Never Summer come to mind, as avenues for this niche  that make dreams possible.

 

post #9 of 28

Never Summer Rocks! Best skis ever..... :)

post #10 of 28

In an "individual" sport like skiing, there is always a place in the market for a boutique product. There are more high quality skis out there than there are poor ones, so it comes down to marketing in creating the proper perception of the product. Does the manufacturer want to deal direct or through dealers? Or Both? There are companies who has been successful and some that have, for lack of a better term, stumbled. 

post #11 of 28

 

Some indies clearly start their own buzz with their own skiers and it expands over the net from there, like a rumor or a new joke. pure marketing.

 

IMO you can't produce a good ski in a few years trying. OTOH, if Elan or Atomic makes your new idea indie ski, and you spec the design and engineering, will Elan or Atomic correct the errors of your developing (naive and over-simplified)  concept for you and substitute the subtlties of their decades of experience on your behalf? Or do they just give you enough rope......

 

Enter powder specific skis and the quiver concept. A company can produce an unsophisticated ski with no real all-around performance or durablility, and it will still function because in that niche (skis for deep, soft snow), just about anything with width and a trendy top sheet will fly/ float, and sell . 

 

The quiver concept takes the pressure off producing an outstanding all around ski. (Of course that ski won't do that, you need another ski for that.)

 

In our region, a skier can purchase skis that are locally manufactured, and that has a pretty good following,  mostly younger skiers. good on them and cool all around, humanistic consumerism.

 

disjointed. sorry.

 

 

 


Edited by davluri - 5/19/2009 at 03:00 pm GMT
post #12 of 28

What a wonderful opportunity for the main line ski manufacturers if they are subbing out to the designer ski companies.  They can subsidize the numbers of skis being by their factories.  Charge a close to wholesale price to the people contracting from them.  Liberate the technology without the cash outlay from their own R&D people.  

 

If those new Bob Marley skis we build for Those folks from Vail are good but don't sell it is okay.  We here at The Big Ski Company have a new model to replace that other fringe ski of ours that is not selling so well.

 

Maybe we should all get together and buy a ski factory.

post #13 of 28

I'm skeptical of Indie producers, the product needs to be unique and the company needs to have be around long enough so that I feel I'm not wasting money.

 

I own a Praxis Protest only because it is a unique design and the company has a solid history. But even this company had delivery problems at the end of 2008 and the same Internet viral marketing that was praising them earlier was now ripping them to no end.

 

If Dynastar or Fischer made a rockered ski, I would probably buy that product from a good retailer I trust. I know that if the ski has any quality issue I have some recourse.

 

I also am buying the Indie ski without demoing, another negative. I've skied and liked my Reverse-Reverse Volant Spatula. I expect the Praxis will be a more versatile powder ski.

 

So, I took a risk.

 

Michael


Edited by WILDCAT - 5/19/2009 at 04:44 pm GMT
post #14 of 28

 Many manufacturers have over capacity and are building skis for these smaller companies. I would never had been interested in a brand like Fatty-Pus until I saw who made their skis (NeverSummer). I would not be interested in Liberty because I saw who made their skis and how they would ski. There are quite a few smaller companies making skis in Europe that we never see their skis here under their own name but do make skis for labels that are marketed here. 

post #15 of 28
Thread Starter 

So, would it be useful for people to have a list of who those small companies are affiliated with, and who has an independent manufacturing facility.  I read that Icelantic makes their skis in the NeverSummer  facility, so presumably these are good quality skis.  I have no idea about other brands.   Anyone wants to share? Perhaps make a Wiki out of it?

 

 

post #16 of 28

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by alexzn View Post

So, would it be useful for people to have a list of who those small companies are affiliated with, and who has an independent manufacturing facility.  I read that Icelantic makes their skis in the NeverSummer  facility, so presumably these are good quality skis.  I have no idea about other brands.   Anyone wants to share? Perhaps make a Wiki out of it?

 

 


Heh. Interesting idea. I'll start with Volkl making K2's (Mahre's in particular) race skis 

post #17 of 28

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by alexzn View Post

So, would it be useful for people to have a list of who those small companies are affiliated with, and who has an independent manufacturing facility.  I read that Icelantic makes their skis in the NeverSummer  facility, so presumably these are good quality skis.  I have no idea about other brands.   Anyone wants to share? Perhaps make a Wiki out of it?

 

 


I think some of the small boutique companies don't want that info out, although if you read through the Exoticski web site you can find out some things.

 


Edited by MidwestPete - 5/20/2009 at 02:17 am GMT
post #18 of 28

so Phil, taking up my question above, do the larger manufac that produce skis for smaller boutiques incorporate their engineering expertise and all trade protected innovtions, or do they say: OKaaaay, if that's what you want, that's what we'll make,  allowing the boutique to make a ski based on their limited R & D. Or do they make an (for example) Atomic Snoop Daddy with a Nick Greener top sheet? PM Gear went to Switzerland I hear. actually made me more interested.

 

I spoke to a race coach out here about whether the now popular Blizzard line of GS, SG race skis had a particular quality or feel that was different than say a Volkl or Fisher, and he said: no, that most race skis strive for the same characteristics, within a certain range anyhow. so Volkl making a race ski for K2 tells me what I would have thought:K2 just couldn't come up with the goods. funny, because whenever I crit K2 someone always chimes in: but the Mahres skied on them. (same in pro bike racing for a while, paint over someone else's bike frame)

 

anyone care to speculate: are powder skis much easier to engineer, therefore a product with a shorter learning curve for a new boutique?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Philpug View Post

 Many manufacturers have over capacity and are building skis for these smaller companies. I would never had been interested in a brand like Fatty-Pus until I saw who made their skis (NeverSummer). I would not be interested in Liberty because I saw who made their skis and how they would ski. There are quite a few smaller companies making skis in Europe that we never see their skis here under their own name but do make skis for labels that are marketed here. 



 

post #19 of 28

One thing I haven't seen discussed in this thread is that of cost.  Many of the Indie producers (not all) are finding ways to keep their prices lower (though I can't speak for their actual production costs).  For example, I bought a pair of Praxis last year during the summer for $550.  I consistently see Rossigonol, Volkl and other manufacturers trying to sell their skis for at or near $1,000.  This is interesting to me b/c the large manufacturers should have the advantage of the economy of scale.  However, they dump much more into R & D and marketing ( I assume ) and they seek to recover that cost in the much higher retail price.  There is a large risk in buying a product sight unseen and hoping you'll like it.  What swayed me was the testimonials of people who ski way more than I do are impressed by the quality of the design and durability of some of the smaller companies.  My impression is that there is an increased push for innovation by some of the smaller makers.  Whether that's true or not..its hard for me to say.  

 

Like someone else already mentioned, the smaller companies due suffer from typical challenges of small businesses: supply chain challenges, difficulty managing expecations with customers etc.  My skis arrived on time but many others did not.  However, it was very cool to be able to correspond with the owner of the company and get a recommendation for the type of ski I was looking for.  That extra level of customer service made a strong impression on me. 

post #20 of 28

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by locknload View Post

large manufacturers should have the advantage of the economy of scale.  However, they dump much more into R & D and marketing ( I assume ) and they seek to recover that cost in the much higher retail price.  


They also have a distribution channel that the indies -- most of which sell direct rather than through a dealer network -- does not. Dealers a cut of the profit, and they also need to finance inventory.  Take those two factors out, and prices drop.

 

I suspect that marginal cost of manufacturing per ski is higher for indies.

post #21 of 28

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by davluri View Post

so Phil, taking up my question above, do the larger manufac that produce skis for smaller boutiques incorporate their engineering expertise and all trade protected innovtions, or do they say: OKaaaay, if that's what you want, that's what we'll make,  allowing the boutique to make a ski based on their limited R & D. Or do they make an (for example) Atomic Snoop Daddy with a Nick Greener top sheet? PM Gear went to Switzerland I hear. actually made me more interested.

 

Yes, yes and no. Some will use a current ski and put a different topsheet on it. Some will use a "prototype" that they chose not to use. Some will make a fresh ski from scratch (that is w/in their design ability). I can think of a few cases where the same exact ski is offered with 4-5 different topsheets with numerous labels. 

post #22 of 28

Building a ski is not rocket science. Slap your materials into a mold with glue in the right places and vacuum bag it. Production cost comes down to basically materials, labor and a fairly small investment in forms, molds, routers and presses. It could fit into a basement or a couple rooms.

 

I'll bet even some of the indies that have their production done by others, still build their own prototypes. Just like micro brewers that have the majors brew their beer.

 

Powder skis would seem to be easier to make because they aren't expected to perform on a wide range of conditions, just powder. You simply want the tips to come up, either by shape (wicked wide, rocker or pre-flex or a combination) or flex alone (way soft).

 

There is a difference between different brands of race skis. While ultimately high performance is what it is all about, however, a Fischer does not ski like an Atomic. Atomics aren't forgiving, Fischers are, relatively speaking.

 

BTW, Wildcat, how does the Praxis Protest ski? You don't say whether you like it or not.

 

MR

post #23 of 28

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MastersRacer View Post

 

BTW, Wildcat, how does the Praxis Protest ski? You don't say whether you like it or not.

 

MR


I... Ummm... never skied it. The trips I made out-west this year were powderless. Next year...
 

 

post #24 of 28

thanks Phil,

 

please, if a boutique wanted Elan to produce their exact new boutique model ski from a prototype (I assume), what are the construction details and material specifications that Elan would take from the boutique prototype to use in the mass produced model. for example, can a boutique spec an adhesive formula, and if so, who backs it if it fails.  I know that a ski is a little like a bicycle: frame and components. But whose chemicals and materials go into the ski; and whose edges and base stock.

 

what I'm after in the above scenario is this: I buy that ski, do I get guaranteed elan quality, or do I get the boutique's quality and possibly suffer inconvenience do to their inexperience.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Philpug View Post

 

Yes, yes and no. Some will use a current ski and put a different topsheet on it. Some will use a "prototype" that they chose not to use. Some will make a fresh ski from scratch (that is w/in their design ability). I can think of a few cases where the same exact ski is offered with 4-5 different topsheets with numerous labels. 



 

post #25 of 28

I like to compare the "indie" ski movement and custom ski builder movement to the micro-brewery movement.  Only a short few years ago, there were only a handful of breweries around the country, most  making pretty mediocre beer (but it kept everyone happy anyway).  Now, every major and minor city and lots of rural areas have superb micro-breweries selling all kinds of excellent beer brewed by enthusiasts who built a following because people like their beer.  Same thing with skis.  Same basic ingredients in each ski (or beer), just combined a little different to produce something sometimes different, sometimes similar to the big company products, but made by folks you can usually call on the phone if you want.  Some will use very high quality or unusual ingredients or design/recipies too...and that's cool. A craft-brewer will often outsource his recipie for production at a big plant with a space in their production schedule to save on big investment costs in equipment and staff, and many big facilities are happy to keep their production lines working and workers earning paychecks with small custom jobs...so it works out OK in some cases...

 

As far as performance goes, the big companies can make great skis, and always will. The indies can make mediocre skis, just like the big companies, but they usually don't since the fanatics are usually the ones the indies cater too and they can be very, very picky.  Anyway, I think it's healthy to have many small ski builders out there to give everyone a wider choice.  In either case, families get to eat if you buy skis from a big company or indie company.  It's kinda like buying your veggies from the small farmstand instead of Whole Foods, or a piece of furniture from a small cabinetmaker instead of "Mega-Furniture Warehouse"...but then again...Whole Foods has great stuff.......

 

It's the classic case of people wanting to do something their own way and trying to pay their bills by doing something they think is satisfying.  Risky, but fun.  I'm glad the indie ski makers are popping up all over the place.  It feeds the ski junkies' habits.....

 

post #26 of 28

 As a designer/builder of one of a kind high quality furniture and cabinets, I fit into your analogy, and I am completely with you on the ethics of buying from micro businesses producing products right in your back yard.

 

I think this business model (samurai?) harks back to the middle ages or earlier, and it is a hard buck. But it offers the craftsperson the sense of well-being that comes from personally generating an enduring physical object at the end of skillful, honest labor (now a rarity in America). Then, it offers the buyer a semi-unique, high quality product, personalized specs in some cases, and the warm feeling of helping a soul out.

 

However, the perception of many skiers is that it is just too difficult to learn all the nuances of ski characteristics and durablility, and that high-tech materials and machinery are required to produce a superior ski. Whereas few people doubt that a furnituremaker can pick up the methods of the 19th century and earlier, (thereby actually making a superior table to one made by today's factories), or that good beer can be brewed the OLD way, many people are skeptical that a ski can likewise be made by a small shop. (Elan making indie skis is a model we will disregard here based on your OP).

 

Maybe you could calm the doubts of the indie doubters by telling us something (no trade secrets necessary) about your materials, machinery, process, R&D, and anything that would illustrate how you make awsome skis. Good luck to you.

 

BTW, Many indie brands (Praxis is a good example) are very popular here among strong, (mostly) YOUNG  skiers. good on them.

 

counter-intuitive and ironic notes: furniture-making in the hands of mega-large manufacturers has gone steadily downhill for a hundred years, to where their product is disposable crap, a total waste of wood, a destructive, toxic (not green) process on the planet.

Rossignol seems to have wanted some of that indie vibe, using top sheets (Scratch designer series) designed by indie designers and artists.

 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ExoticSkis View Post

I like to compare the "indie" ski movement and custom ski builder movement to the micro-brewery movement. ......snip  It's kinda like buying your veggies from the small farmstand instead of Whole Foods, or a piece of furniture from a small cabinetmaker instead of "Mega-Furniture Warehouse"...snip

 

It's the classic case of people wanting to do something their own way and trying to pay their bills by doing something they think is satisfying.  Risky, but fun.  I'm glad the indie ski makers are popping up all over the place.  It feeds the ski junkies' habits.....

 



 


Edited by davluri - 5/25/2009 at 04:42 pm GMT
post #27 of 28

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by davluri View Post

 

However, the perception of many skiers is that it is just too difficult to learn all the nuances of ski characteristics and durablility, and that high-tech materials and machinery are required to produce a superior ski. Whereas few people doubt that a furnituremaker can pick up the methods of the 19th century and earlier, (thereby actually making a superior table to one made by today's factories), or that good beer can be brewed the OLD way, many people are skeptical that a ski can likewise be made by a small shop. (Elan making indie skis is a model we will disregard here based on your OP).

 

Maybe you could calm the doubts of the indie doubters by telling us something (no trade secrets necessary) about your materials, machinery, process, R&D, and anything that would illustrate how you make awsome skis. Good luck to you.

 

Not sure who this was directed, but I'll chime in.

 

It's honestly not that hard. If you have some woodworking and/or composites skills you are pretty much guaranteed to turn out a usable ski on the first try. High tech materials are involved, but not very much high tech machinery. There are nuances to designing the performance of each ski, and this can be approached in two ways:

  1. Build a TON of skis, and ski the crap out of them. Break them, yell at them, throw them out. Go back to the shop and try again. Repeat until you smile while ripping down the hill.
  2. Apply engineering skills to model what you want, then build a 1/2 a TON of skis, and ski the crap out of them. Break them, yell at them, throw them out. Go back to the shop and try again. Repeat until you smile while ripping down the hill.

 

On the durability aspect, I see it this way:

 

  1. Make it fit the first time. Epoxy (as a filler) is not structural.
  2. Keep it clean. The tiniest spec of foreign material is a place that de-lamination can start.

 

The materials that are available to us indies are pretty much the same as those available to Atomic etc. It is a little more difficult for us to source products occasionally due to quantities, but all the base material, edges fiberglass epoxy etc. are coming from the same basic manufacturers. Titanal (the brand name) is very difficult to buy, but it is actually just a 7000 series Aluminum Alloy.

 

Cores from indie companies are typically superior to those found in normal skis. Large ski companies buy wood in bulk, and the get some good pieces and some bad pieces. The run it through there mill shop to get everything cleaned up, then join the shorter clean pieces of wood with finger joints to make pieces long enough for a core. Personally, when I go to the lumberyards, I'll spend about an hour PER SKI pulling out the best boards. Then I go home and cut around any defects, and finally glue up a core with 100% knot free straight grained full length lumber.

 

That is the largest difference between indies and the "pros". The indies know that the don't have a million dollar marketing budget, the product has to speak for itself. Better materials are used, as it is not all about the bottom line. Since everything isn't automated, mistakes are caught by hand, and as someone said you can probably get the owner on the phone if there is ever a problem.

 

When you are shopping for skis next fall, pick up a few pairs. Pay attention to the edge fitment at the tip and tail. Look at how flat the base is, and if it shrunk at all (is there a space between the edge and base all around?). Talk to the tech, ask him how this years skis looked out of the box (OK, they probably wont tell you that). Since I started building, I have been doing this, and I have seen some things on the sales floor that would embarrass me if i sent them out. I've had techs tell me that they have to spend a day re-grinding all their new product before they can display it. When you turn out a couple million skis per season in a largely automated facility, things get missed.

 

 

post #28 of 28

krp8128,

 

I love that an aerospace engineer is suggesting that it isn't rocket science. ;o))

 

And I agree. I see all the skills and technology in my friend's cabinetry shop.

 

MR

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