Wouldn't it be fair to say that those folks are primarily between the age of 16 and 30 and really have no point of reference, and that half of them are most concerned by how their ski performs in the lift line or on their shoulder or on their rack? I haven't done a demographic study, but looking around the lift line at Squaw.....
early influencers of other young skiers, sure, I guess. (edit)
Fuj, probably have a point there. I was only thinking they stay on the groomers and avoid rocks.
Davluri, a guy named Dave McCoy used to haul me and my parents in a war surplus weasel up to a place called Mammoth, where he had a portable rope tow. Be wiling to bet real $ that I'm older than you are. So I have a few points of reference, I rarely ski at Squaw these days, I'm the inverse of an early influencer (more like the guy they pay not to be seen with their product) and I've owned these indies: PM Gear, Prior, 4FNT, Liberty, DPS. I've skied 'em in all kinds of s*ht, often OB, as little as possible on groomers. I'd buy any again if they came up with something that looked like a current fit.
Honest eval: In my experience, they're less perfectly finished than mainstream fats, especially bases, but have similar levels of minor delams, chips, etc. to skis like Goats that moved production to China. Smaller companies are not up to Euro quality control, larger ones are getting close. IMO indies often have a vague generic similarity in feel because they all tend to use simple sandwich construction with carbon. It's the flex and shape that differentiates them rather than the materials. The takeaway here is that the construction that counts is bomber, but you have to be prepared to put up with a base job after purchase (like Heads, for instance) and your Freudian nightmare graphics may degrade faster than K2's Freudian nightmare clowns.
As far as where stuff's made, was under the impression that 4FRNT had moved its production from Slovenia to N. Africa, may be wrong. Kneissl makes its tennis racquets in China, I had heard that it was making its skis there too. If they're all being made in Austria, all good, and I'm wrong. The China stigma is misapplied, anyway; Kneissl's racquets are known for their finish quality, as are Volkl's. Lot of touring pros prefer Chinese made Head racquets with current paint jobs. Yet Volkl manages to make skis there with magically disappearing topsheets. While DPS and Liberty make amazingly finished products, and K2/Line improved when they moved production from the U.S. Think QC is more about who's providing the specs and how much variation they stipulate as acceptable, than about who's physically running the presses. Go blame Volkl, not China. Just my .02.
In my experience, though, indies are often better on the snow than the mainstreams, especially if you're into backcountry skiing where pop and weight count, or your idea of fun is pinballing over pillows, cliffs, and other natural features. Why? Perhaps because they are quicker to embrace (rather than pioneer) new technologies (rocker, carbon, complex sidecuts, to name three) that radically affect soft snow skiing, and thus have more time to fine tune them. Also, I sense that the on-snow testing is more constant, with more adoption of feedback from customers, less reliance of tried and true CAD designs with already existing presses. It's easier to do that if you're small. Some of them, in fact, change designs on the fly, rather than once a season. Finally, they are waaaay better at personalized customer service, satisfaction. Up to Folsom, where you provide the specs, they interview you, and they design the ski you want.
I would not use an indie ski (to date) for mission critical apps, like ski mountaineering or competition, although many do. But I would tend to favor them automatically over mainstreams for playing in the powder. Weird, but it's the Dynastars and Volkls and Heads who now have to show me...