A COMPUTER SCIENTIST BUILDS CUSTOM POWDER SKIS
The story of a computer scientist who chose to build custom powder skis instead began at an early age. While working towards a Bachelor of Science at the University of California, Peter Wagner took up a job working in the golf industry. Moving from design engineering he started developing software tools for golfers, based on each pro’s unique preferences. This in turn lead to Wagner creating a software system to custom fit golf equipment through analysis a player’s swing. His unique matching system combined design software with a versatile composite material manufacturing platform.
FROM PASSION TO STARTUP
In 2000 Wagner convinced his employer of working remotely in Telluride, Colorado – a former Victorian mining town set in a box canyon framed by heavily forested mountain peaks with a popular ski-and-golf resort at its base- he set about converting his design-and-fitting-system software for golf equipment to ski equipment. After writing 300,000 lines of code he had a computer-assisted design and manufacturing system capable of optimizing shape and flex parameters for any type of ski. At the time he thought of selling the software to a major ski company but soon found out that the few companies left making ski equipment were simply not interested in customizing software.
Unfazed, in 2003 Wagner shuffled on to Boulder where he earned an MBA at the University of Colorado. There he conducted a feasibility study on a custom ski business concept incorporating his software and determined that it was possible to make a profit. In 2006 he circled back to Telluride, with a business blueprint and financing in hand, proceeding to set up the Wagner Custom Ski Factory and pursue his passion – skiing.
It is readily apparent that the story of Wagner Custom Skis is woven together by the same threads found in other notable start-ups within the ski industry. It began with dissatisfaction for currently available products that evolved forwards into a plan of action, driven by the single-minded and relentless energy of the founder. Whether it be Wagner Custom Skis or Gentemstick Snowboards – the story is one of passion, hard work and persistence in the face of resistance. Admiration and awe for those individuals who took that risk and made a product that contributes to a better life eventually follows.
THE WAGNER CONCEPT
Similar to custom boots maker Heierling, Wagner Custom skis are adapted to the individual skier. Surprisingly normal in the early days of skiing it is very rare today where the ski industry is a high-volume, low-margin business with a few Goliaths that mostly manufacture in low-wage Asia or Eastern Europe. Mass manufacturing is universally accepted with mainly marketing differentiating products from each other. The logic of customizing key aspects of a ski to the uniqueness of an individual is overwhelmingly compelling so why do we accept it any other way?
The Wagner concept states that if a skier’s equipment is just right – balance, comfort, control, power, and efficiency improve. On the slopes this means a more intuitive and effortless ski that is ultimately more fun. The extra cost for these skis are offset by greater durability, better skiing and direct support for the local ski town culture.
ADVANTAGES OF WAGNER CUSTOM SKIS
Wagner Custom Skis provide one technical element better than any other – effortless flex as a skier enters each turn which translates to better shaping of turns. On the slopes that means you turn just as you would expect to. Skiers react more instinctively and rely less on pre-planning to set up and execute each turn. Wagner Custom skis are matched to both the skier’s weight and strength. Wagner skis versatility is also improved versus other models because by starting with the correct shape and flexibility the skis will work better in a wider range of snow types and variety of terrain. Ski edges hold precisely on compact snow and round out smoothly even in powder snow.
A proprietary “Skier DNA” fitting system allows Wagner to match individuals to their optimal skis. Skier DNA is defined as a person’s unique profile regarding physical information (height, weight, age) and where they ski (location and terrain). The history of each buyer is also considered through a biographical description that details items such as an evaluation of the last equipment used and skier goals
Once the profile is established it is fed into the software which communicates with the manufacturing process. The basic manufacturing steps are the same for each ski but the length, width, tip/tail shapes, camber/rocker, materials, flex pattern, overall stiffness, and graphics will differ according to the individual “Skier DNA”.
It usually takes about three weeks for a new set of skis to be built. One can sense the commitment to quality and attention to detail immediately on the first visit to the Wagnerskis website. After over seven years in business the Skier DNA design process has created and shipped more than 5,000 successful designs. Wagner Custom’s guarantee states that if a buyer is not 100% happy they will refund the money or build a new pair.
HOW TO ORDER
Surprisingly the entire customization process can be done online via the Wagner Skis website. The first step is to complete the “Skier DNA” questionnaire. It asks for basic questions such as height, weight, age. Other questions probe the buyer for information on past and current equipment as well as likes or dislikes. Next, details on where the skier plans to ski are asked to help determine the type of terrain and snow conditions to design the skis for. Lastly, clients write a mission statement outlining how they intend to use their future Wagner skis. Once submitted the information is analyzed via the proprietary software and a design suggestion is sent to the client. If agreed upon, the customer signs off on both the overall design, color and the ski’s decorative graphic. Currently there are 14 Solid Color choices, 7 Laminated Wood Veneer options and 20 Topsheet Graphic Designs to choose from. Building begins with the aim shipping within three to four weeks after the order has been placed. It is a simple process that results in a detailed customization for the client.
One of traits that pops up time and again when writing stories about dynamic startups is the lengths they will go to in order to make their product better. In the case of Wagner Custom ski factory this extends to being an early adaptor to environmental practices. The Wagner Factory is in fact a recycled gas station from the old mining days of Telluride. Wagner added a large solar thermal array on the roof that provides energy to heat the factory floor and keep all construction materials at a consistent temperature. 21st-century CNC (computer numeric controlled) machines are used to precisely fabricate the ski components including bases, steel edges, wood cores, structural layers, and p-tex sidewalls. The factory is a dexterous combination of modern computer-controlled manufacturing equipment and old-world craftsmanship. By design each pair of powder skis is different, with a unique sidecut, flex pattern, length, width, and material set. Wagner skis are assembled by skilled hands trained to satisfy professional racers.
ADAPTING TO TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGES
Recently customization has been taken a step further by teaming up with Microsoft to incorporate on-snow data collected by individual skiers through the Windows Winter Sports App. The app collects skier data such as vertical feet skied, average speed, air time, terrain preferences, and time spent on snow that Wagner then incorporates into its computer algorithms to help produce even more precisely designed powder skis for their customers.
Wagner Custom skis start at $1,750 USD
WEBSITE: WAGNER CUSTOM SKI