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The Bespoke Ski, Shaped by Science


By: Nicole LaPorte
The NY Times

Pete Wagner, a 37-year-old Ohio native, likes to think so. Since 2006, he has been applying his background in mechanical engineering and computer coding to make skis — and a few snowboards, too — that are individually designed to fit each owner.

How does he do it?

“Our computers crunch the numbers,” said Mr. Wagner, a self-professed “nerdy engineer” whose shop-factory, Wagner Custom Skis, is in Placerville, Colo., not far from the alpine paradise of Telluride. “We’ve created a scientific method of fitting people,” based on collecting data about other skis they have used, as well as personal information like height and weight, he said.

Mr. Wagner’s goal goes beyond creating an innovative product. He wants to retool the way people think about ski shopping. Rather than choosing a pair in a store or online, only to find that after a couple of runs down a mountain that they feel leaden, or don’t perform well in powder, he says, people can save time and money by having their skis designed much as they would a custom-made suit or a couture gown. And, yes, as with those luxury items, there is a cost: his skis start at $1,750.

Still, the idea seems to be catching on. Last year, Mr. Wagner sold more than 1,000 pairs of his skis, which are available on the Internet and in a dozen boutique ski shops around the country. He also made a few customized snowboards requested by “friends of friends.”

“It’s a little bit like getting custom clothing,” said Larry Houchon, the owner of Larry’s Bootfitting, a ski boot shop in Boulder, Colo., that has a kiosk where customers can order Mr. Wagner’s skis. “If you’re used to going to Nordstrom’s and buying clothing off the rack, but then you suddenly become more interested in your appearance, you’re going to go talk to a tailor.

“It’s the same with skiing. If you’re more committed to skiing better, and with less effort, the skis just make sense.”

Not everyone can justify the cost, however. Glenn Muxworthy, a ski buyer for the Ski Company in Rochester, said that there wasn’t “a big calling” for custom-made skis because “in this day and age, price is a determining factor.” He said that for less than half the price of a pair of Wagner Custom skis, a shopper could buy a pair of Blizzard Cochise skis, a much-buzzed-about product this season.