Colorado’s vibrant stable of niche snowsports gear and equipment makers is expanding while the national snowsports retail market weathers a downturn.
Last season, SnowSports Industries America reported $3.5 billion in sales, a 5 percent decline in retail dollar volume. The lack of bountiful snowfall in the first few months of the 2012-13 is further dampening sales, with SIA reporting consumers spent $2.1 billion through December, down from $2.2 billion the previous season.
The Denver Post caught up with some of Colorado’s independent and innovative
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snowsports manufacturers at SIA’s Snow Show last week.
Jared Mazlish was a professional skier when he forged skiing’s original super fat ski in Breckenridge. Eight years later his Fat-ypus (fat-ypus.com) offers several different skis, including the new D’Riddum, which Mazlish says is his best ski ever thanks to years of design on his home hill.
“It’s the most suitable place, I think, for designing skis because you get the most versatile ski as a result. It’s going to have to ski bumps, park, big mountain. It’s the most well-rounded area for making the most well-rounded ski,” Mazlish said.
Ben Anderson led the charge with independent skis more than a decade ago with his wildly popular Icelantic Skis. Now he’s hoping for a repeat with his First Degree boots. Partnering with veteran boot distributor Marty Carrigan, Anderson has secured an original three-piece Raichle boot mold. The Stormtrooper boots come with five-position lean, grippy soles and a walk-mode.
In keeping with Icelantic’s made-in-Colorado theme (Icelantic skis are made in Denver) Steamboat Springs’ Dynamic Foam Products designed the $550 to $650 boot’s moldable, three-layer liners and footbeds.
“It’s fun to see it all come to life. It’s been constant growth,” Anderson said. “Our number one goal was to a take a personal approach to the brand and create a community around it and it’s been really fun to see that come to fruition.”
Dan Abrams was planning yet another year of 50 percent annual growth for his Flylow
apparel company, which he founded in 2004 from a Washington Park bungalow. But with the economy and all, he’s settling for 25 percent this year. Partnering with Polartec this year, the highest-end of Abrams’ backcountry and freeride Flylow pieces boast the most technically advanced fabrics that are both waterproof and breathable. But they will remain bombproof, per the original Flylow mission born on the ridgetops of Loveland a decade ago.
“When you get up on the ridgelines in Colorado, we found our gear was getting shredded,” Abrams said of his goal to develop roomy ski pants with reinforced knees and cuffs. “Since then we’ve started expanding the line to include a full range of mid-layers and insulated shells to handle cold. If you can moderate your temperature, you can stay dry on the inside and that’s going to allow you to stay out longer so you get more pow turns.”
was founded 10 years ago by Steamboat Springs entrepreneur athlete Bill Gamber, who grew up on a honey farm. Now the company anchors Steamboat’s Gamberville empire, alongside top sleeping bag company Big Agnes.
“He saw the need for a better tasting, more natural energy food that performs better as well as tastes better,” said sales manager Nate Bird. “Thus Honey Stinger was born and we’ve been blowing up ever since. This state, more than any other, people really live what they are doing. We go skiing at lunch and biking at lunch and test our own product and we can tweak it that way. Our Colorado lifestyle very much influences the brand.”
Skiers Dan Chalfant and James Satloff hit a hot streak a decade ago on the crap tables at Las Vegas while visiting the Snow Show and the next day turned over their cash – and specific instructions – to a ski maker. The streak continues today, as the duo’s Avon-based Liberty Skis
continues to thrive with lightweight bamboo cores and virtually indestructible construction.
“It’s been one roll of the dice to the next but we are still in business and doing well. The company has grown every single year,” Chalfant said. “We are obviously inspired by our surroundings and our design flows directly from the terrain we ride every day.”
Seth Anderson hiked through heat, wind and snow on Mt. Sneffels in 1991 when the idea for Loki outerwear
struck him. Why not have a single piece of apparel that serves as hat, neck gaiter and balaclava? Today, Loki has dozens of designs with jackets that include built-in gloves and gaiters, and swiftly convert into a backpack.
“In Colorado the weather changes all the time. We have less stuff that does more for you,” Anderson said. “It works great for Colorado.”
Since 2009 Matt Cudmore has built his Meier Skis
with beetle kill pine and downed aspen from the Grand Mesa, producing a blue-hued, sustainable ride.
With new school design that has upturned rocker in the tip and traditional camber underfoot, “The Doc” ski drew a lot of interest at his first-ever Snow Show.
“We are reusing wood that has devastated the state of Colorado, so we are using that to be the eco-friendly ski company,” Cudmore said. “It is light and it produces a very poppy ski, a very responsive ski.”
has been handcrafting snowboards in Denver since brothers Tim and Tracey Canaday founded the company in 1991. Today, the 70-employee company – with a new factory under development that will double the size of its longtime home at 5077 Colorado Blvd. – makes several different company’s skis, skateboards and its famous snowboards.
“We build our boards first and foremost for the Rockies,” said product developer Vince Sanders. “We are riding on mountains and rocks and we want to make the most durable product on the market and really focus on durability.”
ROCKY MOUNTAIN SUNSCREEN
David Erickson founded his Rocky Mountain Sunscreen
21 years ago with a focus on high-altitude UV protection. The company – which provided a doctor offering free skin cancer screenings at the Snow Show – recently aligned sunscreens with 2012 FDA regulations.
“For every thousand feet of elevation gain, the UV intensity of the sun increases 5 percent. So at Mid-Vail at 10,000 feet the UV intensity is 50 percent stronger than that of a beach location and that’s part of the reason sunburns in winter time are so intense and that’s why we founded the company,” Erickson said. “We are trying to save lives.”
After eights years working at ski areas, Lanny Goldwasser and his New York City partner Jacob Levy found a hole in the snowsports apparel world. The duo’s Phunkshun Wear
was born from a single sewing machine in their Silverthorne apartment in March 2011 and today provides hip facemasks and balaclavas built with technical fabrics.
“The necessity came from not finding anything in the store that would work,” Goldwasser said from his first-ever Snow Show booth. “We jumped in headfirst and haven’t had a day off in two years. Summit County has definitely taken to us and helped us out and supported us greatly.”
ROCKY MOUNTAIN UNDERGROUND
Rocky Mountain Underground
was established in 2008 and now offers eight different skis, all made at Denver’s Never Summer factory. At this year’s show, founder Mike Waesche unveiled the company’s first fully sustainable ski, made with recycled materials.
“We were a bunch of friends actually pressing skis in a garage; a bad idea that’s grown into a business,” Waesche said. “The Colorado consumer has, for one, a very big playground so we’ve seen a lot of growth in the (alpine touring) market that has inspired lightweight products.”
Vail’s family-owned Skea Ltd.
has been making women’s ski clothing for 40 years, merging distinct fashion – hot pink, shiny silver, flashy faux fur – with performance-oriented clothing.
“It’s all about color. Skea does color,” said company vice-president Denise Leigh. “We are just inspired by the lifestyle. The mountains are in our heart and in our soul.”
David Mazzarella, a longtime Colorado ski maker, believed so firmly in his Ski Logik
skis that he moved his family to China. From a modern production facility on Hainan Island – where Mazzarella says he lowers costs “to be able to put more money in the product and effort into the skis” – he and his wife Mariella make the most beautiful skis to ever touch snow. Last year the company grew by 40 percent.
“Rather than being a mass produced product, it was necessary for us to go back and do a lot of handcrafting and really take our time to make each pair individually,” said Mazzarella, whose headquarters remain in Breckenridge. “Colorado is known for skiing performance and the passion of a skier is brought forth in the design of these skis.”
Chris Davenport likes to say he “speaks the language of the mountains.” Starring in more than 30 ski movies and renowned for his unrivaled 2007 mission to climb and ski all of Colorado’s 14ers in a single year, the Old Snowmass ski mountaineer’s White Spyder collection
embodies his mountain fluency.
“This clothing really comes from those experiences, climbing high, wanting to move fast wanting clothing that breathes well, wanting clothing that is durable, wanting clothing that fits well,” said Davenport of the four-year collection.
From the base of Aspen Highlands, 25-year-old twins Pete and John Gaston launched their Strafe Outerwear
from a need for affordable yet lightweight and reliable mountaineering ski gear. With top-tier breathability and waterproofing as well as four-way stretch designs, the brothers’ Strafe offers simple bibs, pants and jackets born from countless hikes up Highlands Bowl.
“We make stuff we really like and we don’t add features that we are not really into,” Pete said. “The brand is very much inspired by Highlands Bowl and spending time in the backcountry of Colorado. It’s just full protection. We keep it relatively simple.”
Peter Wurster has been making his Unity Snowboards
in Silverthorne for 17 years, enlisting core riders to help with both design and construction.
“We can press a board in the morning and drive out to the hill and ride it the same day. That’s really been a help in just the process of creating new ideas,” Wurster said. “The more and more you ride the more you start thinking about what can I do to make this better.”
Lisa and Klemens Branner’s Venture Snowboards
churns out the industry’s widest array of splitboard snowboards from one of the most remote towns in Colorado. The Silverton-based company made its first snowboard in 1999 and has since developed a reputation for reliability and durability, key components for a tool that can access remote playgrounds.
“I’d say that we are arguably the most durable, highest performing splitboards on the market,” said Lisa, noting that every Venture model is offered in a splitboard for uphill travel and comes with a rare two-year warranty. “That’s mostly because we are riding these boards ourselves. I only want to be out there on the best performing tools I can get my hands on. If you are out there in the backcountry, you want to know you can rely on your equipment and its not going to fail you at a critical moment.”
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasontblevins