A team of professional skiers recently moved a custom ski business that’s part of the $3.4 billion snow sports industry from Boulder to Denver. They’re smart, they’re growing and for them, there’s no place like Denver.
Standing atop some of the highest peaks in the Western Hemisphere, Mike McCabe and Ryan Prentice aren’t afraid to admit they sometimes wonder: Are we crazy?
Then again, for the owners of Denver’s Folsom Custom Skis
, calculated risk is an exact science and a profitable one at that.
McCabe, Prentice, Jesse Durrance and Andy Patchin are carving their own niche into the $3.4 billion dollar snow sport industry while slowly separating themselves from the small garage-run shops that typically populate the custom ski market. How do they do it? By teetering on the precipice of cutting edge design and burgeoning technology.
“Lots of trial and error,” says Co-Owner and Principal Designer/Shop Foreman McCabe, 29. “For us, it’s about brand recognition and quality.”
The quartet took over Folsom in August 2011, moving the company from Boulder to Denver. Denver offered a more affordable, centralized location to grow production, including an upgrade from a 1,200 to a 3,600-square foot facility.
“We were really looking to jump into the Denver community more,” admits McCabe, who honed his skills as a craftsman building airline parts for Loveland’s Scion Aviation
. “We were looking for a place to help our plan of sustainable growth.”
And they didn’t have to look any further than Denver.
Cutting Edge of Technology and Design
“We were really looking to jump into the Denver community more,” says Co-Owner Mike McCabe. “We were looking for a place to help our plan of sustainable growth.”
Where major ski manufacturers such as K2
crank out thousands of mass-produced skis a year, Folsom takes a more intimate approach with its customers. The result is a durable ski that, according to McCabe, costs less over the life of the ski.
“It’s very rare we build the same ski twice,” says Prentice, 27, of skis that typically start at $1,200. In fact, Folsom has only built the same ski once, for a diehard skier who wanted one pair for snow and one pair for rocks and rough terrain.
The results speak for themselves. Despite taking off a month to move shops, Folsom's 2012 sales are up 25 to 30 percent. Prentice figures the company will produce somewhere between 180 and 250 skis this year. The goal is to up production to 500 pairs in 2013 and 1,000 annually within the next three to five years.
To compete with custom ski makers such as Telluride’s Wagner Custom Skis
, Folsom must continually evolve. The team is currently working on a new technology called the barge system. The new style, which is still being hashed out, incorporates a convex design allowing skis to carve powder with greater ease and without catching.
To fund the innovations, Folsom uses a three-tier business plan selling custom skis, semi-custom skis and a new online endeavor selling stock-line skis. But the custom skis are Folsom’s bread and butter and each ski is like a snowflake -- no two are alike.
Each pair takes roughly 10 hours to hand craft. The Folsom crew tailors each pair of skis to fit a client’s size, experience and desired trails. Each ski comes replete with a two-year warranty, but as Prentice likes to point out, none have ever come back.
“I truly believe we can build a ski for anyone,” says Prentice.
Takes One to Know OnePairs of skis line the wall at Folsom's warehouse in Denver.
If there is anyone who knows about skis, it’s the Folsom crew. McCabe and Prentice, who met on the University of Colorado-Boulder ski team, have skied professionally for several teams, including Trew Outerwear
After nailing down a ski’s specs, customers can personalize their pair with a design. Illustration requests have ranged from family photos and pets to slabs of bacon and -- must we say it -- Lady Gaga.
Because of its popularity, Folsom orders are backed up through January 2013, but that’s what happens when you’ve got a quality product and a team of four.
The Folsom crew’s time in the white rooms of Colorado, British Columbia and Argentina have been cut from roughly 200 to 50 days, but it’s worth it when a customer sees their brand new skis for the first time, says Prentice.
And that’s enough to keep them from questioning their sanity.
Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn