There’s no one that can truly do it all; you probably need two.
Then I met Pete Wagner, founder and owner of Wagner Custom Skis, and Kelli Gleason, hard-goods buyer for the BootDoctor’s Outdoor Store – two people dedicated not to finding you the perfect ski, but to creating it for you (see video, below).
Remember Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell Smith in the 1985 movie Weird Science – the two teenagers who created the perfect woman on a computer? And then Lisa, their dream woman, actually appeared!
Wagner can make you the ski equivalent of Lisa.
Wagner, who has been making custom skis in Placerville, 16 miles west of Telluride, since 2006, is the master craftsman of the boutique ski industry. Wagner skis have most recently won accolades in Ski magazine’s Buyers Guide for the last two years, for both men’s and women’s best overall performers.
“Nobody executes like us,” Wagner says. “We’ve been crushing our competition – or what seemed like it was our competition.” Wagner, who has an engineering background, attributes the success of his skis to the materials he uses and to his unique customization process.
He approaches building skis with precision, calculation and personalization. To get a pair of Wagner custom skis, a client first fills out Wagner’s “Skier DNA Questionnaire,” divulging such basic information as height and weight, preferred terrain and bindings, and skill level (choices here range from beginner to “immortal”). Then comes the really fun stuff: “What brands do you most frequently ski, and what do you like and dislike about them?” And finally, the question you’ve been waiting for someone to ask you your entire life: “In your own words, what are you looking for in a ski?”
Wagner then translates your dreams, disappointments and desires into science. “We use algorithms to design the ski, which then creates the recipe that all of the factory guys use to build the ski,” he explains. “So we go through the same steps every time, but we build a completely unique ski.” Same process, perfectly calibrated result, each and every time. Devotees swear Wagner’s not exaggerating when he says, “The attention to detail and quality is really second to none.”
HOW DO YOU MARKET SPECIFICITY?
The logical question for a hard-goods buyer like Kelli Gleason becomes this: If each pair of Wagner skis are made to fit a specific skier, then how do you get them on your ski-shop shelf – and relevant for a wider array of customers?
The answer: You design a fleet of skis to accommodate your customers. And that’s exactly what Gleason did.
Gleason grew up ski racing in Taos, N.M.; her father is BootDoctors’ owner (and its eponymous boot doctor, Bob Gleason); her older sister is the firm’s soft-goods buyer and general shredder, Galena Gleason. Each year, Gleason participates in Ski magazine’s product testing and reviews, affording her the opportunity to compare comparable models of skis between brands.
And, oh yeah, she rips.
“I get an advantage,” Gleason says modestly, as North American ski royalty, “of seeing the big picture of all of the products in the market.
“With Wagner, what’s unique is we can blend top ski designs from what we know will be big sellers to create that perfect ski for each category,” from carving to all-mountain to powder.
Now Wagner and Gleason have teamed up to create six styles of Wagner custom skis available at BootDoctors.
Gleason describes each style the way a food critic describes a gourmet meal, starting with what each course is comprised of, and why; then, how these factors contribute to the overall taste – or, in this case, the ride.
Gleason is reserved – she’s thoughtful, and takes care with her words – to ensure that her descriptions are at once accurate and comprehensible to the layperson.
But if you can prove you’re a legitimate student of the sport, Gleason lets her ski-vocabulary fly, throwing around phrases like “early tip rise and tail release,” “torsional rigidity,” and, in validating a certain ski’s performance, remarking: “It can hard-charge Gold Hill.”
As we head into each ski’s ’ “underfoot camber” and “rocker,” she stops to bring up a PowerPoint she put together explaining just what camber is, and what it does.
Gleason is reminiscent of Marisa Tomei describing cars in My Cousin Vinny – minus the Jersey accent, hairspray and leather mini-skirt. As one of three female hard- goods buyers in the entire U.S. ski industry, she has to know her stuff – probably even better than the next guy.
When it comes to the Wagner product, Gleason has clearly done her research – and believes wholeheartedly in the product.
“Wagner has such innovation in their materials that the quality is far beyond the big guys,” she says, of such big, well-known ski companies as Rossignol or K2. Gleason cites Wagner’s close attention to materials, as well as his unique customization process and deeply ingrained sustainability measures as good reasons to buy the product.
The praise is mutual; Wagner appreciates BootDoctors’ knowledge of the clientele who frequent the Telluride Ski Area. “What’s cool about the BootDoctors is they know their customers,” Wagner says. “And they know what kind of ski works really well at the Telluride Ski Resort for those customers.
“Kelli will come to us with her ideas for design, and we’re able to execute on these ski shapes that will work.”
The last step in the Wagner manufacturing process, whether with Gleason, representing BootDoctors, or with an individual client, is picking just the right graphic.
To that end, Wagner has also teamed up with Telluride entrepreneurs Beth and John Kelly, founders and owner of Big Colorado Love, the company that makes bumper stickers, T-shirts and trucker caps with the Colorado flag. Now, there’s another place with the BCL graphic – on a pair of Wagner skis. Staying true to the BCL business motto – to give 10 percent of profits to a Colorado nonprofit organization – a portion of the profits from Wagner skis sold with the BCL graphic goes to the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program.
When you look at Pete Wagner’s ski business, you can see he hasn’t missed a trick, from a great product to great local partnerships to job creation, sustainable practices and giving back to the community.
Yet, when you talk to him, it seems like every step just fell into place ahead of the last one, the result of his determination to create not just a perfect pair of skis, but the perfect pair for everyone.
As our interview wrapped up, he couldn’t resist asking, “What kind of skis do you need?”