Custom Skis — Clyde Digs In — Part One

Post by blogger | November 20, 2009      

Editor’s note: We are excited to have well known gear writer Clyde Soles contributing here, and look forward to his thought provoking takes on a number of topics. This post is the first of a three-part exclusive from Clyde. Part one is about designing customs skis, Part Two is on the actual manufacturing, and Part Three is testing and comparison to production skis.

The emergence of handbuilt skis has been a notable trend in the past few seasons. There are now a couple dozen small companies in North America producing a few hundred pairs of skis per year for discriminating skiers. There is even an international trade show in the works for custom ski and snowboard builders to be held in Denver next fall. This growth hearkens back to the roots of skiing, when most skis were made in smaller woodworking factories or even built at home.

Custom backcountry skis.

In the midst of process, creating a pair of custom backcountry skis.

With the plethora of skis from the major brands (e.g. K2, Rossi, Salomon), the mid-size (BD, Dynafit, G3), and the small shops (ON3P, PM Gear, Voile), why would anyone bother with custom skis? After all, custom skis typically cost quite a bit more than mass-produced planks.

The first part of the answer boils down to one word: time. There are in fact so many skis on the market now that it can take quite a bit of time to narrow down your buying decision. Some people would rather ski than spend countless hours reading magazine reviews, scanning websites, and visiting stores. It’s even more time consuming to demo several models on-snow yet that’s the most reliable method of shopping.

With custom skis you avoid the endless shopping and demo trips. By simply filling out a questionnaire, spending a half hour on a follow-up phone call, and responding to a few emails, you can get skis ideally suited for your adventures, designed by someone who can truly create a plank to your exact purpose. (That’s the theory, anyhow, and we’ll know the answer in part three, when we ski the custom planks).

What is more, most custom skis can truly be built to your specifications. The flex is dialed into your weight and skiing style, the tip and tail rise are adjusted to the conditions, and you can specify the feature set such as flat or twintip tails and alpine or telemark flex. Of course, you also get to pick your own graphics instead of getting whatever some “artist” decides you should be looking at while you’re sliding.

Lastly, handbuilt ski makers claim a level of quality and durability that is rare in mass-produced planks. The small companies build for customers who ski hard for 100+ days each season, while the big companies build for the average consumer who seldom gets more out than 6 days and seldom wears out skis. Materials are carefully selected, cores are laminated so there are no gaps or finger joints, layups ensure no voids — the little details that mean stronger and more durable skis. Custom builders take great pride in their craftsmanship and stand behind their products with solid warranties.

All good in theory but I wanted to find out how the process actually works. So I contacted Jordan Grano at Folsom Skis, Pete Wagner at Wagner Skis, and Mike Parris at Igneous Skis. I went through their design process, giving them each the same parameters to see what they would suggest. In particular, I was looking for a ski that is equally suitable for backcountry, sidecountry, and resort days in the Rockies with an emphasis on handling powder and crud but still be fun after the goods had been skied off.

It’s actually pretty fun going through the process of designing your own skis. Folsom and Wagner both start you off with detailed online questions while Igneous prefers to talk design in person but also works over the phone. They all want to know a lot about your background, previous and current skis, favorite terrain, and other details that may affect the final design. Just talking with these guys is an education in itself and their passion for skiing and building skis really comes through.

Once they have your data, each company works up a design proposal. It may take a couple of iterations to narrow down the specifics, particularly if designing your own graphics. But by the time you sign off, there is no doubt that the skis will ideally suit your needs. Had I specified AT instead of telemark, the flex patterns would change a bit but other characteristics remain the same.

Folsom proposal:
The shape we recommend for you is our 180cm Johnny C (135/107/125mm) with a 25m turn radius, an early-rise tip, and low camber underfoot. For touring and mountaineering, a ski that is stable and able to handle a variety of conditions is beneficial. We are suggesting an early rise tip that will rise 10mm over 25cm in the tip of the ski. This early rise tip will make turn initiation in powder and chopped up snow easier and counter tip dive in tele skiing. It will also shorten the skis overall effective edge and make the skis more maneuverable and nimble. Basically the ski will have the flotation and stability of a 180cm ski but it will turn like a ski that is around a 174cm. We also suggest building low camber underfoot, which will give you consistent edge pressure along the effective edge of the skis for performance on hardpack.
The flex pattern for this ski will have a stiffer more powerful flex underfoot and under your tele bindings mount point.

The tip will be softer in the area of the early rise and progressively get stiffer as it moves to the center of the ski. The tail will be overall slightly stiffer than the tip, and it will also get progressively stiffer as it moves toward the center of the ski. The overall result will be a firm, rounded flex that will inspire confidence in a wide variety of conditions. For torsional flex we will focus on keeping the flex stiffer underfoot and in the tail with the goal of giving you excellent edge hold with the effective edge of the ski. The tips torsional flex will be more moderate and progressively stiffen as it moves toward the skis center to allow for better tracking in powder and through variable snow.

Because you want to use these skis for touring we will create a lightweight build utilizing a mixture of carbon fiber and fiberglass. The skis should weigh in the 9 lb range for the pair. The skis will be built with a sight upturned tail with a flat area on the very end for skin attachment.

Wagner proposal:
Length: 183cm; Tip-Waist-Tail: 136/99/122mm; Sidecut radius: 21m; Tip: All-mountain shape, medium rise for versatility; Tail: All-mountain, traditional shape, low rise for versatility and ease of skin use; Flex pattern: Balanced, tail slightly stiffer than tip; Overall stiffness: Medium+; Core: Maple/White Ash for a lively, yet smooth and stable ride; Structural layers: Fiberglass for durability and minimal swing weight; Camber: Traditional, medium height for versatility.

In summary, this design makes for a great one ski quiver Colorado/Utah/Idaho telemark ski. The geometry will provide you with a quick turning, but stable ride. We went for a traditional tail shape (rather than a round shape) to make it easier to attach skins and make them less susceptible to falling off. The All-mountain tip shape has enough upturn to float well in soft snow and bust through crud conditions, but no rocker in order to maximize skinning power and edge hold in firm snow and steep terrain. Traditional camber is a smart choice for you because it’s the most versatile – something important for people who are skiing a wide range of snow and terrain types. We didn’t go wider because there are diminishing returns when going bigger. Sure, they’d float better, but you’d lose more quickness and versatility than you’d gain in powder performance. Plus, you’re mainly skiing in Colorado.

The Sugar Maple/White Ash core is lively, but damp and incredibly durable. Fiberglass construction (as opposed to metal or carbon fiber) makes sense for you because of your past ski preferences.

A balanced, telemark flex pattern, with a slightly stiffer tail than tip, will help turn initiation and give you a little pop out of your turns. We calibrate the overall stiffness based on your height, weight, and skier preferences. The result is an incredibly versatile ski that will enable you to ski bumps, trees, and technical terrain with finesse, while having the power to handle the inevitable variable snow that you find when there isn’t fresh snow.

Although I did not get a written proposal from Igneous, Mike Parrish steered me towards their Double Wide (132/104/118) in a 185cm with an oval sidecut. He feels that skis in the 100mm underfoot range hit the sweet spot for all-around performance–going significantly over 110mm greatly limits versatility. Like Wagner, Igneous also uses maple/ash cores while Folsom prefers poplar/bamboo—all three mill the core specific to each skier.

There is no doubt that I would be happy with any of these custom skis. Though clearly different in some details, I am confident each would deliver the performance and versatility that I would expect of high-end models matched with NTN bindings and Garmont Prophets, or a full-on AT setup.

For now, I am going with the Folsom skis but I hope to try Wagner and Igneous in the future.

Depending on the particular features, a pair of semi-custom skis built using existing shapes will cost $1,200 to $1,600 from most custom ski companies (one intriguing exception being 333 Skis and their trailer contained ski factory, which Louie Dawson is in the process of reviewing). A full custom design with a unique shape will likely run $1,500 to $2,000.

I can hear the dirtbaggers and dumpster shoppers scoffing already. Whatever. This really isn’t a lot of money considering the amount of labor that goes in and the performance and quality that comes out, not to mention the time savings when one has to work for a living. While custom skis are not for everyone, my take so far is that those who can afford them will have no regrets.

Please stay tuned for Part Two, the build, and Part Three, when we find out if the former paragraph is correct, or if I end up eating my Ptex.

(Guest blogger Clyde Soles is a prolific writer who has covered backcountry sports gear for years. His writing is known for a thorough style that probably no one in the human powered sports world has ever equaled. He’s the author of several books, enjoys everything from fluffy powder to fine wine, and also spends quite a bit of time behind a camera. Check his website.)


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


40 Responses to “Custom Skis — Clyde Digs In — Part One”

  1. Cameron Burns November 20th, 2009 10:46 am

    Clyde, Good piece. Interesting stuff. I’ve skied for 35 years and have wondered why people need custom anything, but you’ve opened my eyes. There’s something fundamentally organic (quoting my pal Cory) about this whole custom movement.

  2. Dennis McCooe November 20th, 2009 11:03 am

    Clyde — Please tell YOUR our dimensions (height/weight) so that we have some context for the ski sizing. Thanks for the interesting piece. I look forward to parts 2 & 3.

  3. ScottP November 20th, 2009 11:07 am

    Am I really so out of touch to think that 100+mm underfoot is pretty wide for an “all-conditions” ski? Maybe it’s just because I don’t weigh much, but I still get float in waist-deep powder with my 90mm-waisted Salomon 1080 guns, which were “dedicated powder skis that could handle crud and corduroy” when I bought them.

  4. Clyde November 20th, 2009 11:29 am

    Cam, I still have my first pair of skis: all-wood Bonna 2200s with Silvretta cables (210 cm, 65/58/62mm) so I’ve seen a bit of change too. Custom bikes having been thriving for over a decade, which makes me think this is a trend that is here to stay. From a “green” standpoint, I like the idea of locally-made products built to last too.

    Dennis, I am 6’1″ and about 190 lbs.

    Scott, the NTN system has so much edge power and control that 100mm or so is quite reasonable these days (same for Dynafit/Onyx). I still have G3 Tickets for firm conditions, plus a few others in the quiver, but I suspect the Folsoms will be my go-to ski most of the season (and many to come) when I’m not testing.

  5. Pete Wagner November 20th, 2009 11:53 am

    ScottP – You’re right: 100+mm wide underfoot is pretty wide for an all-conditions ski (for some people.) It really depends on the person and where they ski. An East Coast skier might find a 100mm waist to be much too wide, while an Alaskan skier might find a 100mm waist to be much too skinny.

    Clyde has been using and enjoying some pretty wide skis for everyday skiing which is why Wagner Custom recommended something in the 100mm waist ballpark.

  6. Omr November 20th, 2009 12:21 pm

    So how is flex increased/decreased at specific locations?

  7. Caleb November 20th, 2009 12:34 pm

    This is good stuff Clyde. Answered a lot of questions I have had about this process. Looking forward to the next 2 parts, especially the test. I am about your size and 180cm with 100mm underfoot are exactly my preferred dimensions for most any conditions.

    Up until 2007, I never owned anything wider than 88mm underfoot (my pow ski). I thought triple digits underfoot was some ridiculous gimmick for teenagers. Then I picked up a used pair of 100mm underfoot and it changed the way I ski, for the better. The added side to side stability and shorter length allows me to ski more aggressively in all conditions. I think the three custom manufacturers are right on with their recommendations.

  8. Jason November 20th, 2009 11:52 am

    To me it a great thing that America has! Small ski companies. Keep them coming boys! Buy local, then buy regional, then buy otherwise if you need it…

    Don’t forget and!


  9. Clyde November 20th, 2009 12:56 pm

    Omr, with sandwich construction skis (all 3 mentioned), they can get very specific on flex by varying the core thickness and wood laminations; the fiberglass mostly maintains camber and gives torsional rigidity. With cap construction and torsion box designs, the lay-up is the main variable and the core is more of a filler. The next article shows the skis being built and will have more detail. I plan to visit Wagner next time I get down to Telluride/Ouray so maybe there will be a Part 4 at some point.

  10. navin.r.johnson November 20th, 2009 1:00 pm

    Wildsnow’s “journalistic” standards are slipping, bigtime…

    A more justifiable reason to buy custom skis MIGHT have been to employ an American or European craftsman – and to not buy skis made in China – like all skis under the K2 brand and many others.

    Clyde, were you hungover when you came up with this logical masterpiece? Please spare us your thoughts:

    “With custom skis you avoid the endless shopping and demo trips”. This is just a bit too much to not comment on…

    We have enough time to read “pieces” like yours on custom skis, but not enough to demo? So, we are supposed to trust that some small ski designer is going to produce the ultimate ski for a certain individual, no demoing needed – and Trust that there is no production model out there that would provide much higher performance – say one made in Austria, for instance? What skier with any kind of experience would believe this?

    Or how about the responses:
    “there’s something fundamentally organic about the whole custom movement” Really? Here’s a somewhat more “organic” option: How about taking the price savings realized by buying last year’s production skis instead of this year’s custom skis, and giving the difference to a worthy cause?

    “…an Alaskan skier might find a 100mm waist much to skinny.” Try learning to ski if that is the case…also, it’s “too”, not “to”…

    And I thought Wildsnow was a serious website…

  11. Randonnee November 20th, 2009 1:28 pm

    Ski width discussion is thought-provoking lately. What are Louie’s and Lou’s thoughts comparing say the Coomback and Manaslu in soft snow? Coomback and Manaslu are just 7mm difference in the waist, but it looks like quite a weight penalty for the width. My recent Cascade chowder-skiing and the fact that one of my 50ish buddies bought Voile Drifters (125 waist) is opening my opinionated mind… : )} ! I will be curious to see how my (fast) friend walks up on those Drifters, and interested to see the downhill performance.


    1) How much more ‘float’ say comparing Coomback to Manaslu. And also wider skis compared to Manaslu?
    2) How much more effort is it to push the wider ski with a skin up the mountain?
    3) I can answer myself IMO, that wider skis are awful on 30 to 40 degree firm-snow Cascade traversing. This is not uncommon when traversing drippy/ refrozen Cascade forest to get to the next open slope.

    Can one travel as efficiently on this wider and wider gear? Before hearing the youth v age argument, I will offer that I was pleasantly surprised to double the powder laps of young guys 1/2 my age who followed my track last week. Those young guys were on big heavy and wide stuff, and I walked quite a bit faster on my Manasly/ Zzero3C. The other skills of this old guy such as transitioning in a minute compared to 10 and ski ability helped as well. But what I saw was that guys 1/2 my age on the big stuff were passed 3 times in 2 laps by me on a 400vf circuit. I also outweighed each of them by at least 50 lbs. Point is, can one get around as efficiently on the bigger gear?

  12. Lou November 20th, 2009 2:51 pm

    I thought Clyde’s take was pretty interesting. Glad not everyone agrees, as that keeps things lively around here. And believe me, when Clyde and I discussed him doing some guest blogs, I was fully aware that he’s somewhat of a lightening rod. Which is a good thing. Why be bored? It’s a blog, after all! And about those typos, I missed one 10 years ago, shucks, I guess another one slipped by! Sorry about that.

  13. Lou November 20th, 2009 3:04 pm

    Randonnee, the fatter skis are just so fun… but yeah, the Manaslu width and weight are still the gold standard. I’ll of course be skiing both Coomback and Manaslu because that’s my job. If I had to pick one, I’d tend towards the Manaslu if I was skiing with guys who really pounded out the human powered vert on mostly powder or chowder. I’d pick the Coomback if other guys were on heavier skis, and we had more likelyhood for varied conditions such as hardpack. Bottom line is either ski will work.

    As for Louie, he prefers the Coomback. He’s quite strong so the extra weight isn’t an issue.

    As always, it’s tough to call a quiver of one. That is, unless perhaps you go Clyde’s route and get the perfect custom ski!

  14. Lou November 20th, 2009 3:06 pm

    For some reason I got to thinking about typos and journalistic standards. Was wondering if the New York Times, with paid proof readers and stuff like that, ever makes the dreaded and much maligned typo!

    I found this to be amusing:

    Oh, and BTW, everyone might observe that Clyde has not skied on the skis yet, so all his ideas about WHY one should spend money on custom planks are just that, ideas. Once he tests the skis, then we’ll get the real story from a very informed point of view — though any astute reader will still realize this is a blog and that will be one man’s take.

  15. Clyde November 20th, 2009 3:20 pm

    Nice troll Navin. Start with undertones of racism, throw in ad hominems, then irrelevant pontificating, and finish with grammar police. 😆 Do you really think Austrian machines are better than Chinese machines? Mass production is mass production, no matter where it takes place. And handmade skis will typically have greater attention, no matter what country the craftsman originated.

    As Lou can tell you, demos aren’t always the answer either. At an organized demo, you’d be lucky to test 10 pair in a day on whatever conditions are available (leave alone that pre-production isn’t always what ends up in the shops). And demoing on your own means one or two pair per day spread out over weeks with a wide range of conditions. No matter how you do it, still a lot of time and you only have partial picture from your demos and you end up buying on faith. If you’d bother to talk with someone like Pete Wagner, you’d discover that he has machine flex tested hundreds of production skis and has a database with detailed specs. So yeah, I think he and the others can deliver superior product to your Austrian automated factory boards and at least equal to Austrian handmades.

    Rando, I’m pretty sure I’d destroy the Manaslus in short order using them at a resort. I know it’s a great ski but strictly for the BC and I wanted greater versatility. I often find lightweight skis and boots can’t handle heavy crud, breakable crust, etc as well as beefier gear but YMMV. Doubt I’ll ever ski in the Cascades but if I were doing the Haute Route again I’d still go with a 100mm ski. Personally I don’t care about racing laps unless I’m actually racing and I have an unfortunate tendency to carry a lot of camera gear. Besides, if all I cared about was efficiency, I wouldn’t be a tele skier. 😉

  16. CCD November 20th, 2009 3:45 pm

    The blogs here that are sometimes the most interesting are inspired by some controversy and intelligent back and forth, with lots of good content and ideas.
    Even though I don’t ski much anymore, I still enjoy following some of the threads –which are only rarely interupted by brief moments of ranting with little or no constructive thoughts.
    Although it does add to the lively discussion and banter.
    So, WILD SNOW, keep up the good work lubricating the air waves and my daily grind!!

  17. Randonnee November 20th, 2009 3:47 pm

    Thanks Lou and Clyde. Interesting topic, I will enjoy watching my buddy on his giant skis this season. I can see how enjoyable those big skis would be in deep snow. I could be tempted…on the Cascade crest we get these deep dumps of light snow capped by a thick wet layer, long fatties would help there.

    Efficiency is important to me- not racing at all- I just tour except for a few lift days per year to teach my daughter. I was not racing those guys, just walking laps and was very surprised at our comparative speeds, and actually the same for some other folks arriving later on the big gear.

    In the past I spent 1200 days plus riding lifts for pay, and that really does not appeal to me now. Yeah, I quit tele skiing because of the gear. Traveling was very efficient back in the the skinny ski days, although turns were more challenging. Skiing my Manaslu feels so easy at times this old guy remembers fondly all of the technique in the old days on skinny skis (alpine included) and the satisfaction in putting together good runs in spite of the gear…

    However, one must consider new information, new technology. Looking forward to following your story.

  18. Lou November 20th, 2009 5:40 pm

    Thanks CCD!

  19. Nathan B November 20th, 2009 7:54 pm

    Asking about the float advantage of something like a Coomback or a Manaslu seems like missing the point, to me. It’s true that they are only 7mm apart and probably in the same ballpark. What the Manaslu really lacks is the versatility and directional stability that are delivered by dampness and weight, and a heavier ski with a more traditional core construction should deliver that. Manaslu did wonderfully for me in soft snow in Alaska, but it is not so good on the east coast hardpack moguls back home. That said, Manaslu is still my go-to pick on the east coast for any time I will be on wind slab without too much exposed old crust on the surface.

  20. Randonnee November 20th, 2009 9:00 pm

    Nathan B that is some interesting commentary. We both like the Manaslu.

    With unlimited funds, more garage space and wife-patience I could enjoy adding the Coomba and Titan boot to my randonnee quiver that now includes three types of boots and six randonnee ski setups, 5 Dynafit and one with Fritsche, from 70 waist to 95 waist. Probably will not happen since walking for turns in great snow is what I usually do.

    Skiing in a ski area actually has nothing to do with my discussion, much less ‘east coast moguls.’ My interest and comments are about ski touring. I did pick up from Lou that the Coomba worked better on hardpack, so yes, I got it that the Coomba has better capability other than soft snow. The weight of a ski has little to nothing to do with how it carves or floats turns if skied competently; the shape, flex (including dampness) and torsional rigidity determine the turning characteristics and stability of a ski. My Dynafit FR10 is stiff with an 88 waist, so I find it very stable and it tends to seek high speeds, but that does not make it more desirable for my touring. As a result, the FR10 is less fun in pow than the more supple, partially rockered, but torsionally sufficient Manaslu. Although the FR10 is carveable it is not as satisfying as a narrower-waist ski on firm or hard snow. I have no experience with east coast skiing and just shake my head and move on. I live surrounded by the Cascades (as in across the street from my home) and skitour 80+ days per year with 9/10 days on skis randonnee touring. So for me, walking characteristics of a randonnee boot, binding, ski, and skin are as important as the downhill skiing.

    With all of that, it is quite thrilling to have the performance of the Manaslu at such a light weight. The Dynafit Speedskins slide well, and since I turn my Manaslu easily in all conditions with the lightweight Zzero3C boot, that is a sweet and light setup.

  21. Jon Moceri November 21st, 2009 12:07 am

    Why not build your own? This looks like an adventurous group of folks. They are out of Seattle and many of the homebuilders are also earning their turns.

  22. Nathan B November 21st, 2009 9:32 am

    Randoguy shaking your head and moving on huh? Ohhh, let the East Coast vs Everywhere Else flame war begin! 🙂 It is said that we can ski anywhere since we know how to ski (a) ice and (b) ridiculously tight “woods” skiing that more resembles shrubbery skiing. 😉

    In all seriousness, Manaslu is a good choice for midwinter human powered skiing out here, as well, but: sometimes I want something a little shorter/fatter ala Justice/Coomback for the tighest tree lines, and the high alpine on Mount Washington invariably has a mix of newly windloaded slab and old deadly rain crust. Manaslu is the perfect tool for the wind slab but reveals its deficiencies on the icy old surface – the whole ski vibrates and undulates like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge – you’ve found its resonant frequency. It still holds an edge and makes a turn, but I am reminded of Lou’s comments that this ski is not forgiving of having edges that aren’t kept sharp.

    I also found this ski to be kind of frenetic when snow starts to settle and consolidate to more of a frozen crud consistency, even on low angled terrain. The ski just wants to turn more so you can’t fall asleep at the wheel.

    So we’ll see where I end up this midwinter. I might end up trying out the RT-86s even for the slabby days, despite its profile that looks like it’ll be much hookier.

    I am never selling the Manaslus though… In the right conditions they are just too perfect.

  23. Lou November 21st, 2009 9:34 am

    “I am never selling the Manaslus though… In the right conditions they are just too perfect.”

    Well said!

  24. Pluralist November 21st, 2009 10:59 am

    Great discussion, but what about the coolness factor? Much of my ski dreaming has been about what i would do if i could build it myself. My own ‘pro model’ without having to trade body parts trying to go bigger than the next guy? Sweet. That kinda crazy shape idea that has been poking around my head during the last year’s ascents has a possible route to actually becoming a ski? Divine. The custom movement delivers not only the tailored fit, but can also bring the power of a prototype shop to bear and opening up the possibilities of riding tools even more. Bring it on. 😎

  25. BigD November 21st, 2009 8:40 pm

    Any of you guys seen or heard of this guy? Custom skis from $272.00

    Thought it might make for interesting chatter.

  26. Florida Jim November 21st, 2009 9:24 pm

    Clyde forgot to mention “ScottyBobs” — one of the first custom skis and still being hand-made in Silverton Colorado. They can be fully customized (length, shape, flex, etc) and cost half as much as the skis he mentioned.

    My experience skiing ScottyBobs for the last 4 years (100 days/year) in resorts, cat-skiing and earning my turns in the backcountry on both their tele and alpine skis has been wonderful. They are light and lively; and the best skis i ever had.

  27. Conor Miller November 21st, 2009 10:19 pm

    You know the screw inserts that come pre-drilled into many tele skis? Anybody know how I can do that to my skis for Dynafit TLTs? That way I can swap my dynafits from rock skis, to powder skis to touring skis, and not need to 3 sets of bindings. I haven’t had luck in the hardware stores or ski shops.

  28. Lou November 22nd, 2009 9:33 am

    Check out the Dynafit swap plates sold by B&D ski gear. Click their ad in left sidebar.

  29. Lou November 22nd, 2009 9:38 am

    Everyone, yes, please feel free to comment with links to your favorite custom ski makers.

  30. BigD November 22nd, 2009 11:02 am

    Well, I spent some time last night checking out most of 333’s web site and I have to say (cautiously) “very cool.”

    While I don’t know enough about ski manufacturing in general to legitimately comment on the process, nor have I skied the 333, Michael Lish has my respect.

    Handmade skis for the common man, small mobile shop allows him to work anywhere, minimal environmental impact, plus the passion and commitment to make it happen. It’s an admirable business model.

    I may just place an order and give ‘em a shot. At $333 a pair (a quarter of the cost of other customs), think about the quiver you could put together.

    Does anyone out there educated on the subject, have any insight as to why buying a 333 might be a bad idea? Besides lengthy turn-around time, are there any crucial aspects missing in their manufacturing process vs. the “big guys”? Any other considerations?

  31. Lou November 22nd, 2009 3:03 pm

    Everyone, thanks for your interest in our coverage of custom skis! I’m sure this will be an ongoing WildSnow theme — we’ll try to file blog posts about this subject year-around. As far as Louie and I can tell, Lish has a very cool thing going. Louie has some 333 skis being made for a review. He’ll do a first look as soon as he receives them, then file a review some time after Christmas once he’s been out on them.

  32. Dana November 22nd, 2009 5:50 pm

    I also checked out 333 and can say that I’m interested in them as well. From a layperson’s standpoint, here’s what I see as being their only drawbacks, as far as I can tell. I will also openly state that I haven’t placed an order or asked if they can do any of these following things, but they are questions that I have.
    Solid Wood Core: Awesome, but I’m not sure they do things like stringers for stiffness and pop, camber reinforcement, etc.
    No Metal: I know, a lot of people could care less about metal in their skis. I like it in my skis for the way I usually ski. It also helps hold those pesky BD 01s in place, though it’s not a guarantee.
    Inserts: Don’t know if they can or will do them, but if they did, that’d be great. Can’t be that hard. Snowboarders do it. Right?

    So I just want to say that I’m not knocking the company, I’m just not sure about the answers to these questions. And time frame is a consideration for them right now. When I e-mailed them to ask about turnaround time from order to completion, they said that they honestly didn’t know. Fair enough. For a small company that’s breaking new ground and probably getting inundated with orders, that’s not totally unexpected.

    I’ll be glad to hear someone put up a good review of them.

  33. Glomstulen November 23rd, 2009 3:26 am

    Check out Birdos skis handmade in the heart of the swiss alps (Andermatt) by an american…

  34. FrameNZ November 23rd, 2009 6:45 am

    Another custom ski maker to consider, though haven’t been on a pair. Made in New Zealand (Louie, testing could be a good excuse for another trip – helps on the year round angle Lou noted). Point of interest for these ski’s is they are large of girth and have a full bamboo core to help lighten the load a bit.

  35. David Butler November 23rd, 2009 8:46 am

    Great thread; really appreciate the thoughts of those who know far more than I about these things.

  36. Clyde November 23rd, 2009 10:04 am

    For a complete list of custom and boutique skis, go to It appears to include some that are no longer around and a few other glitches but still a good resource.

    The 333 skis are cap construction and, judging from Ttips and TGR threads, still early in their learning curve. Certainly an interesting concept but time will tell. The environmental hype is a bit of a joke though.

  37. Ben W November 23rd, 2009 2:08 pm

    I’m a big fan of the PMGear Bro shape (125-99-114) for a do-it-all ski for the East Coast and the Dolomites, the two areas I ski most, both of which frequently have less than awesome snow. My 179 stiffs weigh about 7.5 pounds for the pair, and they are reasonably stiff (a bit stiffer than Coombas underfoot). I also have 183s that weigh 9 pounds and are quite stiff, and have been relegated to resort-ski status.

    Pat, the owner, provides excellent customer service, and while he doesn’t produce fully custom skis, offers multiple flexes on many models and has been known to make flat tails (as opposed to semi-twins) and skin notches for customers who request them.

    I find the relative lack of sidecut on the Bros makes them predictable on steeps, as well as any uneven surface or manky snow. Big tips and tails are nice for low angle corn snow, but just get in the way in other conditions. Also, Bros are lighter than just about everything with similar dimensions and flex (the exception being 183’s which were made with a different construction at a factory in Europe). I got rid of my ultralight skis this year, in favor of the merely light. I’m 5’10” 180, and a former wrestler. I have more strength than finesse, and find that slightly heavier skis with a bigger footprint let me make better use of that strength. Oddly, I find I do just fine with softer boots.

  38. Jax November 23rd, 2009 8:57 pm

    Nice to see ‘ya around these parts Clyde. I look forward to the follow-ups.

    Oh, and I’m extremely jealous. I’d sell a kidney for a pair of custom Iggy’s.

  39. Scott Damen November 24th, 2009 1:18 pm

    Great article on the custom skis. For any of you out there who are also knuckle draggers, Donek ( makes some of the best custom boards & skis right here in Denver. I ride a 179 Freecarve that is truly a work of art. Plus, if you live local the owner will give you a personal factory tour when you pick up your ski or board.

  40. K December 10th, 2009 8:31 am

    Another great reason to buy custom skis is the quality and the support of local business. The real reason is that they are so bitchin awesome, gorgeous, and perfect that you will cry when you see/ski them for the first year. I’ll never go back to skis made in China.

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