Folsom's skis start at $750 for a semi-custom ski and $1,200 for a full-custom design. That's steep compared to most of Folsom's competitors, but "you get what you pay for," McCabe says. He and his team spend up to eight hours designing and crafting a single pair, ensuring that each ski is shaped impeccably and doesn't have any of the inconsistencies that can lead to those catastrophic failures McCabe feared as a competitor. "The basics of ski construction haven't changed a whole lot in the last thirty years, and we're not exactly revolutionizing the ski industry or doing anything drastically different from the other companies," McCabe says. "We're just being a lot more careful."

This year, Freeskier's 2012 Buyer's Guide featured a special category for "Skiing's Microbrew Brands," and five of the top ten slots on the list went to Colorado companies, including High Society Freeride (the Snowmass-based company outsources its manufacturing to the Never Summer Industries factory in north Denver), Ski Logik (the only Colorado company mentioned in this story that manufactures its skis in China), and Icelantic (the biggest of Colorado's boutique brands also outsources manufacturing to Never Summer). Folsom was number five on the list with a test sample of its semi-custom Gambit ski; McCabe says he thinks he'd come out on top every time if he could build full-custom skis for the reviewers to test. Either way, he says, he's flattered by the craft-brewery comparison.

"I think the craft-beer thing, honestly, has been a bit of a catalyst for smaller independent businesses of all kinds, and for consumers looking for high-quality products produced in small batches and willing to pay a premium for something that leaves a good taste in your mouth," McCabe says. "Upslope Brewing is a terrific Boulder brewery four blocks from our shop, and I'd absolutely cite them as an inspiration for what we're doing here at Folsom."

Mike McCabe goes head over heels in Argentina.
Nadia Samer
Mike McCabe goes head over heels in Argentina.
Mike McCabe at Folsom Custom Skis in Boulder.
eric magnussen
Mike McCabe at Folsom Custom Skis in Boulder.

He also looks to surfing's culture of revering the best local surfboard shapers. "If you're a surfer living by the coast and you're getting up early to check the surf report, hitting your best local breaks and traveling around the world in search of big surf, then sooner or later you're going to get to a point where you're buying a custom-shaped board from a shaper with a great reputation, and they're going to build you a board designed for you as a specific rider with a specific ride style and looking to surf specific kinds of waves.

"I think that's where skiing is heading, and that's what Folsom is all about," he adds. "For a certain kind of skier, a mass-produced off-the-shelf ski just isn't going to do the trick anymore."

*****

One regional ski shaper who has gathered a regional following such as the one McCabe envisions is Matt Cudmore of Glenwood Springs. His company, Meier Skis, is the embodiment of a Colorado garage brand — Cudmore presses skis in his one-car garage when he's not working his day job. Cudmore shapes and builds each ski himself, using locally sourced wood including aspen, maple, poplar, Douglas fir, and even the blue-tinged beetle-kill pine that has been a curse on local ski areas and mountain communities.

His work is catching on with locals in Glenwood Springs, the Roaring Fork Valley and nearby Sunlight Mountain, and his skis are available for sale or as rentals at the Sunlight Bike & Ski shop in downtown Glenwood Springs. And he was thrilled to have gotten coverage in his local paper, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

"It's just like they said in the Post Independent story: If you're standing at the top of Sunlight Mountain with your Meier skis on and you're looking around, you're looking at the trees that your skis come from," Cudmore says, noting that he buys his wood from the nearby Delta Timber Company and uses clear top sheet material to show off "God's graphics" on his skis. "I take a lot of pride in my craftsmanship and using the right materials, using all locally harvested trees, and I take a lot of time for each pair of skis to get everything just right."

After all, he points out, "I'm making skis for people I'm going to run into on the slopes."

His most popular skis are named after legendary local gambler and gunfighter Doc Holliday and his flame, Mary Katharine "Big Nose Kate" Haroney Cummings. "The Doc...is designed to carry you through anything that nature dishes out," explains a description on his website at MeierSkis.com. "It writes the rules. Just like Glenwood's favorite gambler." And for the BNK, his ladies' ski: "Like its namesake, this ornery cuss of a ski takes nothing and leaves nothing, ripping through the backcountry trees with dexterity and grace."

Cudmore's skis start at $650, while custom orders begin at $1,200 — and those orders are starting to pile up, leaving Cudmore with some difficult decisions to make about how to scale up his business. Does he hire some help, creating local jobs? Build a factory? Outsource some or all of his production to keep up with demand? He knows people are buying his skis because they're made locally with locally sourced materials by a local craftsman, and knows he needs to tread carefully as he expands his business or risk losing the reputation he's worked hard to build.

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6 comments
MichaelJacksonsforgottoncat
MichaelJacksonsforgottoncat

ummmmm .... Volant? Went from 150 pair in 1989 to 52,000 pair and tied with Volkl at #4 in the industry 11 years later - every pair was 100% hand made. Cost per unit in the US was simply too much compared to the over seas manufacturing (165.00 per pair compared to 52.00 per pair). Even with the lowest warranty rate/highest quality in the industry (and very very deep investor pockets), there was no way to win/be viable long term. I am sure the folks who used to take the ferry to Vashon, and the Boulderites that rode their bikes to Howards place in Gunbarrel would also agree....

Matt Egan
Matt Egan

Let's hear it for small business and American manufacturing. America needs more garage companies that will grow and HIRE! Corporate America ain't doin' shit.

R. Randall Halton
R. Randall Halton

Thats wonderful this this person has his own construction techniques!!!!! Better get WIPO.com.

____________________ =^= (-----) ' ' HELI SKI dropouts

Jake Miller
Jake Miller

I think I'll get a Grace custom ski if David is making them.... hot!

everybody
everybody

Volants were doomed from day one for their weight, and the fact that you could bend one in half and it would stay that way. Junk. Worth nothing.

 
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