"We've taken out all those variables that a consumer staring at a wall of skis in a shop is faced with," McCabe says. Customers are offered the option to choose from one of ten pre-tooled shapes online or create a completely custom shape. They then fill out a basic Skier Profile questionnaire and are contacted by Folsom within 72 hours for a follow-up phone chat to discuss the ski design. "We wanted to take that whole side of buying a pair of skis out of the equation," he adds, "and just set up shop to say, 'Hey, you can come to us and we'll take care of you start to finish.' You come to us and let us know who you are as a skier, what you want and what you've liked and disliked in the past, and we'll build the right ski, the first time, just for you."
McCabe, who is 28, and his business partners have three customer types in mind: The Gear Junkie, who stays on top of all the latest trends and knows exactly what he or she wants, right down to the precise dimensions of a ski's geometry; The Aesthetic, who wants the skis to look good and may want a custom graphic; and The Patriot or Locavore, who adamantly wants a ski made in America, or, better yet, in Colorado. Increasingly, they're finding that most of their customers are all three.
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."
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.