When most people buy skis they turn to a well-known company. Maybe they get a pair of Rossignols or K2s. But big-names are no longer the only option: some two hundred companies – mostly tiny – now make skis in the United States alone.
One of the newest - Sandwich Tech - is run by Katie Mros and Matt Michaud of Littleton.
Like many others who want to live in the North Country they decided to take an innovative idea, hold their breath and try to make a living doing something they love.
“It is scary, very scary. But the best part is you are your own boss,” said Mros.
Each has an engineering degree from UNH. Michaud has a bachelor’s and Mros a masters. They both love skiing – particularly at Cannon Mountain.
And they thought they could use their engineering experience - including working in composite materials – to make some very special skis and skateboards.
Now that’s what they’re doing in a small, two-room workshop. It's wedged into the first floor of a house they built and most days it is filled with high hopes and the sound of machinery and sanding.
Such boutique manufacturers are aiming at very specific niches, says Kelly Davis, the director of research at SnowSports Industries America, a ski trade association.
“It is really cool to see how they make skis for their specific climate and for a specific customer.”
Go online and you can find plenty of boutique ski makers specializing in skis for the deep powder of the West. But Mros and Michaud design for a skier in the East, a skier who wants equipment designed for hard snow.
Their skis are built to carve, says Mros.
“You are going to hit ice a lot more in the East than you will in the West. So you are going to need the grip.”
One of the keys to getting that grip is using a very different design including two layers of unusual materials – carbon fiber and ballistic fiberglass.
The goal is something rare: a ski that is stiff enough to hold going fast on an icy surface but has enough flexibility to make it easy to turn.
“Their skis are superb. I really like them. They definitely have a kind of racing personality under the covers,” says Eric Edelstein who runs a website dedicated to skis made by small manufacturers.
He says many small companies make skis with interesting graphics. Far fewer, he says, make skis such as those at Sandwich Tech that are engineered to be different.
It is an niche market, says Edelstein. But there are customers.
“The ones we talk to tend to be hardcore, independent minded, artisanal-oriented types of skiers who really want something that is not mass produced.”
They also need to be willing to spend.
A pair of Sandwich Tech skis – they make two models – is priced around $1,000 a pair. That’s competitive with high-end, specialty skis.
And you buy them directly from Sandwich Tech, which means word-of-mouth marketing is key.
Katie Mros says she and Matt Michaud would like to have more time on the slopes showing people what their skis can do. But being a two-person operation means they work on making skis almost every day.
Last year Sandwich Tech sold a few dozen pairs. This winter they are hoping to sell 100 pairs.