Glance around the lift line at any big resort and you'll see a similar cocktail of brand-name planks – K2, Rossi, Fischer, Volkl, Line, Salomon, Atomic and so forth. These manufacturers have been around for decades and, for the most part, make good-but-not-great skis.
You can think of these generic skis as your daily driver. Good enough to get to the grocery store, but less awesome when you're looking to race.
Big brands create moderately good skis for a reason – they are a compromise of skiers and ski styles. Because an off-the-rack ski needs to work sufficiently for almost anyone, they are rarely perfect almost anyone, too.
Sure, these companies have ample R&D budgets and talented teams of designers, but their priority isn't you. It's 10,000 of you. If you look closer at other skis in the lift line, you'll see eerily similar shapes, sidecuts, materials, and camber. This is the bane of the generic ski – they are, well, generic.
Which is why when friends ask for recommendations about buying a new setup, I always suggest custom skis. Last month, I took a closer look at the custom process by visiting Romp, a small custom-ski shop in Crested Butte, Colorado.
The company was started in 2010 when brothers Caleb and Morgan Weinberg, who have a background in construction and fabrication, experienced a slowdown due to the recession. With considerable experience in fiberglass from their day jobs, they started making skis in their garage. In their first winter the brothers made eight pairs of skis for friends, with the tools they already owned.
The feedback they received was the motivation they needed to go all-in. The next winter Caleb and Morgan rented a factory space and spent a full year refining the manufacturing process. Since then the business has grown steadily and has become a staple of the area; I noticed Romp skis all over Mount Crested Butte.
Like custom bikes or surfboards, custom skis are designed for your needs, with the goal of making skiing more fun. They are meticulously crafted by a small team of eight employees, all of whom are avid skiers.
The team at Romp knows that they will very likely never scale in volume to match the major ski manufacturers. And frankly, they don't care. When I spoke with Caleb, he focused on two things – refining the manufacturing process and perfecting the craft. Not once did he mention making money, growing margins, or building a bigger business.
Keys to Romp’s success include a thorough interview with every new customer, and nonstop testing of new ski shapes and designs. Caleb described the company as "a group of hardworking friends with a really serious ski problem."
During my visit to their shop I watched as they discussed new materials and sketched out new designs one afternoon, and the next day we were testing prototypes of those same designs. This turnaround time is basically unheard of, and helps keep them at the bleeding edge of new materials and technologies. In turn, this means better skis for you.
In just less than a decade the Romp team has grown steadily, while the company remains rooted in their values. Each pair of skis is still handcrafted for a specific customer, meticulously designed for a unique set of requirements. Caleb's co-founder and brother, Morgan, said to me, "Our end goal is to help skiers have more fun. It's all about having fun."
All photos by Andy Cochrane.