Editor’s Note: Blister reviewer Garrett Altmann is competing on the Freeride World Tour this season, and we decided it was a good occasion to put Wagner Custom Skis to the test, document the process along the way, and ultimately, review the finished product.
A while back, we posted a conversation that Garrett and I had about the sort of ski Garrett wanted for the FWT. Now, that ski is being built, and we wanted to shed more light on what the process with Wagner is like.
But before I get out of the way and let Garrett tell you about it, know this: Garrett and I both have been extremely impressed with Pete Wagner, his team, and every step of the process.
It’s also important to note that, while we have really enjoyed geeking out with Pete about every last detail of this ski, you don’t need to have any familiarity with ski design to make this worth your while. Many customers contact Wagner precisely because they know what they want their ski to do (e.g., perform well in tight trees, or deep pow, etc.), but they aren’t sure how that translates into a specific design or shape.
Ok, on to Garrett’s take…
The Wagner Custom Design Process: Skier DNA
As Jonathan mentioned, the custom ski design process with Wagner Custom Skis has been a great experience that has exceeded my expectations so far.
Wagner begins the process by having you complete a series of questions, referred to as the Skier “DNA,” and the Skier DNA questionaire is available to anyone on the Wagner website. Your height, weight, and ability are recorded. So are the combination of terrain types you want to optimize the ski for (Groomers, Trees, Moguls, Hard Snow / Ice, Backcountry Powder, etc.). You’re asked when you intend to use the ski (e.g., everyday, backcountry days, etc.), whether you’ll mount with a telemark, an AT, or an alpine binding, what skis you currently ski, and what you both like and dislike about those skis.
Finally, you’re asked a very good question: “In your own words, What are you looking for?”
Here’s what I wrote:
Height: 5’ 9”
Ability: Expert (options: beginner, intermediate, expert, immortal)
1) Moment Belafonte, 182cm – great width, sidecut, and flex pattern. A bit shorter than I’d like for big, open terrain or deep pow.
2) Lib Tech Freeride NAS, 188cm – awesome raised tip profile, great maneuverability. A bit softer than I’d like.
3) 2008 Dynastar XXL, 187cm – I like the stiff tail, but I’d like to add tip rocker and a bit more sidecut.
What I’m Looking For:
A big-mountain ski that will perform on hardpack, windbuff, and handle transitions in variable snow types. Something that is fairly maneuverable in tighter terrain, emerges well from landings off cliff drops, and rips GS turns on hardpack.
Next Step: The Interview
Following submission of the Skiers DNA survey, an automatic reply was sent notifying me that a member of the design team would be contacting me for a follow up interview.
Within 24 hours, I received an email from Pete Wagner asking about my availability for a phone conversation. A few days later, I was on a call with Jonathan Ellsworth and Pete.
Right from the start, it was obvious that these guys are not just serious about what they do, but that they really enjoy skiing, have a passion for ski design, and strive to build top notch products.
Our discussion began by going back over the type of ski I was looking for (again, check out my conversation with Jonathan about this). Pete then reviewed my DNA questionnaire, and we talked very specifically about the characteristics of previous skis I’ve liked.
Sidecut radius was discussed. I said I wanted a ski that didn’t have a ton of sidecut, so that I’d have more edge contact on steep chutes. I also said that I like to make large, powerful GS turns when I can open it up off piste and on groomers back to the lift.
From there, we talked tip and tail rocker. I told Pete that I generally prefer a small amount of tip rocker and splay, a twinned up tail, and minimal-to-no tail rocker.
Next up was tip and tail profiles, where an ‘all-mountain profile’ was suggested by Pete. And this is where I really felt like I was talking ‘shop’ with him. I expressed interest in having a minimally tapered tip, for two reasons: (1) to minimize deflection in chop, and (2) to allow for greater effective edge engagement when carving hard pack.
Upon agreement on rocker and tip and tail profiles, Pete reviewed and confirmed my info, then ran my profile attributes through his code. And this is where the Wagner Custom process is different than any other we’re aware of. Instead of just taking my info and building a ski based off my characteristics, Pete uses a refined computer algorithm to produce a design schematic.
(Wagner has been building skis this way for eight seasons, but the concept was originally developed for custom golf clubs, where Pete developed the code for Penley Sports. But wanting to return to the ski world, Pete knew that he could apply the process to custom skis, and he entered the MBA program at the University of Colorado to develop the idea.)
Within an hour of our phone call, I received an email from Pete that included the initial design profile of the ski, along with a rough schematic.
It was nice talking with you today. Here’s your ski design recommendation that we discussed.
Sidecut radius: 27.0m
Tip: Off-Piste design with “12-10” tip rocker for easy turn initiation and good flotation [Eds note: the tip rocker line starts 12cms back from the widest point of the shovel. And at the widest point of the shovel, each ski has 5cms of “splay” – 10cms total]
Tail: All-Mountain tail design with traditional camber for versatility
Construction: Sugar Maple/Aspen core with Titanal structural layers for a smooth, stable ride with great edge hold.
Flex pattern: Balanced. Tail slightly stiffer than tip.
Stiffness: Medium++. Calibrated for your height, weight, and skier preferences.
Recommended upgrades: Super Durable Base for improved toughness and glide efficiency. Impact Resistance Package for added longevity and easier repairs.
Topsheet graphic: To be determined. See stock options at www.wagnerskis.com/store
This is a versatile, big-mountain ski design. The 189cm length, 108mm waist, and rockered tip will allow you to easily float in powder, broken, and variable snow conditions.
The 27m sidecut radius, balanced flex pattern, and stiffness that is calibrated to your size will enable you to get a wide array of turn shapes out of the skis. They’ll be forgiving with easy turn initiation and easy turn release in tight terrain such as trees, chutes, and steeps. They’ll be predictable and stable at speed and on hard and groomed snow.
This design is optimized for powerful, fluid, off-piste skiing, but will work well in a broad range of terrain types and snow conditions. This is an ideal “big mountain charger/comp” ski design for you.
Let me know your thoughts.