If you’re passionate about skiing and riding, this is a very good time to be alive.
We are living in what seems to be a golden age of independent ski, board, and bike builders, and the mountain sports industries are the better for it. Many of the bigger, established manufacturers are cranking out interesting products, and indie companies deserve some of the credit for lighting a fire and pushing these manufacturers to innovate and evolve.
They also ensure a broader range of available options, and they are often working to occupy—or create—a specific niche in the market that has been overlooked or simply ignored.
I get to talk to quite a few of the people behind these new, small companies, and I am almost always impressed. They are a collection of smart, passionate people, who are generally working their asses off to build something good. They almost always sleep too little, yet they are very generous with their time. More often than not, they are trying to get their ideas and designs out into the world with limited help and financial resources.
And the stakes are high. The financial pay off for small manufacturers is rarely lucrative, and if your products aren’t better than average, whatever goodwill your indie cred has garnered won’t last long; fail to get your act together pretty quickly, and you’ll likely watch your customers move on to the next hip indie outfit.
(Raise your hand if you still think it’d be rad to start your own little boutique operation.)
For all of the reasons above, it’s easy to root for the indie collective.
In 2009, Portland-based ski manufacturer ON3P officially came on to the scene. ON3P’s founder and president, Scott Andrus, had been building skis for a few years—just for fun—and he had decided to take the leap and do it for a living.
Andrus and ON3P are perfect examples of the people and companies outlined above. Scott is smart, obsessed with putting out a great product, and generous with his time. And ON3P might currently have more indie cred than anybody in the game.
(FYI, Scott and I have been carrying out via email a Question and Answer session. It’s the first installment in a new BLISTER series, simply called, 20 Questions, and if you’ve ever wanted an extremely candid view into the world of building skis and creating a start up, you’ll want to take a look.)
On ON3P’s recently revamped website, you’ll find a good history of the company. You should read it, and I won’t repeat all of the details here.
Like many good independent companies, ON3P is already well known for its remarkable level of personalized, customer service. But ON3P distinguishes itself even further by way of its utter transparency. (Well that, plus their sick graphics, a topic Scott and I discuss in 20 Questions.)
While it is generally easier to draw back the curtain of a small company than that of a large manufacturer to get a glimpse of what they’re up to, ON3P still manages to take transparency to a new level.
Put it this way: what do you really know about K2 or Salomon, besides the fact that they make some good skis? Can you name the people who are actually in charge of those companies? And are they the same people who are making the final call on ski designs and production? In and of itself, this maybe doesn’t matter, but it is a stark contrast to how ON3P conducts its business.
It also points to the difference between companies founded decades ago, and a company founded in an age of Facebook and reality TV, where the distinction between the public and the private has unravelled. Many of us simply don’t care about privacy as much as past generations have, and we have the medium (the interwebz) and the inclination (eh, why not?) to post up. Status updates are part of the daily routine, just something to do. And if you’ve grown up that way, it isn’t much of a leap to run your company that way, either.
But ON3P’s transparency also stems from the fact that it actually started on internet ski forums.
Andrus has, from the beginning, openly and extensively documented the process of starting a ski company. If you dig a little, you can follow his electronic trail on skibuilders.com—a site dedicated to helping you “build your own ride”—which he joined in 2006. There, he shared pictures not just of the garage where he first started building skis, but photographs of the equipment he built to make his skis in the first place.
But long before that, he was posting to newschoolers.com and tetongravity.com under the alias, Iggyskier, a quasi-shout out and homage to his favorite indie ski manufacturer, Igneous Skis, out of Jackson, Wyoming. NS and TGR boards would go on to become venues to report the small triumphs and the many tribulations of a new ski manufacturer.