Everyone knows big snowsport brands like K2, Burton, or Salomon. So let us introduce you to some of the smaller but incredible winter sports manufacturers, the garage band of the bunch. We looked at the best small brands and compiled a ‘top nine’ list. To qualify for our “small” category, revenues had to be <$5 million, and the product launched less than 30 years ago.
Forest Skis – Slovakia
Forest Ski was founded in 2012 by the two brothers Viktor and Jakub Devečka, both engineers by training who are keen freeriders. They offer a wide range of skis from freeski to allrounders, made from carbon, glass fiber, and kevlar with a wood core. Their ‘asymmetric ski’ has an effective variable edge that provides skiers with a different ski experience depending on which way they are used (left side versus right side) and won the prestigious RedDot Award. Their brand ambassadors include freeskiing world champion Ryan Oakden. They have a test center in Fiss, Austria, and one in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, for telemark skis. The skis are made in Slovakia, and they occasionally do pop-ups, e.g., in Whistler. Check out these guys if you’re in the market for a custom ski, especially if you are a keen freeskier. To help with your buying decision, the brothers developed a set of questions to help tailor the skis to your skiing style.
Parlor Skis and Snowboards – MA, USA
Parlor was founded by three friends: Mark Wallace, Pete Endres, and Jason Epstein, who grew up in New England in an abandoned funeral parlor in Cambridge, MA, in 2013. The trio had started building skis four years prior but did not commit fully until a few years later. Their first 25 skis sold out instantly, and the three have not looked back. Their range of skis consists of a semi-custom ski and a full custom ski. All three have at some stage done ski race training, competed at youth or college levels, and have put their experience to use, trying to offer a one-of-a-kind level of customization from people who know their stuff.
Igneous Skis & Snowboards, WY, USA
Based in Jackson, WY, Igneous was founded by Adam Sherman in 1993, and his friend Mike Parris, a robotics engineer, took over the business from him in the late 90s. Igneous manufactures custom-made skis and boards, and all skis are manufactured by hand. Parris considered automating processes but said he realized he enjoyed working with his hand and the direct contact with customers. Igneous skis and snowboards have no logo — the skis and boards have a simple wooden skin. Instead of a marketing strategy, Igneous relies on word of mouth. So if you’re looking for an understated but entirely custom-built ski or board, Igneous are the guys to talk to (Fun Fact: Pete Wagner of Wagner Custom Skis learned from Mike Parris in one of his build your own skis classes).
Moment Skis, NV, USA
Founded by Casey Hakansson in Nevada, the guys and gals at Moment Skis have specialized in freestyle skis and have a knack for designing some of the most eye-catching skis. Moment Skis counts several Olympians as their brand ambassadors, like US Halfpipe skier and triple Olympian (2 Gold and 1 Silver medal) David Wise, who skied on Moment Skis in the Beijing Olympics, or mogul skier and triple Olympian (1 Bronze and 1 Silver medal) Shannon Bahrke who skied on Moment Skis in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Moment has a men’s, women’s, and youth range and also sell blades, which can be hard to come by.
Roxa Ski Boots, Italy
While Roxa is not a small company, the Roxa ski boot brand is relatively small. Roxa started manufacturing ski boots for other companies, like Full Tilt (now K2). In the early 2000s, however, the company pivoted to produce its own ski boot, based on decades of experience in the industry. While Roxa is not a custom-fit ski boot like Strolz, they offer a tailoring of their boots from three-piece cabrio shell versus two-piece overlap outer boots to a variety of inner liners from Intuition/Roxa custom liners to IR wrap or tongue liners. This makes some of their boot models similar to the Full Tilt boot. Brand ambassadors include America’s Hall of Fame skier Glen Plake and Canadian freestyle skier Dean Bercovitch.
Meier Skis, CO, USA
Meier Skis is based in Denver, CO, and have been harvesting local Aspen, poplar, and beetle-kill pine trees to make sustainable skis for over a decade. Founded in 2009 by Matt Cudmore and Ted Eynon, these guys specialize in your typical West Coast powder ski but also manufacture some excellent frontside rippers. All Meier Skis are handmade in the US. Meier strongly focuses on sustainability and tries to make its manufacturing as ecologically friendly as possible, using non-toxic sap and bio-resins. Check out their happy-hour factory tours, where you can enjoy a local beer while learning about ski manufacturing. Meier also produces snowboards and bamboo poles.
Fatcan Ski Poles, Italy
Ski poles are probably one of the most overlooked equipment pieces for skiers. Northern Italy-based company Fatcan brought the fun into the stepchild of ski equipment in 2012 with their customizable ski poles. Their concept is that you choose from one of their funky pole designs (think candy stripes or Bavarian pretzels), then ‘pimp’ your pole, trimming it to the exact length and fitting it with your choice of handle and powder basket. Focused initially on freestyle skiing with their sturdy, fat original series, Fatcan remains a fan favorite with slopestyle and park skiers like McRae Williams or Luca Schuler (who even has a pair of Fatcan poles named after him). Fatcan refers to their poles as ‘fat’ rather than conic-shaped. However, recently they have expanded into extendable freeride poles, thinner poles, and even a conic series. All poles are 100% made in Italy and 100% recyclable.
Fat-Ypus, CO, USA
Breckenridge-based Fat-Ypus was founded in 2004 by Jared Mazlish and Dave Gelhaar. The duo was unimpressed with the offering of fat skis on the market, so they experimented by cutting a snowboard in half to test the desired width. Their first ski, the A-Lotta, was 140mm underfoot. Dave left the business more than a decade ago, but Jared grew the company and now sells more than 1,000 skis yearly. Their range has exploded from the initial A-Lotta and now covers more than a dozen types of skis, including a pair of mogul skis, and they offer women’s skis and kids’ skis. Fat-Ypus has a network of retailers around the globe, and their skis can be bought all over the US and anywhere from New Zealand to Norway.
Community Skis, CA, USA
Community Skis have created something incredibly unique. More than just making custom skis, the founders Kristin Broumas and Michael Lish believe that knowledge is the thing that will bring our society forward. Combined with a desire to connect people and sustainability, Kristin and Michael set up shop in a trailer and will travel around the country, educating people and sharing their love and passion for making skis. As part of that, they run many workshops from their trailer. If they are not traveling, Kristin and Michael can be found around Mammoth. In 2012 they set up a small ski shop in Mammoth. For 2022 they are working on a container-based ski shop and are upgrading their trailer. All the skins are entirely custom designed, and you can upload and create any design for your skis with Kristin’s help, so if it’s a picture of your dog or your own drawing you want, anything is possible. Therefore no two Community Skis look the same.
What unites all these companies is their pride in what they do and their passion for bringing you what they believe is the best product. Another thread that runs strongly in all these companies is an effort to be as sustainable as possible. So why not support one of these smaller, unique brands?