The Skiing Issue
By Austin Parker
on 1.16.14
Photo by H. Phillips

The pipe dream of skis built to fit your style and body has long been the realm of pro racers and big mountain free skiers. Decidedly unsponsored skiers like us have always had to make do with off-the-rack solutions — until now. One small Telluride, Colorado boutique manufacturer, Wagner Custom Skis, has a secret formula for designing and building the best personalized skis in the world at prices that are more accessible than ever before.

Other companies have toyed with the idea of custom options and unique builds before, but Wagner’s exclusive design process allows for absolute control in including everything you want in a pair of skis — and nothing you don’t. Rather than spending days at your local shop talking about the pros and cons of different core materials and technology, researching touring and alpine bindings, and learning about the latest in the camber versus rocker debate, you can sit down with Wagner’s expert ski engineers and be guaranteed your investment in this season’s skis will pay off in that “perfect fit” every skier fantasizes about.

After many seasons of hunting out the best skis and continually coming up just short, we decided to pay the Wagner team a visit to find out firsthand just how much of difference a pair of personalized skis can make. Together with Wagner’s engineers we designed a pair of ultimate ski mountaineering boards. Then we put them (and a few other Wagner creations) to the test at the company’s home stomping grounds among the famous 13,000 foot peaks of Telluride Mountain Resort.

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After years designing golf clubs for discerning pros, Wagner’s founder Pete Wagner decided to take his unique design algorithms to his first passion: skiing. Using a complex questionnaire involving not only body characteristics, but ski style and favorite terrain, Wagner’s system defines the customer’s “skier DNA”. A follow-up interview with one of the company’s talented ski designers finalizes a unique prototype design, adjusted in every aspect from base materials and side cut to core materials and personalized flex pattern.

The open secrets that set Wagner skis apart? Unlike every other ski company, Wagner doesn’t use preformed ski molds. They work with a wider range of core and base materials than their competitors, giving them the flexibility to crank out a truly exclusive pair of skis with every pressing. After selecting the perfect core (lightweight wood blends, proprietary carbon fiber blends, and titanal dampening sheets), they cut and bend all the layers in a CNC machine for a perfect, unique final product. You can even work with a Wagner graphic artist or provide your own artwork to put your signature on your boards via a personalized topsheet design. Hand finishing the different layers from base to topsheet rounds out the build process, which takes about two weeks to finish.

The finished pair of skis is meant to feel almost like an extension of the body, providing the ultimate skiing experience. Our construction was optimized for backcountry skiing and powder, and the ultralight aspen and carbon fiber cores were crafted to be both soft and responsive in every condition. Kitted out with burly Dynafit TLT Radical FT bindings, they were positively flawless. However, not every skier is on the hunt for backcountry powder and steep ski mountaineering lines, so we also took a few different pairs, from titanal-reinforced chargers to full carbon fat powder skis, out during our weekend in Telluride to put the rest of the Wagner line to test in every condition.

We covered the entire mountain, from tight moguls to famous Telluride steep big mountain skiing, in search of brutal terrain to strain and stress the skis. This is where Wagner’s made-to-order model proved itself. Rather than having to crank out prototypes all season, their computer models and skier DNA framework tell each customer exactly how their new skis will perform. During our test, this meant even skis other than our own outperformed every other “top-shelf” ski we’d tried in the past. After two days of punishing skiing, our bodies were ready to quit far before we had even begun to explore the limits of our skis.

During our visit to Telluride and the Wagner Factory we saw skis at every stage in the build process and watched pairs made for everything from ultralight Canadian heli-skiing to unforgiving, stiff racing. The design experience not only taught us about our unique skier DNA; it showed us exactly what to look for when building an all-mountain performance ski. The cost barrier of Wagner skis (it’s substantial) may turn away some casual riders, but the benefits — moldless designs, exclusive construction materials, and a handmade process — are more than enough reason for a discerning adventurer to make the call. Our experience with Wagner Custom Skis proved they provide what no other ski company can: a truly one-of-a-kind ski experience, designed from the core out to be absolutely perfect.

METHODOLOGY: After designing our Wagner x GP skis, we visited the Wagner factory in Telluride, CO for an on-the-snow interview and test with Pete Wagner. The resulting skis are more than just up to the all-mountain task — they’re a work of art.