Indy Colorado Ski Maker Goes Skinny
A Denver ski maker known for its fat skis and stunning graphics will put its skis on a diet next season, dropping widths on its popular line down to 75mm underfoot.
For seven years, Icelantic produced some of the most progressive ski shapes and designs in the industry, while connecting with its customers on a visceral level about the more emotionalaspects of snow sports.
Next year the company will produce four of its original models in traditional widths with shapes made for on-piste descents, in a reach for more mainstream skiers on the East Coast and in Europe.
The new line, called SKNY, was introduced at the Snowsports Industries America show in Denver last month. Initial reactions included surprise over why an independent, soulful company would make a mainstream ski.
“For one, it gives more people access to our beliefs and philosophies for why we are even in this business,” said company co-founder and COO Annelise Loevlie, noting that a vast majority of skis are sold in the under-90mm category. “If you just offer fat skis and freeride skis, it limits the reach you can have.”
The company is acting on feedback from customers - who it turns out are more mainstream than their Colorado fans might think — as well as a feeling among themselves about where to go next.
“One thing that is intertwined in all that we do here is pushing the limits,” Loevlie said. “We were one of the first independent companies to push the idea of fat skis. At the same time the art on our skis was striking, and nobody before us has been doing that.
“Over the past seven years we’ve noticed that our main target market isn’t who most people think it would be,” she continued. “It’s the core skiers, but it’s also a middle-aged demographic; the majority are weekend warriors, mainstream general public people rather than just the core. In order to reach more of those people, many of whom live in the Midwest or on the East Coast, we decided to make a ski that’s a little more friendly to people who are just getting into freeskiing.”
The company for the 2013-14 season will make the Shaman, Nomad, Pilgrim and Scout in skinny widths ranging from 75-90mm, with the same sidecuts and construction as their fatter counterparts.
Icelantic might recognize that its customers are mainstream, but one might wonder whether the skiers would agree. Isn’t it an exclusive, hard-core group that skis on independently crafted boards that ooze creativity? Will Icelantic’s move turn its core group off?
“A lot of our company and how its grown has been pretty organic and authentic,” Loevlie said. “So I think some other independent companies like ourselves wouldn’t dare offer this, because they would consider that selling out. But we feel like it’s natural.”
Icelantic has been homegrown from the beginning. Started by three high school friends from Clear Creek county on the I-70 Mountain Corridor — ski maker Ben Anderson, artist Travis Parr, and the business-minded Loevlie — the company never branded a message or told its customers what it’s about. Instead, they’ve asked skiers to join in an intellectual understanding and appreciation for snow and recreating in it, as well as a lifestyle that includes not only a passion for snow sports but also for art, creativity and innovation.
Parr frequently talks about his mission to create wonder in people through art. And while the company runs First Tracks, a social ski club, it’s never been exclusive. The slogan, “Explore Your Mind,” and ski line themes with titles such as “Tune In” and “Are You An Animal?” define the company’s philosophies, which are to push limits in the outdoors and also in life.
“Everything we do is pretty authentic and from the heart, and that intangible is what speaks to the people,” Loevlie said. “It’s not like were spreading this message that’s in writing, it’s more like a feeling or an experience or an invitation.”
Icelantic will sell about 6,000 pairs of skis this season, up from 87 its first year. The company is still small, with its Denver office of seven full-timers just 15 minutes from the Never Summer factory where its skis are still handmade.
A year ago Loevlie opened the company’s European headquarters in Switzerland, staffing it with two and a few strategically placed reps.
Icelantic was catapulted into the European market its very first year, when it won an ISPO (Outdoor, Snow Sports and Sports Fashion Trade Show) industry award for design and innovation. Whether the company’s laid back, Colorado-style attitude will resonate with Europe’s ski racing roots and penchant for flash remains to be seen.
“It’s definitely different, and I’d say the majority of the European ski industry still doesn’t understand it,” Loevlie said. “But there are some special people with the mindset who do get it.”
It makes sense that East Coasters and Europeans, with their penchant for piste, would look for a light, nimble ski. But Colorado is coming off two drought seasons with scant snowpacks that haven’t produced the conditions where fat skis shine.
“If every day were a powder day, we wouldn’t have any friends,” the company writes in its catalogue about the new line, calling the move an “ode to carving, cruising and tackling the not-so-ideal days on-piste.”
There’s been plenty of those in Colorado this year, providing a good testing ground that yielded positive feedback on the new line, Loevlie said.
And if next year is the big one for snowfall, the company will still make its popular line of fatties.
For more on Icelantic and to see next year’s ski graphics, which are based on three dimensional sculptures Parr created with feathers, wood, rock, glass, shells and other non-flat objects, visit www.icelanticskis.com.
Photo: Icelantic Skis go skinny for 2013 / MountainiJournal.com Photo