As evident on any ski wall of any major ski shop, more than a dozen ski brands make up the bulk of the market share. There are, however, several hundred small and independently owned ski companies quietly making skis—some in factories and some even in their parent’s garage. According to SIA director of research, Kelly Davis, “any ski brand that has .05 percent of the market share is designated as a craft brand. A lot of these brands are manufacturing in the U.S., they’re hand made and have a very specific target audience or region. Retail prices are typically higher, but you’re paying for quality and custom manufacturing.”
While the major brands take up most of the wall space and market share in both the U.S. and Europe, craft or indie brands often enter the market through regional or smaller outdoor sports shops or by selling direct to consumers. To some stores, working with a smaller brand has many benefits. “We’re a small store and only work with small independent brands because they allow us to work closely with them,” says Nate Swenson, buyer for Confluence Kayaks and Skis in Denver. “They pay attention to quality so the skis tend to be more durable. Warranty issues tend to be resolved quickly. We feel these brands, many of them local, build a community of skiers and our customers relate to them.”
Chances are, more and more pairs of craft skis will appear on the slopes each year. Davis says craft brands tend to ebb and flow with both snowfall totals (El Niño anyone?) and the economy. Here are a few noteworthy craft models—and brands—to keep an eye on.