Salt Lake City, UT – The ski industry has in recent years seen tremendous growth in small boutique ski manufacturers building “customized” skis. They often use specialized designs and innovative materials to build a ski to suit a very specific purpose. Among these niche ski builders are PM Gear, Moment Skis, Praxis, and now Salt Lake City’s Bluehouse Skis.
Partners Dan Nebeker, Jared Richards, Adam Hepworth and Shane Larsen (left to right) have founded Bluehouse Skis in Salt Lake City utilizing a unique bamboo core.
“Boutiques are the future,” asserts Bluehouse co-founder Jared Richards. “I’m not saying this to be self serving, but if you look at global access to communication, materials, labor, engineering, and machinery, it’s inevitable. The barrier to entry in the past was significant startup expenses, most notably machinery and advertising. But just like First Tracks!! Online has been able to emerge amidst all the big industry print publications, the same will go with the manufacturing end of things.”
First brainstorming the idea during a ski day at Snowbird in 2002, several friends who grew up skiing the Wasatch Front began dreaming of building skis together. They believed that they knew what it would take to create a ski that would out-perform others on their home snow, sufficiently different to distinguish their ski from the others on the market. After much sacrifice and personal financial commitment, Bluehouse Skis was officially born in March of 2007. “Unfortunately, it took us five years to actually have the balls to jump all in and put in the time and the money to make the company a reality,” Richards admits.
Richards credits the recent influx of ski and snowboard companies to Utah as the impetus to get Bluehouse Skis off the ground. “We’re stoked that they are here, but at the same time you get kind of an ill feeling when an outsider comes in and takes over your hometown. Here we are in a ski Mecca, and with the exception of Surface, Black Diamond, and a couple others the dominant players know more about Wall Street than Main Street (Park City). We decided to become a hometown player.”
Richards, though, isn’t worried about the these massive international players in his own back yard. “Even if we reach our three to five year sales and production goals that we need to hit to survive in the long run, we still won’t even appear on the radar of the larger companies. We will account for less than 0.1% of the ski market. It would probably take a Rossi or a Salomon more money to destroy us than to just let us gain an ultra small share of the market.
“Besides,” he adds, “we think there is room for us in the market as skiers consistently demand that their skis provide a unique image and style. This is something the larger companies just cannot provide.”
All Bluehouse skis are built under contract in Chinese factories as many smaller ski manufacturers have done to avoid the large barriers to entry imposed by establishing their own production facility. This allows the company to concentrate on marketing, design and sales. Despite the cost savings, the partners have still had to hang on to other occupations while launching Bluehouse.
“All of us here at Bluehouse continue to have at least a second job,” Richards explains. “The majority of the time we spend on Bluehouse is between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. and usually a good portion of Saturday.
“We all decided that it makes the most sense to reinvest any money Bluehouse generates right back into the business, so for now, no one at Bluehouse is getting paid,” Richards continues. “I am currently in my last year of law school at the University of Utah and work with the local law firm of Bennett Tueller Johnson and Deere. Adam (Hepworth) works with Fidelity Investments, Shane (Larsen) is a talent recruiter for Skywest Airlines, and Dan (Nebeker) just helped to build the new Momentum indoor climbing gym in Salt Lake.”
Continuing the boutique ski tradition of building unique designs with off-beat materials, Bluehouse Skis have eschewed the traditional spruce or ash core, and instead turned to bamboo. “The are so many reasons to use bamboo,” explains Richards. “Bamboo has amazing strength-to-weight qualities, is renewable and can be found in abundance due to its rapid growth.” Some larger species can grow up to three feet per day.
In its first year of production Bluehouse Skis is offering two models, The MR and the District. The MR is the do-it-all twin tip with 93mm under foot (125-93-120) for all-mountain performance. It’s offered in 171cm and 179cm lengths. The District is designed for the backcountry with wide dimensions (134-103-122) and lightweight construction in only a 187cm length.
Buying a pair of skis from a startup company can be a leap of faith, but Richards believes that their customer service and unique product will differentiate Bluehouse from the large name-brand ski makers. “We’ve had great reviews of our skis so far, although it has been limited to a small group of people,” he admits. “Perhaps the best feedback we have received so far has been on the customer service front. Our customers so far have just been the coolest people.
“We will deliver when we say we will, and we will listen to our customers. That sounds a bit old-fashioned, but we entered this industry to provide the same level of corporate professionalism offered by the big boys while maintaining the freedom and independence enjoyed by small companies that will allow us to interact with our customers on a personal level.”
That, in fact, is Bluehouse’s vision. Richards pictures a day when their customers will design each ski from start to finish, from materials to shapes to graphics. “If we had the money, we would make a near endless selection of skis and produce them on command,” he says. For now, though, the partners are concentrating on designing a niche ski that has sufficient mass appeal to maintain the cost of development.
Thus Bluehouse’s current project: designing a more expansive line and are experimenting with numerous flex patterns, materials, and constructions in multiple shapes and sizes, due for full release in December. Richards also hints at a new patentable technology that the company hopes to be able to release by next year’s line. The company is currently exploring a softgoods line made of bamboo fabrics.
“There are so many reasons to buy from Bluehouse,” Richards asserts. “Whether it is for that ski that would fit perfectly in your quiver that is not offered by the ‘name brands’, or for a ski that delivers massive pop because of the construction and materials used by Bluehouse, or to take a chance on an unknown company that has gained a reputation for quality customer service and is willing to take some risks on progressive ski technology. Give us a try, we’re working hard to make sure you won’t be sorry.”