For local entrepreneurs, hope springs eternal
Winter stokes great anticipation in these parts. Flakes fall one at a time to become inches and then feet of snow. Gray skies and blinding storms in November and December are met with elation. Soon the resorts will open, Nordic tracks will be laid, snowmobilers will find their way into the Flattops.
Typically, a cold, dry January is followed by snowy February and an even snowier March. Whoops can be heard from Sunlight to Ajax, as locals and visitors delight in the pleasure of light Colorado powder. Then, as everything melts in April, we put our skis and snowmobiles away and spend the next three seasons cycling, rafting and other pursuits, until the first few flakes starts the cycle all over again.
For a handful of local entrepreneurs however, there is no time to stop thinking about winter. They are busy designing, manufacturing and distributing clothing and equipment that will make your next turn, ride, skin or walk on the mountain better than you ever imagined.
Seriously, the Roaring Fork Valley, with some of the most expensive real estate in the world and relatively pricey labor, is home to more than a few cutting-edge manufacturers. In terms of age and experience and business focus, they are all over the map. In terms of geography, they are all right here.
This last season there were two manufacturers of skis and snowboards with headquarters in the valley — Meier Skis, located outside Glenwood Springs, and High Society Free Ride Company (great name, right?) in Aspen.
I demoed three pair of Meiers in January and can report that they are a blast to ski. Meier (meierskis.com) has grown big enough to ponder moving its entire operation to Denver, perhaps as soon as this summer.
High Society has been headquartered in the valley since 2003 and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere but up the hill. The firm (highsocietyfreeride.com) operates a concept store in Snowmass and manufactures its boards and skis in Denver. If you’ve ridden the gondola more than once on Aspen Mountain, then you have no doubt seen High Society skis in the rack and heard their customers bragging about how well they ski.
To make those skis feel even better under foot, try out a pair of Zipfits, the high-end “inner boots” designed in Aspen by ski boot pioneer Sven Coomer.
I have been working with Sven to update his website and have come to know a man who has been at the forefront of ski boot design since the days of leather boots. He was hired by Nordica to design the first plastic boots for the U.S. Ski Team and the bourgeoning mass market of the early 1970s. His basic design changed skiing, and we are still using it today.
Sven also introduced orthotics into ski boots, developed the first foam and silicone injection systems, known as Superfit or Superfeet, which he perfected at his shop in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
In the late 1980s Sven founded Zipfit (zipfit.com), and he is still busy developing ways to make your ski boots more comfortable and responsive. His inner boots, which replace those cheap liners that come with your boots, are designed and tested in Aspen, manufactured in Italy and sold around the world.
If your looking for the designer/manufacturer with the most verve in the valley, it just may be Strafe Outerwear and owners Pete and John Gaston. These guys studied at CU and drove up every weekend to ski or ride in Aspen. They launched their company in 2010 on the theory that the one-piece ski suit could be redesigned and reintroduced to a younger, more extreme generation. And guess what? They were right.
The company, which lists 13 employees on its website, strafeouterwear.com, also sells shells, pants, jackets and other gear. Their products are designed at Aspen Highlands and tested in Highland Bowl. How cool is that?
The newest entrant to the local ski apparel industry is Corbeaux Clothing, corbeauxclothing.com, which makes base layers designed to overcome the shortcomings owners Adam Moszynski and Darcy Conover and the rest of us have experienced during hut trips with off-the-rack items. They design their base layers to provide warmth and comfort without compromising utility. They are relatively new to the industry, but have found a niche where they may well prosper.
Then of course there is Sport Obermeyer, one of the oldest and most successful companies in the valley. Klaus Obermeyer arrived in Aspen in the 1940s, and began manufacturing jackets soon after. The 90-something manufacturer was recently inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame. That’s something to be proud of, but he would probably say he’s better suited skiing down Buttermilk Tiehack.
Allyn Harvey, a Carbondale town trustee, writes a column that appears on the third Thursday of each month. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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