Local ski & board companies borrow expertise
There are very few custom ski builders in the world. Romp Skis is one of them, and they’re right here in Crested Butte. Romp builds skis specifically for you and how you ski. Local business has been doing increasingly well since they began shaping in 2010, and their reach outside town is growing—slowly but surely.
Caleb and Morgan Weinberg didn’t start out with any experience shaping skis. Neither did Andy Shabo, who is now the assembly manager, snowboard designer and VP of Awesome at Romp Skis. But when you’re on skis most of your life, at some point you start paying attention to what’s beneath your feet. “We’re all pretty much geeks when it comes to skiing,” Shabo said. “We’ve kind of been into the technology of skis our whole lives, so we paid attention to the shape of skis for a long time.” He laughed and added, “We’ve done a lot of testing since then.”
But the shape of the skis is actually the easy part. Caleb Weinberg explained that there are certain radiuses and camber profiles that work and others that obviously don’t. He described dialing the flex of the skis and the tip and tail shapes as a lot more complicated than the basic shape of the skis.
The way Romp’s custom system works is this: They have shapes that have been rigorously tested. When you buy a ski from them, they’ll talk to you about how and where you like to ski, then choose a width and length for you in a pre-tested shape. They’ll then take that shape and customize the rocker/camber profile to your preference. You can really change the way a ski rides by adjusting those profiles. Finally, they adjust the flex perfectly for the skier.
Weinberg held up a pre-cut ski profile as an example. “Take this 100-164. Build it for one person as a railing hard-pack ski, but build the same ski for another person with rocker and it’s a completely different animal.”
Materials Romp uses are for the most part fairly standard in the industry, besides one carbon fiber vibration dampening composite called Countervail® that’s really exclusive to them. “It’s more how we use the materials that makes us different, and that’s in the customization of the ski,” Shabo said. “If you come tell us you like to ski really fast and want a lot of pop out of the tail, we’ll lay a few strips of carbon in the tail for you.”
When they’re busy, it’s usually a two-week wait to get the custom boards. Romp works on a first-come, first-served basis. This is the busiest time of the year. If you order right now, it would take about three weeks. In January, they’re usually down to two weeks. Romp skis start at $850 per pair and go up from there based on design. Add $400 to inlay carbon fiber to your new skis, and consider customizing the look. Romp has 64 graphics to choose from, mostly done by local artists, and they’re all free. But for an additional $100, customers can add their own artwork, like a business logo or a photo they took.
Romp is in a continuous, daily effort to improve the product. Weinberg said what they need most now is to raise their market share out of town. “Our local business is pretty good, but that’s the direction we’re headed,” he said. “We have a few marketing ideas but—it’s a constant battle. Changes are constant.”
Backcountry Magazine has chosen Romp Skis to be in their Gear Guide the last three years running. Romp also recently started shaping snowboards and splitboards, which have been received well both locally and nationally. Gunnison-based Cold Smoke Splitboards, for whom Romp built their 2014 Voodoo Splitboard, earned top honors for their Voodoo model at this year’s splitboard test by Backcountry Magazine, an annual testing that puts all splitboards available to the public up against one another.
New this winter, Crested Butte’s own Morning Glory Mountain Supply (MGMS) added their Romp-built snowboards to the demo rental fleet at Flatiron Sports at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort base area. MSGS offers choices for both never-evers (first-time snowboarders) to learn on and for more experienced riders so they don’t feel like they’re overpowering their rental boards. According to MGMS co-founders Matt Muhm and Kevin Brandolini, they are now one of, if not the, highest quality rental snowboards made in America. “We’ve had people flat-out say they went for it because it’s made in town,” said Brandolini. “We had somebody say it was the best board they’ve ever ridden. Not just one of our buddies. Some kid we’d never met.”
Muhm and Brandolini partnered with Romp Skis because they want to give people the best ride possible. They’re convinced that the quality of your gear directly affects the quality of your experience. Muhm spoke highly of their relationship with Romp.
“When we had this vision of Morning Glory our first thought was pitching the idea to Romp,” he said. “We created the shape and did all the design work and they were there to make our vision come true. Romp has been very supportive and helpful. For a ski factory to entertain our idea of making rental snowboards has been huge.”
Weinberg described Romp’s partnerships with some local companies as mutually beneficial. “Morning Glory and Cold Smoke are two local companies we’ve done a lot of work with,” he said. “Those guys came to us originally looking for advice on how to build a factory. Then, when they saw what it actually takes, they asked us if we’d build their products for them. We’re stoked that local people are coming to us instead of sending off to China.”
This season, Romp is doing an ultralight backcountry build with a paulonia core and a carbon layout. It’s really, really light. Powder, the four-legged Romp mascot, holds down the fort at 420 Whetstone. Get past him (it’s not very difficult) and you can put in your custom ski order. As a side note, Romp just introduced their “cut your own pow-surfer” project. It’ll run you 300 bucks.
Buy the shape, take it home and customize it with your own jigsaw. They’ll even offset the inserts so you can split it if you so please.
Shabo said the idea for the project came from talking to four or five people who all gave him completely different ideas about the ideal shape for a pow-surfer. Romp decided it would be easiest to just let people cut it themselves, and says it’s been a fun project so far.
When asked to ballpark how many skis and boards they’ve produced since startup, Shabo couldn’t even begin to guess. “I think last year we made around 300. Every this year it’s substantially more. We’re hoping for 600 pairs [of skis] for 2014-15 and we’re on track for that.”
The most satisfying part of the business? Shabo said he has fun testing and making new products, but admitted that “getting a person’s feedback when they say something like, ‘Oh my God, these are the best skis ever’ feels really good.”