Pete Wagner is the CEO and founder of Wagner Custom Skis. Pete received a BS in mechanical engineering, focusing on composite materials and computer-aided design at UC San Diego before entering the golf industry as a product designer. For close to 10 years, Pete created software tools for the design, analysis and manufacturing of composite material golf equipment. After receiving an MBA in entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado at Boulder, Pete opened Wagner Custom’s solar and wind-powered ski factory just outside of Telluride, Colorado.
How did you get into designing and building custom skis?
I identified a need for myself from my own experience after buying a pair of skis that I didn’t like. At that point I had spent almost ten years as a design engineer in the golf industry designing composite material golf equipment. I had developed a technology for fitting people in their perfect equipment and I basically applied that same technology to help skiers. I saw a need that I could fill and it has worked out great.
What qualities are customers looking for in a custom-made ski?
Performance. The biggest difference between custom skis and mass-produced skis isn’t so much in the material, it’s the fact that you are buying something that’s fit for you. People invest in custom skis so they can ski at their absolute highest potential. Our typical customer is someone who lives in a ski town and is skiing most days. We also get “city people” who want to spend their short vacation having fun skiing and not trying to figure out what equipment they should be on.
What sets you apart from your competition?
I find that most custom ski makers aren’t even engineers, they’re more garage tinkerers. I think we have an edge due to the fact that we—as engineers—do a lot of in-house materials testing and R&D.
How did you get from manufacturing your own pair of skis to building an entire company?
Fairly soon after I’d started my business, a company called Materials Sciences Corporation approached me and said, “We developed this visco-elastically dampened carbon fiber material that evolved out of a U.S. Defense Department application. It’s lightweight and is used for aircraft wings. Can you figure out how to make this work on skis?”
We did a series of tests to determine the mechanical properties of that material, plugged it into our design algorithms and were able to figure out how we can best use it. We then built several prototypes, put them out on snow and got a lot of people to test it. With their feedback we went through several alterations and come up with the best method for using their product on skis. In total it was about 18 months before we started selling it.