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Long-Term Test: Are Custom Skis Worth It?

In a word, yes. Why?
posted: 05/26/2010
Wagner skis, in action
by Jake Bogoch

So why are $1,700 Wagner skis worth it? Part of it has to do with the design process but I’d wager that it has a lot to do with quality of materials and the attention to detail. Every customer gets to work with Wagner—an engineer—to create the ultimate ski. From base to graphic and all the guts of the ski, it’s your call. Here’s how my skis stacked up after a season of use and abuse.

Earlier this year, I wrote about designing the ski. I wanteded a fat and rockered powder ski that would also behave itself on groomers on the way back to the lift. That meant metal layers. I also wanted the skis to go fast. That meant length. I wound up with 151-119-141 dimensions at 195cm. Pete called it “the alpha male construction.” He wasn’t sure it was skiable.

It was. I was sure of this on my first run on my first day skiing them. It was during a heli trip at Silverton. There was 16 inches of new, though some had been wind-pressed. On the first run, I volunteered to ski last. After the guide, I watched two skiers and one snowboarder take off down the wide chute, catch an edge on the windpack, and eat it. Not me. I pushed those skis down the fall line and went as fast as I knew how, just to see if they could handle it. I looked down at my skis for a second. I held my gaze and never lost site of the tips below the surface. The run continued down below treeline and our guide directed me into a natural halfpipe. Standing at the top of the feature I was worried that my Wagners wouldn’t turn on demand in tighter areas due to the sheer size of them. I dropped in and pointed it to the right-hand wall. I cranked on the wall of powder with some heat. The tips stayed up and the skis sent a huge spray of snow, clear over the halfpipe wall. I held the turn and purposely slid it. I steered around a sapling while still in the slide, then tipped the bases flat to accelerate. I hammered them into the left side and they whipped another shower of snow clear over the halfpipe. The power was incredible and yet they still skied nimbly. I was surfing a 700-foot wave. This is not an exaggeration. I actually surf and don’t throw around the word “surfing” unless I mean it.

Later that winter I took these skis to Vail on two unusually deep days. Then I took them to Whistler for two-weeks while I covered the Olympics. There I spent my free time slackcountry skiing  wide and narrow couloirs. The ski danced over crud and wouldn’t slow down unless you really wanted it to. On groomers they tracked effortlessly while the huge, rockered tip never bounced, thanks the carefully placed metal layers in the ski, set in the core matrix to keep the ski damp. Other than technical lines that involved hop turns and moguls—neither of which this ski was designed for—it never disappointed.

I know why: With these skis, you can simply feel the quality. It’s like slamming the door of a Kia (whack) versus an Audi (THUNK). And that’s why I’m sold on my custom skis. More than any other characteristic in a ski, I want predictability. That comes with quality. I want to know that it’s going to shut down speed when I want it to; to accelerate and pounce on the apex of a turn when I will it. Twenty-five days later, it feels just as it did on Day One: Like MY skis.


Pete Wagner rules! (So do Wagner Custom Skis).

Good on ya and your $1700.00 skis!

I paid CONSIDERABLY less for my 191 Blizzard Answers (135-110-125) and your remarks about your wagners sound remarkably similar to what I had to say after my first few days on mine!

In my opinion, ski design and construction goes a long way, but the bottom line is that it is the pilot and NOT the plane!

I mean that any advanced/expert skier can milk a well made ski in its suited condition and you don't have to resort to going with anything nearly as fine-tuned or expensive as a "custom ski".

For most skiers, it would be a crap shoot to actually be involved in the design phase, regardless of the input from the designer. Snow is much more variable than water, so while a "custom" surfboard is well within reason for an experienced surfer, the demands of skiing negates any input most skiers would have.

I have 3 pairs of rockered skis (Pontoon, Answer, Shogun) and I use each in the conditions that suit each best (Pontoons in bottomless; Answers in boot to knee deep and Shoguns soft snow to boot deep; I also have a pair of Blizzard 8.7 Magnum IQ's for firmer days), and I don't feel that one "custom" ski would meet ny needs as well as my established quiver. And yeah, added up, I have over $1700.00 in my gear, but being in the biz keeps my costs relatively low.

Granted, I ski over 100 days per season (May 30, 2010 @ Squaw was day 125) and I have the time and opportunity to use all of my skis, but even if I was in the norm of 10-15 days per season, one "custom" ski, especially at a premium of $1700.00 would not adequetly fill my needs.

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