"We're the pirates of the industry," says 30-year-old Adam Sherman, founder of Igneous Skis, based in Jackson, Wyoming. Like a growing number of ski-town do-it-yourselfers, Sherman and his crew are finding fulfilling work not in the help-wanted ads, but in their passion for the mountains and the entrepreneurial spirit. Igneous sold out of this season's production capacity of 350 hand-made pairs of skis by October, and it will produce upwards of 1,500 pairs for next season. The company is yet to break even, but with burly ski construction (including maple cores), custom graphics, and an aggressive 100-skier-day warranty, it's managing to carve a niche in a seemingly impenetrable market. But why would anyone even try?
"Nobody was making a ski I wanted to ride, so I started making them myself," explains Sherman, a 100-days-a-year skier who spent 10 years in Jackson serving food, pounding nails, and painting houses before starting Igneous in 1996. Now, with seven investors and eight employees, he's found a gig he truly loves: "We're making skis because we're all hardcore skiers, and that's great for the product."
Igneous is part of a turn-of-the-century phenomenon of small outdoor-products companies popping up in ski towns and prospering. In Telluride, Colorado, Jagged Edge Mountain Gear appeared in 1990 and has grown into a $2.3-million-a-year business. Up the road from Igneous, at Jackson's Cloudveil clothing company, "We're literally buried in work," says co-founder Steve Sullivan. With 400 percent growth last year and over 125 dealers nationwide, Cloudveil's founders have turned their mountain passion into a business that made $1 million in 1999.
"The strength of our company is that we're not afraid to innovate and try new things," says Sullivan. "You've got to be willing to fall on your ass."