A lack of ski and snowboard manufacturers located in the United States is what fueled Mike Kilchenstein to try and bring business back to his home country. Kilchenstein thinks there are plenty of US ski and snowboard companies whose products go above and beyond mass-produced, “outsourced” goods from places like China.
Kilchenstein is the founder and CESnow of RAMP Sports—a ski and snowboard company with a manufacturing facility in Park City, Utah that was built last year.
Because of his passion to bring awareness to the issue, he formed an organization called USA Colab, which is working to bring together US manufacturers who can spread the word about the benefits of buying American products.
“It suddenly occurred to me there was a lot of great handcrafted product being made by people who didn’t have the resources to communicate with the ski and snowboard public,” Kilchenstein said. “I thought if I could organize everybody into a collaboration, we could then communicate.”
So far, 15 companies have banded together: Batalla Skis, Bluehouse Ski Company, Fat-ypus Skis, High Society Freeride Company, Icelantic Skis, L2R Snowboards, Meier Skis, Montana Ski Company, RAMP Sports, Rocky Mountain Underground, Voile, Wagner Custom Skis, Weston Snowboards, Zoo York Snowboards, and 4FRNT.
The organization was put into motion back in May, when Kilchenstein began contacting people he thought might be interested in getting on board. He said more people now are preferring to buy locally-produced goods, so he figured it would be a good time to reach out and get the ball rolling.
“They are realizing it isn’t only beneficial from an economic standpoint, but [that] the local products are better. Workers are more focused and passionate about what they are doing,” he said. “The best local companies are also focused on doing things the right way from a best practices standpoint. So if we can get skiers and riders to know about us, they would prefer to buy our products.”
According to the website, “Now we have these incredible U.S. companies that are making the most creative new skis and snowboards at the highest level, not by mass-producing in Asia but by handcrafting one pair at a time. Our craftsmen live for skiing and riding, and their passion comes alive in every board produced.”
Pete Wagner, owner of Wagner Custom Skis in Telluride, Colorado, said there’s a lack of awareness that helps to explain why people buy products made in other countries.
“When people go buy skis, they’re not asking the type of questions they ask when they go to buy a car, which they should be,” Wagner said. “The reason it’s been that way is that the entire ski industry, the manufacturing models, shifted to eastern Europe and China.”
He said the 1970s were a time when more of these products were made in places like Colorado, Washington, and Vermont. However, many companies have moved to places with inexpensive labor forces. Now, USA Colab is attempting to reverse this move.
Kilchenstein told Wagner that he wanted skiers to be aware they have an option of where they buy their products. That’s what has really inspired this campaigning, Wagner said, to let the skiing public know they should learn about their options.
Regarding his goals for the future, Kilchenstein said he simply wants keep growing USA Colab because of the positive benefits that can result.
“As Americans, the way we can make a difference is learning how we spend our money,” Wagner said. “We just want where the product is built [to be] front of mind.”