For years Josh Madsen has been promoting the concept of building a Telemark industry. When you look around the ski “industry” it seems a ludicrous proposition, especially considering that Telemark skiers are the smallest denomination in the downhill thrills category. The classic joke goes, “How do you make a small fortune in the ski industry? A: Start with a big one.”
In spite of that Madsen remains adamant about building a niche industry that is entirely Telemark centric without any influences that compromise dedication to the preservation, protection, and promotion of the Telemark turn. Step one was to establish a retail presence devoted maniacally to telemark skiing. Step two is to develop products serving the free heel corner of the market.
The essential ingredients to Telemark skiing are skis, boots, and free heeled bindings that allow the turn to be. Boots require enormous financial resources to make, and bindings need mechanical aptitude bordering on genius. However, even individuals, with the right tools, are capable of building their own skis. Beyond making a single, custom pair for yourself, the key to building in quantities greater than one is to do it in a way that makes financial sense, that allows enough profit to be sustainable year after year. So I asked Madsen what he’s up to with building Telemark specific skis.
TelemarkSkier: First of all, why build your own skis?
Josh Madsen: We’ve attempted to build skis twice during the six years Freeheel Life has been in business. It’s always been one of those projects where we did a small batch and everything went smooth, but the cost of doing it was always tricky and I chose to not move forward with it.
Last season our ski sales did great. Taylor Johnson, our Shop Manager, and I decided that it may be time to go for it.
TS: Aren’t there enough options out there already to satisfy even discerning telemark skiers?
JM: The Freeheel Life business model has always been centered around the idea of creating an Industry — a Telemark industry. That means when you buy a product you can be confident 100% of your hard earned money is going to go back into a company that 100% supports Telemark and making products for it.
There are plenty of great skis out there, and with the exception of maybe one or two on the market right now, you’re filling the pockets of the alpine companies and I guarantee that zero dollars are coming back to help grow Telemark. So our mission is two-fold: 1) Make a great ski 2) Make sure your money goes to Telemark.
TS: It seems like small, independent ski manufacturers who do manage to develop a strong following tend to get bought out by larger companies and the technologies absorbed, e.g., Line being absorbed by K2, or Karhu dissolving back in to Madshus, and Madshus is a manufacturing plant for K2.
JM: The funny part about ski making is that you are correct in everything you said! If you really get behind the scenes of the larger ski industry and see what’s going on, you’d be surprised at how not profitable it really can be. I even had a really well known guy tell me years ago that starting a ski company is like walking out into the middle of the freeway during rush hour traffic — you’re doomed to survive. I always thought that was funny…but you have to keep your eyes and ears open to that kind of stuff. If you don’t, you’re going to find yourself in trouble.
So to answer the question — what makes our model more viable is that we’ve vertically integrated the business model. We have invested in the majority of the tools to create to product and we can sell it through our own successful retail brick and mortar and website. That’s what I mean by industry — we are in control of all of the parts. We can try new ideas and see if it works.
TS: Tell us about the Protector. Is it wood core? What types of wood? Sintered or extruded base? The advantage that offers? Shape? Weight?
JM: The Protector skis will be offered in two models: a 95mm waist and 105mm waist. Three sizes in each: 184cm, 174cm, 164cm (sidecut dimensions below). The bases will be sintered, with a wood core.
TS: Will the mounting zone be Telemark worthy?
JM: We are hand building our cores to ensure that we have Telemark skiers specifically in mind. Ash is great for that and we’ve put it into the cores to maximize the retention.
TS: How has the response been so far?
JM: We opened it up to a limited number of people through our mailing list and social media. They sold out and we aren’t taking any more orders until these are complete. We already have a waiting list of quite a few people for the next round.
TS: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you want to convey to the tribe?
JM: Thanks for all the support so far! If you’d like to get on the waiting list and talk to someone more about the Protector skis please reach out to customerservice-at-freeheellife.com
By the numbers
|Model||Dim. (mm)||L (cm)||R (m)||kg / lb|
|Protector 105||135-10-125||164,174,184||18-20||1.9 / 3.8|
Taylor Johnson, shop manager for Freeheel Life shared that there are two layers of carbon to add some snap to the ski with an extra layer of glass in the front for a balance of dampness. It produces a smooth flex. The Protector is looking like a solid ski that doesn’t disappoint.
Beta Test Results
Yours truly skied the 105’s in firm conditions. The flex was fine, edge-hold was as good as I could hope for with under powered boots, and regular readers know my preference for skis in the 90s, but you may prefer the 105s.