Boulder’s small-batch Iris Skis hand-makes every one of its skis, from raw start to waxy finish
The first time Eric Hegreness built a pair of skis, he blew it. “It was six years ago, and I was renting a space in someone’s barn for $10 a night and borrowing tools,” he says. “At two or three in the morning, I actually blew the power to the entire farm, and instead of stopping, I went and knocked on the door and said, ‘Can you help me get the power back on? I really want to finish this ski.’ I guess when you’re passionate about something, you make it happen.” And Hegreness, an Ohio native, had always been passionate about skiing—and Colorado. “I came out here when I was 12 for a wedding, and I told my parents, ‘As soon as I’m old enough, I’m moving to Colorado.’ ” Today, his small-batch ski company, based in Boulder, designs and hand-makes unique skis that Hegreness has touched from start to finish. “I’m even going to wax them at the very end.”
How did you get into building skis?
- “In college in Virginia, I coached the college freestyle ski team and ran all the events at a local ski resort, but I also built all of the jumps and the rails and realized that I had a knack for building things. At the end of the day, it’s really satisfying to be able to say, ‘Look what I built.’ The ski slope there was open year round—it was covered in a material called Snowflex, which actually heated up from the friction of snowboards and skis, and I had the chance to design a snowboard for the slope. The more I read about ski design, the more I thought I could move to Colorado and build skis myself.”
How did you get started building skis?
- “It was tough, because I had to build my own tools, too: I had to build a pneumatic ski press, and figure out how to make heat blankets and all sorts of things. So in the meantime, to support myself, I built skateboards. I lived at Iris and Kalmia, so I named the businesses Kalmia Skateboards and Iris Skis. Very original.”
What goes into making a ski?
- “I start with a big sheet of specialized plastic, which I cut out into the shape of a ski. Then I attach the edges to that base material, then I cut out the core in the shape of the ski and the fiberglass layers and top sheet. I attach them with epoxy and put them into this bit press that has pressurized hoses and a heat blanket so the ski cooks at 160 degrees with a lot of pressure for a good hour. I make each one myself.”
Are handmade skis very common?
- “Ten years ago, there started to be an explosion in the small-batch or boutique ski market, so now there’s probably 100 really good small brands out there that are making a couple hundred skis a year. It has progressed the sport a lot because guys like me can be more creative with shapes and make a greater variety of skis.”
Why is that important?
- “Today, there are more and more niche factions of skiing; there are people who hit the terrain park or just hit jumps or just hit the half pipe or just the backcountry, and these small companies make skis for that particular activity. Some of the smaller companies focus on custom skis: You come in, tell them your type of skiing, your weight, and they build a ski just for you. Other companies, like mine, focus on a particular type of skiing. Right now, I’m focused on a crossover ski that’s perfect for this region; it’s a ski that’s good enough to get you up in powder in the morning but can handle groomed runs later in the day, too. I wanted to make a ski that can handle both terrains.”