The “Cutting Edge”

We just spent a lot of money on a robot. I know that Robots are common in manufacturing of cars and that sort of thing. Lately now robots are getting more common in ski tuning too. Starting at the factory level skis are getting built and tuned by machines instead of humans more and more. Robotic tuning it is now the standard factory practice. As a shop, we have never had that type of machine. First we did everything by hand. Then came the “stone Grinder” which allowed us to pattern a ski the same way they did it at the factories. It was about the cost of a car. We bought one in 1989. We upgraded for snowboard and wide skis about 10 years ago. Another purchase that was like buying a car.

Now we have upgraded again. This time to state of the art factory level automated machines that smaller manufacturers use. Wagner Custom Skis has the same one. So does Moment Skis. In California we are the first to have this particular set up in a retail operation. This was a big commitment. This cost more than any car I have ever purchased. This cost more than my first house.

Why would we do this? Well first and foremost we have always prided ourselves in our tunes. We have always had state of the art tools and machines. We also have been lucky to have had exceptional employees. Martin Sulser was our head tuner for about 15 years until covid. Martin was without peer. A legendary tuner of skis! Martins hand work combined with our stone grinder produced tunes that people came from near and far to have done.

Now it has become impossible to match the best factory tunes without going to a computer run automated machine. These units will do all the steps necessary to get a perfect tune all by themselves. Feed in a ski and the machine will pass the skis back and forth in a selected series of operations.

We had to have one. We negotiated terms and set a date. We had the USA tech here for the install. We also had the lead tech from the factory in Germany. We even had the owner of the company here to watch and help and thank us for entering into this partnership. Stephan Reichmann is the 3th generation to be shaking hands with customers looking to grind skis. We had a great time with the crew. We are skiers after all. That binds us together. Stephan is also very mechanically technical like us, so he loved explaining all the little details about his machines. All the Reichmann staff are very smart and friendly.

So now we are all excited to tune our skis on this new wonderful machine. You can too! We are running the pattern you see above on tunes (called “fingerprint”). Our turnaround time on tune ups will be much faster. And every tune will come out like it was done by a master!

We3 had Stephan Reichmann sign the machines during a little ceremony.

We named the machines after Martin…

Wrapping Up for Summer Break?

by Greg Whitehouse

It is 15 days until we take a break in mid-summer. Starting 8/1/22 we will be getting new gear in large quantities. Before that we take July off.

There was a time when we closed from Easter until the last week in August. Those were the good old days. Like a school kid I got every summer off. I liked that.

Now due to consumer demand we are open much longer. We still have appointments for boot fits every day. Before Lunch today (Monday) we have sold 4 pairs of skis. The Back Country crowd are still skiing.

We open earlier too. Customers have appointments starting again on 8/1/22. John in particular is in high demand.

Plus while we are closed I still stay busy. It is not the slow time it used to be. Over time I have become more and more involved with outside projects.

A few weeks ago I met with a brand to talk about 2023/24 products. There are non disclosures related to these meetings but I will say this will be some cool stuff.

last week I went back to Hi Tempo – Hi Tempo SnowSports & WaterSports in White Bear Lake in Minnesota. Hi Tempo is a highly respected shop and The Foot Lab inside is run by Brad Nelson and his daughter Kaitlyn. Brad and Kaitlyn are Certified Pedorthist’s and they are manufacturing their own footbed blanks. Brad has been telling me about his products and practices for some time. We meet up at shows and are on a Board of Directors together.

I went back to share ideas with Brad. We both felt it would be mutually beneficial. I came back with a pack full of insole blanks, a few that were made for my ski boots, and a lot of interesting new ideas. The blanks are to build up for the boot fitters here to build for themselves and evaluate in their ski boots. Where these type of things will lead nobody knows, but we will keep talking.

Meanwhile Brad and I both happen to also be working together on a few other projects. We helped put on the Elevated Boot Academy the last few years for some of the top shops in the country. Now we are working on expanding the Academy to include Ski Tuning and Rental Department training. This is a time suck, but it is for the good of the game.

Brad is also a partner with me and another industry expert working with a sock manufacturer to design a new specialized ski sock. I can’t say more but it will also keep me busy in July. It is also for the good of the sport, and someone has to do the work.

The owners will not even think about taking all of the month of July off. This July, Dara and I will be working on the web site. We will be talking about the business plan on a regular basis. Dara will fly back to work on some store merchandising plans, etc etc etc.

The basic picture is that Dara and my summers are not very “free” any more. I would love to ride my bike 100 days in a row, I just cannot find time to do that any more. This is getting to be a full time job!

I will get some good quality time with Dara. I will get to visit my Dad for our annual week of wrenching on cars. I will also have to work a fair bit and then BOOM! it is over and the new gear will be showing up.

I can’t wait!

Falling in Love

Elan Ripstick 96 Black

I met my wife selling her ski boots. I pretty much knew right away. Often love works like that. There is a chemical reaction that takes place for some reason that puts out some magic. It gets into my brain and makes me a bit crazy and very happy. It happens to me with skis sometimes too.

Other times it takes a bit longer. Sometimes I need to get to know a ski for a bit before I end up realizing I am in love. I have heard that “spiritual awakenings” can happen to people in both of these manners too. Some folks have the burning bush thing and some find it in a gradual way.

The 2021/22 Elan Ripstick 96 Black Edition happened in the former way. Like with my wife, I knew right away that this was a thing of great beauty. But lot’s of skis are good looking. Then like my wife the Ripstick ended up having all the other qualities I look for. Wham! by the end of the first run I knew. This was the one. My favorite ski of this last demo season.

A few years ago my favorite ski was my Wagner Custom. Unlike the Elan I did not know right away. I was even a bit skeptical at first. Over the course of the season however it turned out that I found it to be my “go to” ski for most conditions, and it and I became like one being. I swear that ski can read my mind. It just took a while for us to get to know each other.

I find it cool that you get on a ski and over a short period of time, you learn what the ski needs of you to get it to behave the way you expected. Then, as you learn, you get to like it more and more. Most skis are really pretty good. They just may not function exactly like the ski you have been spending time with lately.

So my hope is that the Elan’s will be a long term love. I got them this spring and got to ski them a fair bit. I have not lost any enthusiasm at all. I am finding that the more I ski them the more I respect them and their ability to be sim ply awesome in all ways.

Like my wife. I knew from the start that I had that feeling. I loved her. Over time I got to know her better. With this came an even deeper kind of love. One born from trust and respect. That is my Wagner Custom experience. I trust and respect them. If all goes as hoped I will feel that way about my Elan’s after a few dozen days on snow. I sure hope that is how it goes!

All this metaphorical talk comparing my wife to my skis leads me to wonder- I know that I am a one woman man but…am I a ski Polygamist?

Such skinny skis!

We are now selling cross county skis. Snow shoes too! We have been renting both items for a few years now. The snowshoes are basic winter gear. Nordic skiing is a whole new sport. We had never dabbled in Nordic skiing other than as individuals on our day off, but the demand (based on phone inquiries) seemed to be growing. Then the last place in the bay area that rented them closed, so we decided to bring some in.

Now with the Covid 19 situation we feel that a lot of people that are not skiers may want to go to the Sierra to get some fun and exercise in. Some may be alpine skiers and that is what they will do. Others may not have any background in skiing. Those folks we believe will want to start with something that is inexpensive and easy to learn.

So what is the easy to learn start point? Snowshoes! They are like the hiking boots of the snow. Anyone that has not been out in the snow should try this. It is so quiet you can hear the trees groan and the snowmelt drip off the trees.

One step beyond the basic walk in the woods feeling of snowshoes is cross country or Nordic skiing. Nordic skiing typically takes place on prepared trails but you can go off trail too. There are two styles-classic and skate skiing. Skate skiing has some advantages in the speed department but the technique is harder to master. Both styles have aerobic benefits. Skate skis are also quite a bit more expensive. With all this in mind we have chosen to sell only a basic versatile classic ski set up. Fischer makes the top skis so we went with their best model for this purpose. Comfortable ski shoes that fit like sneakers too. We have a package price for skis boots and poles at the discounted price of $365. So now you can buy or rent both snow shoes and cross country skis from us. With no lift tickets involved it is hard to find a less expensive or easier to learn activity for winter fun in the mountains!


California Ski Company Bootfitter Lace was an early adopter of touring gear!

In 2012 Marmot Mountain Works closed their retail store in Berkeley. Since 1976 Marmot had been a mountaineering store that was the only retailer to sell “touring” ski equipment in the Bay Area. For several years some of the staff at California Ski Company had been participating in a type of ski touring referred to as “Randonee” skiing. Randonee was quickly becoming more popular than “telemark” skiing which was hard to learn. Randonee skiing appealed to us because you could free your heel to hike up like a telemark skier and then lock it down to ski back down the mountain like a resort skier. Many of our customers spent time in the back country too. They asked why we didn’t stock gear for this type of skiing. Our answer was that there was just enough business for one store to carry it in the Bay Area. The store was doing a great job. And they were only a few miles away from us.

When Marmot closed we made a big decision. We would begin selling ski touring equipment. To do that we needed to free up dollars and space, so we opted to eliminate outerwear from our our offerings. After 23 years of having a vibrant clothing department, we sold it all to buy ski touring gear. We dove in head first and have never looked back.

Since 2012 we have seen many changes in Ski Touring equipment. The biggest is that the major alpine ski brands have entered the market. There were only a few brands that made touring gear when we started. A resort skier probably would not have recognized the names of any of them. Now almost every mainstream boot and ski brand has offerings designed for ski touring. It has been the fastest growing part of the sport and everyone wants a piece of that market.

In the last few years things have REALLY taken off. Wider skis that handle non groomed terrain have helped a lot. Then new touring bindings that could use flat “alpine” ski boot soles, and now curved walkable soles and walk modes on the cuff part of many new resort style boots, the lines have become blurred. With what we call a crossover package a skier can have equipment that works equally well for the resorts or for day trips in the back country. And it is better at both than any gear available just a few years ago!

In particular the Salomon Shift binding has been revolutionary. A shift binding combined with one of many new light weight resort skis gives a skier versatility never before possible. Now everyone can have gear for the resort that allows them to try touring too. The Shift may very well be our best selling binding this year!

So the shift has happened. It looks like ski touring is becoming a big part of the skiing world, and that it is here to stay.

So in hindsight we seem to have done the right thing by following our hearts. We traded in clothing to sell rare and exotic gear for those inclined to get out into the non lift served parts of the mountains. It was only 3% of our sales the first year. Last year it was 17% of overall sales. This year will be much higher- at least 25% is what I would guess. Now, like the equipment makers, all the shops are scrambling to catch on to this hot new category. Fortunately we don’t have any catching up to do. It is fully part of our culture. We had no idea things would progress to this point. It looks like we were just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.


Darwin said that animals that adapt are the ones that survive. I think this may be true of business’ too. The Covid pandemic has created an opportunity for us to adapt and flourish. If we make the right changes we will flourish.

The easy part has been to know that we need to follow CDC guidelines to create a safe environment to work and shop. That part is spelled out pretty well. The harder part has been to sift through the information from countless zoom meetings and presentations to determine what things will look like this season and beyond. Marketing experts have stated that many of the changes in shopping patterns are ones that were going to be happening over the next 10 years or so. They have just been compressed into a few months instead of several years.

The use of the internet to shop had been an ongoing change that we have become used to. The idea of “pre-shopping” and “curb side pickup” had not been utilized as much. We now see the efficiencies in some of these new ideas and expect them to become part of the retail landscape. They will be added to the technological toolset along with google search, google maps, yelp, and other terms that we have all come to know.

Here at California Ski Company, we have been adapting to market changes for over thirty years now. We needed to replace our entire rental fleet one year because shaped skis had happened. We suffered through the snowboard boom without joining in. We eliminated clothing because we knew the benefits of online selection for shoppers when websites started to feature buy now buttons. We added backcountry skiing to our mix a decade or so ago when Marmot closed down and there was no resource in the bay area for gear. Now we have added Nordic (cross country) for the same reason. We operated with a very basic point of sale unit until a few years ago when we sunk a bunch of money into a system that gives us state of the art reporting metrics and the ability to sell on line. We now have six iPads that we use for rentals and service with a custom program written for the ski industry, We realized that we had special features not available on the internet, so we focused on custom boot fitting, shop service work and rentals. We decided to spread our wings geographically in the boot world and have earned a national and international reputation in the boot fitting arena. All these changes have allowed us to not only survive but to quadruple our sales over the last 15 years. Basic business decisions.

Now we have put our efforts towards a better online presence. We have known for a long time that this would be important. Now there is pressure to make it happen. If people want to “pre shop” then we need to develop our product pages on the web site. So that is what we are working on now. We may also add a live talk and/or chat feature to the site so that folks can ask questions. We have a few other tricks up our sleeve too.

So change is nothing new to us and we have adapted to many changes over time. Frankly the hardest change for me has been working from home while we have been closed for several months. There is plenty to do with all the analysis necessary to deal with the many possible ways this season will play out. Plus we have our normal summer chores. We need to enter all the new gear into the point of sale. We need to modify and confirm all the orders placed in March for this season. All the new signage needs to be dealt with. The list goes on and on.

When I go into the office at 10:00 and work until 6:00 it is easy to get a lot done. Now as you can see from the photo above my office is different. I can see ski slopes and biking trails. It is much harder to concentrate. My wife/business partner can be very distracting (in a good way). So I need to try to stay focused and set up a structured day. And if this post seems rushed, I apologize. You see I told myself I could not go mountain biking today until I finished it!

So off I go to finish my work day on the dirt. I hope you all stay safe and have been adapting well to your current situation at home. As for me I am trying to make the most of it and adapt well!

The View from the Top Part 2

We recently featured the top selling Men’s ski of 2019/20. This post is about a ski that sold more than twice as many pairs! The Black Pearl 88 from Blizzard was the overall ski sales leader and has been for several years now. How has the Black Pearl stayed on top?

The first Black Pearl was based on a successful mens ski from Blizzard called the Brahma. The same molds were used and an additional smaller size mold was added for the ladies. Construction was the same as for the men except that the metal was removed to make it a bit lighter and less stiff. RThis is a cheap and easy way to build a women’s ski. Very common.

The Brahma was a really good ski (it still is). The Black Pearl just happened to be better. Women immediately flocked to these skis. They skied great. They looked great. They even had a great name. Wat was not to like? Boom- best selling ladies ski!

A few years later Blizzard made a bold move. Light weight was becoming a popular feature on Ladies skis. Blizzard had an ultra light core and construction used on their touring skis. They used the lighter core and a few other bits from the touring skis and surprise- they were even better according to female shoppers around the world. The 15% weight reduction only made them more popular.

So popular that Blizzard took advantage of the winning formula and built two new sister skis for the Pearl using the same technology. There is now a Black Pearl 82 and Black Pearl 97 to go with the original Black Pearl (now called the Black Pearl 88). All three are very good skis.

This next year you will see the third generation of the Black Pearl. It utilizes a new construction called “TrueBlend”. Most of the Blizzard all mountain line has been updated with the new “TrueBlend” core construction. That includes both Men’s and Women’s models. Guess what? The reviews are in and our crew thinks the new Black Pearl 88 is simply awesome! Absolutely better than the outgoing model. It looks like the Black Pearl will be a hit for at least another few seasons with this new version.

The Volkl Mantra M5 from part 1 had a few bad years and then came back strong. The Black Pearl has simply gained momentum year after year. That may be an even better way to stay on top- Start great and just keep getting better every generation. Sound like a good plan? It is. Sound like an easy thing to do? It’s not.

Our hat is off to both Volkl and Blizzard for building such great selling skis. A wide variety of ski offerings is key to any good ski shop. We try to stock diverse and excellent skis so that we can match customers to the perfect ski. Sometimes the perfect ski is one that does not sell a lot of units. It just happens to be perfect for you. Often the ski that is great for you is popular with many other skiers too. A lot of the time that ski happens to be a Manta or a Black Pearl.

The View From the Top Part 1

The Volkl Mantra M5

It is hard to get to the top. It is even harder to stay on top. This is the story of last winters most popular men’s ski. The Volkl Mantra M5.

The Volkl Mantra first arrived in 2004. That is a long time. We have employees that are younger than the Mantra. When it first appeared it quickly became a best seller. Last winter, after 15 years, the Mantra was once again the best selling men’s ski in the world. How has Volkl kept this ski on top for so long?

Volkl had been making “Wide” skis for some time. From 1994 into the 2000’s the fat ski of choice for many powder hounds was the Volkl Explosiv. The 90 mm waisted Explosiv were also used as “all mountain” skis by a few very good skiers. Ski anything at Squaw Valley good. The rest of us were very excited about the new “all mountain” skis made for mortals. These were about 75mm wide. Slightly wider than our old skis. The magazines said they were much more versatile. We agreed.

Then came the Mantra. It was introduced at end of the Explosiv run. The Mantra arrived wider than the Explosiv but utilized the parabolic shape that had recently been introduced. The expectation at Volkl was probably to continue to sell skis to powder oriented folks and make it easier to ski other areas on the mountain. Basically a more modern Explosiv. They got more than they expected. The Mantra was a ski that helped lead a revolution.

The Mantra, along with a few other skis coming out proved that fat skis could do more than ski powder. Fat skis could also carve well on firm snow. They just needed the right shape. The revolution had begun. Skiing would never be the same.

Several years of top sales followed for the Mantra. Volkl built a new catalogue around wider all mountain skis. Heck, all the ski brands did. And they still do. The center piece for Volkl on the Men’s side has been the Mantra. This model has outlived all other models. It has carried on through drastic and wonderful changes in ski technology. What a life it has lived!

So almost by mistake, Mantra was a sales leader in it’s younger days. In traditional Volkl fashion it was fun, aggressive, energetic, and competent. To really love Mantra you needed to be a strong and athletic skier. This was a pretty big segment in the market and sales soared. The first few generations of the Mantra followed this general description. Then sales fell off as the mantra had growing pains. Volkl experimented with both waist and camber. This led to some trouble with our staff reviews. “Dissapointed” showed up on a lot of test cards. We did not even stock it for a few years. There were a few generation that fell into this category. Now with the M5 (fifth generation) version the Mantra has matured into a fully developed ski. The Mantra is back on top.

The M5 version brings changes that harken back a bit to the original version. The waistline has slimmed back down. The camber and “pop” is back too. Added to that are features and materials not available several years ago. Volkl nailed it on this one. The reviewers are loving it again. So are consumers. Give your engineers raises over in Germany Volkl. This is their best work in a while. Volkl Mantra again tops the charts in Men’s ski sales for last season.

And that is one way you can stay on top. You can keep updating your design with the best technology available. You can make it easier to ski. Design it just right to carve or float. Use construction with metal for power and dampness. Cleverly minimize the metal and combine it with carbon fiber to keep it light and quick. You can use subtle rocker at both tip and tail allow for super easy turning with amazing edge hold too. That is one way to stay on top. Use technology to keep improving things.

Sound easy? Nope. It is hard to get on top. It is hard to stay on top too. Volkl has put a lot of skis on top since they started in 1914. Since 2014 their answer has been Mantra.

The Mountain Ahead

Mount Shasta is the first big ascent for a lot of backcountry skiers. Anyone that has driven up Interstate 5 to climb or ski Mt. Shasta will remember the first time it came into view. The mountain stands out against the surrounding landscape to such an extent that it can take your breath away.

You realize that this event is a Brave New World.

You will go higher than you have gone. You will face situations that you have not faced before. There are many unknowns. As a business we are feeling a bit like that. We have been closed yet busier than ever. It seems we have a lot to prepare for. The “experts” say things will be different for a long time. Constant change is to be expected. New rules and expectations.

As is our way we look at this as both a challenge and an opportunity. We have to do it right.

So if we were skiing Shasta we would prep carefully. Make smart equipment choices. Check and maintain gear. Prepare physically and mentally. Map out our route carefully.

At the shop it is the same. Go over business models. Recheck physical inventory levels on everything. Communicate with vendors. Listen to a lot of information on Zoom. Monitor City, County and State regulations. Prep the store with the equipment necessary to safely run the shop once we open.

We honestly do not know exactly how any of this is going to play out. Like a ski tour, we have to be ready for many different weather and snow conditions. Have our resources ready. Expect the worst and hope for the best.

We got to start curbside drop-off and pickup services this week and we have done more business than expected.

We started a gift certificate sale and have sold more than expected.

So far things have been better than expected. Thank you all for that! We hope the same for everyone. Let’s all help each other out to make the other side better than expected in every way possible. We hope to see you soon!

A Short Summer

What a short summer! Last week I spoke to two employees that had gone skiing at a resort in the last week. Yes- Mammoth Mountain stayed open until the last week of July with lifts spinning. A week later on August 1 our shipments started arriving. We will start our annual sale starting the third weekend in August (8/24-25). It started snowing in October last year. It snowed quite a bit in May. That is eight months of snow. Wow! So here we go into the 19/20 season.  Lets hope that pattern repeats this year!

Kimberly working hard getting new product off of trucks and into the store!