JACKSON, Wyo. — Why buy mass-produced skis that are almost what you are looking for when you can have a pair that is precisely what you want?
At Maiden Skis, you can have whatever type of boards you like. And you can help the expert crafter there create them.
"We like having people come by and see how their skis are made and let them work on them, too," said Dennis Provost, ski tester for the shop on Deer Drive south of Jackson.
Provost partnered with ski maker Kelvin Wu almost two years ago when Wu arrived in Jackson after working for a ski-making company in Seattle.
Provost - a former ski bum who owns Canvasmith Co., a Jackson canvas products manufacturer - found out Wu was a ski maker and wanted to assist him.
"I saw him when he was unloading his truck, so I grabbed a forklift and helped him out," Provost said. "Kelvin said, 'I teach people how to make skis,' and I said, 'You are my new best friend.'"
As a tester for Wu, Provost takes new ski models and puts them through everything imaginable.
Provost has skied 1.2 million vertical feet on Wu's skis in 100 days this season. That's fewer days than in years past.
"I usually do 2 million vertical in a year," Provost said.
Wu tailors skis to his clients' skills, style of riding and preferred terrain. If customers hit the mountain and discover they don't like the skis, he will build a new pair that suits them.
"Trying to make one ski that can do everything is tough," Wu said. "A lot of commercial skis are one size fits all. These off-the-shelf skis often treat the middle-of-the-pack skier. That's why I like to have the customer come in and give them the perfect ski for them."
Wu asks customers to tell him exactly what they're looking for in a pair of skis. He not only allows but actually encourages skiers to put a little work into their own skis.
But it's often the look as much as the ride that interests them.
"What takes the longest is people deciding what graphics they want," Wu said.
The shop has a special printer that can produce any kind of graphic a person can put on a computer.
Throughout the shop are skis with personalized artwork. The walls are lined with skis with graphics that range from commercial logos, like Wyoming Whiskey's, to cartoons and images of the Tetons.
Customers are constantly coming in to check on their skis. A pair takes almost eight hours to make and is usually finished in three or four days. If his customers like, Wu takes them through every step of the process.
Wu also makes snowboards and sit skis.
"A lot of the adaptive sit-skiers were having problems with breaking skis," Wu said. "They would buy off-the-shelf skis and just use one of the skis under their chair, and they kept breaking."
He built sit skis for many of the participants in 2014's Adaptive Steep and Deep camp at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
He has also made a sit ski for Steve Ellefson, a Canadian who's a past bronze medalist in the downhill at the winter Paralympics.
Wu had Ellefson use the ski and tell him what it was doing. Wu was then able to customize it to Ellefson's liking.
Wu ended up building sit skis for four or five people at the Steep and Deep cam. One sit ski went to North Carolina, another to Denmark.
"It's a cool market," Wu said about sit skis. "Nobody was really making skis specifically for sit-skiers."
Wu has since been contacted by adaptive ski programs in Telluride, Colo., and Park City, Utah, to build sit skis for them.
Anyone who enters Wu's shop will leave wanting a pair of custom skis. The process, the craftsmanship and the ability to make a ski or board uniquely your own is hard to pass up.
That's true even for people who considered creating their own.
"I was going to make my own skis," Provost said. "Then Kelvin showed up."