In search of the perfect ski
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
HOW DOES A SKI FACTORY COME ABOUT IN VIENNA CITY CENTRE? VERY EASILY – ALL IT NEEDS IS A COUPLE OF PASSIONATE SKIERS WITH A SPECIAL IDEA WHOSE LIVES REVOLVE AROUND VIENNA.
The fact that such a passionate troupe comprising a mix of physicists, sports equipment engineers, industrial engineers and marketeers exists is obviously not a disadvantage. Indeed, it is probably one of the reasons why the skis ultimately perform so well.
We – the childhood friends Dominic and Clemens – laid the foundation stone of Ünique Skis in 2011. We’ve known each other since we were very young, or rather since our parents built
a holiday home in the Tyrol together. We could barely walk in those days, yet were placed on skis by them. Over the years, our professional interests diverged considerably – Dominic was drawn to natural sciences and Clemens to social sciences – but the friendship and love of skiing survived.
And not only the sport but above all the material attracted us. We discussed the perfect shape, the right camber, the ideal radius and the best design on the ski market, often for nights on end. Always with the same result: the perfect ski simply doesn’t exist! How could it? After all, everyone has their own unique skiing style, unique stature and unique needs when skiing. The perfect ski therefore had to be as unique as the person that used it. So it had to be a tailor-made ski...
This realisation changed everything for us. Each off-the-peg ski was suddenly a compromise, even if only tiny details could be optimised. And both of us have never been satisfied with compromises. So without further ado, we decided to build the perfect ski ourselves. How hard could that be?
LEARNING THE CRAFT
PRETTY DIFFICULT, AS IT TURNS OUT!
Dominic was working at a patent attorney’s office at the time. One of this biggest customers was a leading Austrian ski manufacturer. We therefore already had a fundamental understanding of ski making. We also had intensive conversations with ski makers from around the world and absorbed every little bit of knowledge like a couple of sponges. Countless discarded skis were cut open and analysed.
It was at this time that we met Christian and Flo, two snowboarders from Krems. The two of them lived in Vienna but built their snowboards in Krems. And so we decided that we could set up a small workshop in Vienna together. We provide the place (fortunately, we had a small garage available in the 15th district at the time) and they provide the knowledge of building snowboards – which is hugely similar to building skis.
Together, we brought their machines to Vienna and set up a workshop in the little garage in the middle of town. With their help, the first ski was actually ready 18 months later..., OK, it wasn’t perfect. It had a questionable camber, the tip of the ski was much too flat, there were obvious gaps between the edges and the base – but it was usable and even good enough to still be usable today – although probably more for nostalgic reasons.
A TESTING CONCEPT WAS NEEDED
AFTER THIS FIRST PROTOTPYE, WE WERE REALLY GRIPPED BY ENTHUSIASM. ONE SKI AFTER THE OTHER WAS PRODUCED. 10, 30, 50 PAIRS AND NO END IN SIGHT.
And they actually got better and better with almost each model. But no matter how many skis we built, they simply weren’t good enough to completely satisfy us. We were still missing that certain something. It finally dawned on us that we urgently needed help to find the perfect ski.
And all of a sudden, Gernot was at door. Or rather, he wrote us an email containing what remains the legendary question: “What does your testing concept actually look like?” We scarcely understood what he was asking. Up until that point, we built a ski – went skiing with it – and changed what seemed logical to us to change. That mostly resulted in further changes that we were able to trace but were unable to determine exactly whether they meant a step forwards or a step backwards.
Looking back, testing the skis ourselves was probably a mistake. Because on the one hand, we were naturally biased because we had laboriously made each ski by hand and loved them like our own flesh and blood – and on the other, we simply didn’t have enough feeling in our feet to spout the necessary optimisations while skiing. No amount of passion in the world will help – what you need is a real professional. One who senses every tiny detail while skiing.
So we invited Gernot to visit us to explain what such a ‘testing concept’ could look like. Gernot is a former racer. In his youth, the man from Waidhofen took part in ski races for the Lower Austrian Provincial Association. And even though he never made the big breakthrough, he always had an edge over his colleagues. He has an unbelievable feeling in his feet, which always made it easy for him to find the perfect set-up. One of Austria’s biggest ski producers spotted this talent and employed him as a ski tester after his racing career came to an end. He tested models that were later sold in their hundreds of thousands, and even jointly developed skis for World Cup skiers. We immediately realised that he was the man to take our skis to the next level. So we bundled him up and drove with him to the mountains. He stands on our skis – makes a couple of turns – turns to look at us and says: “Lads, that’s a really lovely ski, but we’ve got a whole lot of work to do.”
QUALITY HAS ITS PRICE
IT IS 2015 AND GERNOT HAS SINCE ASSEMBLED A TESTING TEAM. IT CONSISTS OF FORMER RACERS, SKI INSTRUCTORS, SKI GUIDES AS WELL AS AMATEUR SKIERS SUITED TO OUR TARGET GROUPS. IN OTHER WORDS, A GOOD MIX.
We, Dominic and Clemens, are no longer an important part of the testing team and that’s probably a good thing. Hundreds of skis have since been produced and not only the product quality but also the brand is developing magnificently. We are slowly mutating from a garage project into a serious company. Universities and universities of applied science are beginning to cooperate and do research with us. Our production facility is being remodelled and its processes optimised under Sebastian. We are developing a professional sales organisation under Oliver, dealers are adding us to their product range across Austria and the first awards are in sight.
But one question remains: Large industrial ski companies have been making skis for decades and have development budgets in the millions. How does a handful of lowlanders stay in the running with these global giants?
The answer: We live skiing, use only the best materials and make our skis with more care than is possible in mass production.
That makes ours skis a little more expensive, but the extra costs also make us better.