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For Mike Kilchenstein, the decision to bring his ski manufacturing company back to the United States was an easy one to make. Pulling it off has been challenging, but never losing focus on the company’s founding principles has made it easier.
Kilchenstein’s company, RAMP Sports, moved its ski production from Taiwan to Park City during the summer of 2012. He knew the logistics and the inevitable production downtime of that move would affect his delivery schedules for the 2012−13 ski season that’s now concluding, but felt the rewards in the long run would be worth it. After all, moving allowed the transformation of RAMP’s ski products into something brand new in the industry.
The result is a ski made like no other, utilizing a patent-pending process that uses earth-friendly, U.S.-made components. It’s a process revolutionary in the ski industry according to Kilchenstein, the company’s CEO who calls himself the “CESnow.”
Revamping the Model
For its first two seasons, RAMP worked with a Taiwanese manufacturer called Playmaker. It was a smaller company that Kilchenstein liked because “they offered reasonable minimums (order quantities) for a company our size, plus they were willing to do a complete product line.” But Playmaker used the same ski product molds as other companies, and when Kilchenstein and his engineer, Christian Alary, had a different kind of ski in mind, Playmaker was resistant to change.
That’s when they knew they’d have to create their own business model, in every sense of the word.
“We had new ideas, the technology to make skis without the traditional mold,” he says. “We decided it made sense to do the manufacturing in Park City. After all, we’re within 10 minutes of three world-class ski resorts.”
RAMP uses a vacuum molding process, and the ingredients of the skis are also unique.
“Most skis are made of poplar wood, ours are bamboo,” he says. “It’s much more rock solid and more secure. We use very expensive composites, all made here in the U.S. One of them is Kevlar, known for its strength and usage in bullet-proof vests. So we jokingly say our skis are bullet-proof.”
With vacuum molding, Kilchenstein explains that the ski is more equally balanced for its entire length, and much more user friendly. He says the skis have a much better “sweet spot,” that skiers feel “they can put pressure anywhere on the ski and feel they’re in the right spot.”
The combined ingredients are about triple the price of normal cores, but where RAMP has saved itself production money is in the tooling—or actually the lack thereof, since they don’t use traditional molds.
Enhancing the Experience
That’s not the only change that RAMP has brought to the ski-buying experience, however.
“We started our company because we felt skiers wanted a better consumer experience, both in terms of product and their interaction with the manufacturer,” Kilchenstein says. “That’s what we’ve done.”
RAMPs staff includes demo trucks and tech reps in both the East and West (the demo schedule is on the company’s website at rampsports.com). It allows skiers to interact personally with company reps, and buy directly either from the reps or via the website, where most of their orders are received.
“Consumers like that direct relationship with the supplier,” Kilchenstein says. “They feel much more involved and in touch.” They’ve also been drawn to RAMP for its clean best practices philosophy, and its truly green mode of operation.
“We ship all of our products in a padded ski bag, something that’s worth probably $100 or more at retail,” he says. “That’s allowed us to eliminate thousands of cardboard boxes that would in most cases be thrown away and sent to landfills.” RAMP Sports works with Native Energy, a Vermont-based company that provides carbon offsets and carbon accounting software. RAMP has been able to achieve a 300-pound carbon offset for each pair skis it makes.
“We also buy back old skis for a trade-in of $50 towards new skis,” Kilchenstein adds. “If they are still in good condition, we donate those to others, or if they aren’t, we use their ingredients to make furniture so they don’t go into a landfill. The resins and cores we use are all environmentally-friendly. We are sure that we are very legitimate in performance as a green company.”
Up and Running
RAMP’s biggest challenge? “Trying to get this factory up to full production quickly, and at the same time continue to grow our business,” Kilchenstein says. “The last skis we made in Taiwan were in March, and then we didn’t have product come off the line here until September. So this season, we’ve become almost a made-to-order business. Our lead times have been two to three weeks, something we know won’t be a problem next season. By September 1, we’ll already have a lot of skis in our warehouse for next winter.”