By Eric Peterson | Jan 12, 2015
Park City, Utah
After starting in Taiwan, President and C.E.Snow Mike Kilchenstein reshored production and defied industry tradition by vacuum molding. Now he's got the NFL license for skis and snowboards.
RAMP Sports breaks from traditional press molding and instead vacuum molds its skis, snowboards, and skateboards in Park City. "Our factory is probably the most unique in the industry," says Kilchenstein, who spent three decades with Rossignol before founding the company in 2009. "Skis are still made like they were in the 1950s."
The vacuum molding process bucks this tradition. Press molding requires a mold that costs $6,000 to $25,000 and limit you to one shape. "You can't change the shape and the shape is what is changing the most," says Kilchenstein. Vacuum molding "gives you so much flexibility. It's incredible."
RAMP (short for Riders Artists Musicians Project) has about 20 different models spanning "a pretty good range” from carving to powder skis. "For a small company, we're good at front-side, carving-type skis," touts Kilchenstein. "We're also known for wide skis that are good at skiing hard snow."
RAMP initially manufactured in Taiwan, but moved production to Park City in 2011. "We realized the limitations that came with that," Kilchenstein says. Three years later, the RAMP team has perfected the process. "Right now, we're humming," he says. A pair takes about five hours to make now, opposed to 10 hours at first to Utah.
The well-oiled operation is now taking on a new and potentially lucrative business segment. Last spring, RAMP inked licensing deals to make official skis and snowboards for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and several universities.
That means RAMP will soon be selling skis and boards featuring the logos of the Rockies, Buffs, Cougars, and of course Broncos. (The last is in the process of being approved by league officials.) "I think people are pretty fired up," Kilchenstein. "There are a lot of people who are so passionate about a team." RAMP can decorate a stock ski with graphics on demand and ship in two to four weeks.
The RAMP business model is likewise unique. "I felt the consumer was ready for a brand that was more accessible," Kilchenstein says. "There's a lot of people who want better communication with the manufacturer."
"At Rossi, what we were great at was servicing ski shops," Kilchenstein says. With RAMP, it's all about the end user. The company did about 130 demo days last season. "That's probably more than the big companies do," he says.
It follows that RAMP focuses on direct sales,and also sells skis and snowboards for the same price at a number of ski shops.
The strategy is paying off. Sales have doubled from 1,300 units in 2013 to about 2,500 for 2014, and Kilchenstein forecasts another doubling next year.
RAMP is also at the front of the ski industry in terms of sustainability by upcycling scrap, using bamboo and other green materials, and shipping in reusable ski bags instead of boxes. The company also gives customers a 300-pound carbon offset as well as $50 trade-in for skis and boards that subsequently get donated or sold. "It doesn't go into landfills," says Kilchenstein.
Having worked his way up from Rossi's production floor to regional sales manager, Kilchenstein has looked at the ski industry from all angles.
"The people that look to buy from us, it's not an age thing, it's a mindset thing," says Kilchenstein. "They're somewhat unconventional."
Challenges: "When you're a small brand and a new brand, no matter how good your story is, you still have to get people to know you are out there," says Kilchenstein. It takes money and hard work, and it's especially hard when you're a consumer brand.
Opportunities: The aforementioned MLB, NFL, and NCAA licensing deals. "They look so spectacularly beautiful," says Kilchenstein. "I have a feeling two-thirds of the people will hang the ski or board on their wall."
Needs: Sales. "We have an enormous amount of business on the table," says Kilchenstein. "I need to find the reps and the right strategy to sell it."