By Eric Peterson | Sep 11, 2022
Marrder and his best friend and SNO-GO co-founder, Chase Wagstaff, grew up in Utah exploring the outdoors hiking, biking, and kayaking, with an asterisk: They never skied or snowboarded the Wasatch's many renowned ski areas.
After the pair graduated from high school, they resolved to change their ways. "We've got to find something to do in the winter," says Marrder.
The quest led them to skibikes. "Skibikes have been around for a hundred years-plus, but really hadn't caught on for a lot of different reasons," says Marrder.
Wagstaff and Marrder both bought skibikes, which were only allowed at Brighton Resort in Utah at the time. "We were having a blast," says Marrder. "People were genuinely interested in what these things were and very inquisitive about how we got into skibikes."
What started as a college project for Marrder turned into a startup. "We both had an entrepreneurial itch," says Marrder.
The first step was outreach to ski resorts in Utah and Colorado. "We learned a lot about some of the industry struggles converting brand new participants into long-term participants," says Marrder.
One statistic stood out: About 85 percent of first-time skiers and snowboarders never return to the slopes after their first day. "For beginners, it can be a pretty poor experience," says Marrder.
Because it's notably similar to riding a bicycle, skibikes present "a short learning curve" in the face of that phenomena, he notes. "They feel in control, having a blast. It's a very safe experience but also thrilling at the same time."
It took five years for SNO-GO to bootstrap its first skibike to market. The time was consumed by R&D and connecting with manufacturers in Asia.
A 2016 Kickstarter campaign funded the first production run. "It was just off to the races from there," says Marrder.
They needed resort, buy-in, and in-person SNO-GO demos helped move the needle. "We had incredible success," says Marrder. "Once they got on the bike, the lightbulb went on."
For SNO-GO's inaugural 2016-17 winter, 15 resorts in Colorado and Utah allowed skibikes. Six years later, about half of the nation's roughly 450 ski resorts welcome them.
A big selling point: The company's S.L.A.T. technology allows for ease of use. "Everything you're doing, this bike does it for you by just leaning the handlebars," says Marrder.
The company designs, assembles, and handles quality control at its 3,500-square-foot facility south of Salt Lake City in Bluffdale.
Manufacturing components first in China and then in Vietnam, SNO-GO encountered difficulties with the supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Overnight, we lost 30 percent of our suppliers," says Marrder, noting that lead times subsequently jumped from two months to nine as costs nearly tripled. "We were forced to look in the mirror and go, 'What do we do now? Where do we go from here?'"
The solution? Reshoring as much as possible. SNO-GO worked with UAMMI to develop a domestic supply chain. "It made a lot of sense to come back here," says Marrder. "While it does add cost to the bottom line to bring manufacturing here, it allows us better control of our quality and it shortens our lead times a lot."
As of 2022, about 70 percent of SNO-GO's skibikes are made in the U.S., and the company is actively looking for a domestic frame manufacturer. Suppliers include Salt Lake City-based Paramount Machine and Prototek Manufacturing of New Hampshire.
Launched in September 2022, the 2022 SNO-GO lineup -- starting at $2,499 -- represents the first from the newly reshored production. "We've redesigned the bikes," says Marrder. "It translates into better control for the rider and just a better experience."
He says the CNC work from U.S. contact manufacturers has tighter tolerances and torque specs than SNO-GO was getting from partners in Asia, making for better tracking and bearing designs.
SNO-GO has sold about 6,000 skibikes to resorts, dealers, and consumers to date. "Since we launched, year over year we've doubled in production and sold out everything," says Marrder.
However, a snag at the port delayed the 2021 skibike shipment for more than four months, meaning all of that inventory got pushed into the 2022 cycle. "It was devastating," says Marrder.
The silver lining? A full 80 percent of customers kept their orders in place, and SNO-GO is looking at a record year in 2022 that will easily top the $1 million mark the company hit in 2019. "We have a massive backlog," says Marrder, adding, "The last 24 months have really made us stronger."
Challenges: "In production, we still have some hurdles to overcome," says Marrder, noting that skyrocketing metal prices have been another challenge.
Opportunities: Marrder forecasts continued growth for skibiking in general as other snowsports see a decline in participation, and expects growth in the resort, wholesale, and direct-to-consumer channels.
"Our goal is to be the Burton of the skibike industry," he says. "We have the potential to convert beginners, attract a younger generation, a younger crowd. Marrder says he sees SNO-GO as part of a broader "democratization" trend in outdoor recreation that also encompasses E-bikes and pickleball.
New products are also on the way: A kid-sized bike is in development, and, after manufacturing delays in China, SNO-GO is launching a carbon-fiber skibike in 2023. "We're nearshoring it to Mexico," says Marrder of the latter's production.
Needs: SNO-GO is exploring third-party assembly, a 3PL to handle warehousing and fulfillment, and a domestic frame manufacturer. "We're still making our frames in Asia and we'd love to bring that here," says Marrder.
The company also needs more employees: "We see ourselves probably tripling our employee count in the next year. We have a big need for field reps and presence in key markets."
SNO-GO is also pursuing outside investors. "Funding is going to become front and center," says Marrder.