Wagner Skis

I think of the perfect ski the way I think of wings—as a means to granting flight. After 20 years testing and reviewing skis, I’ve spent plenty of time on the phone with irate product managers, explaining why their skis don’t measure up. Outdated technology or inferior design is often the reason, at which point I’m accused of being behind the times or somehow biased. “Build a ski that gives me joy,” I want to say. Then I am on the phone with Pete Wagner, a bespoke ski designer at Wagner Skis near Telluride, who is helping to design my own ski—and I start to doubt myself. Pete Wagner is cool, and nerdy, a former golf geek who wrote software for designing custom club shafts. He is obsessed with helping people enjoy themselves. It’s a little like being on a date the way he asks me about the skis I’ve loved the best. He wants to know my favorite mountains, favorite runs, and favorite days in the storm…I am suddenly standing there, up on a ridge, with nothing but the wind beneath my feet. He never asks me what I want—only what I like. And he builds my new ski’s DNA from that. When they arrive, my Wagner Custom skis stand unwrapped against my office wall for weeks. “Are you going to ski them, or mount them?” my wife finally asks. My heart starts to race on the way to the slopes. People on the lifts notice, or don’t notice, the skis’ custom top sheets. The first turn is as comfortable as shag carpet up through my feet. They carve and are nimble, yet my Wagners also plane and float. I ski them every day, and am amazed when the shark fins I graze beneath the powder don’t even register a dent—on the edges or the base. One spring day, with 10 inches of wet powder frosting the hard pack, I lay them over and arc like a water skier in the wake. “Pedro,” Wagner says when he calls, “what do you think?” “Pete,” I say, “they’re perfect.”