Young Entrepreneurs Shape Smart Skis


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Young Entrepreneurs Shape Smart Skis - Early Career Engineers

The freedom of the mountains and the thrill of whizzing down the snowy slopes can be addictive for an avid skier. When you combine that freewheeling spirit with a passion for problem-solving, the result is HG Skis, a ski-manufacturing company co-founded by two young entrepreneurs, Harrison Goldberg and Connor Gaeta, when both were in their senior year as mechanical engineering students at the University of Vermont, Burlington.

Goldberg’s love for skiing sparked his idea of building a business around it. “I have always loved skiing and have found time for it,” says the young engineer, who built his first set of powder skis as a project in high school with the help of his workshop teacher, a retired civil engineer. It took him almost a year to complete that project, a task he can now finish in one week.

In his freshman year of college, Goldberg rented space at the Vermont Woodworking School and continued building skis for fun. Coordinating his studies with ski manufacturing was difficult. “I built one pair and almost got thrown out of college as I was thinking about making skis all the time and not doing homework,” he admits. Goldberg met Gaeta in his sophomore year and realized they a shared a passion for skiing, so they decided to rent a garage in downtown Burlington to build skis. The two-car garage is still their current R&D workshop.

Young Entrepreneurs Shape Smart Skis - Early Career Engineers

Harrison Goldberg, the co-founder of HG Skis, building a custom prototype that takes around 30-40 hours to build.

Goldberg recalls the day when Gaeta went skiing on the hills of Vermont using the first pair of skis they built and people came up to him and asked which skis he was using. “That was the day we decided to start a ski company,” he says. HG Skis was thus born in the midst of crisp air and snow-capped mountains.

Making It a Fun Ride

Engineering governs every aspect of ski making and the challenge lies in building faster and lighter skis. “It took us a while to figure out the difference between design, prototype, and manufacturing,” says Goldberg. “When I started, I thought I could do it all, but soon I realized what a big undertaking it was. It is one thing to design, build, and test a ski and totally another to reproduce it over and over again and make a high-quality product.”

Every ski produced at HG Skis undergoes a similar design and development process. The prototype is designed using AutoCAD (San Rafael, CA) and then made by stacking layers of multiple materials such as wood, fiber glass, and resin. Once the materials have been stacked together, they are set into a mold and pressed overnight. The R&D is done in Vermont, but the final production is completed at a facility in Quebec that hosts the equipment to manufacture skis.

Young Entrepreneurs Shape Smart Skis - Early Career Engineers

Like a spring, the ski helps you to accelerate when you turn.

Goldberg estimates that it takes around 30-40 hours to build one pair of custom skis, and when they are satisfied with the design after testing several times on the slopes—a task Gaeta manages well— they send it to their manufacturing partner in Quebec. The skis are delivered to them in 6-8 weeks.

Most ski companies, according to Goldberg, are trying to make skis less responsive and damper but they decided to make skis that are more responsive. “Unlike other skis that are stiff, our ski is soft and has a lot of pop to it, so when you are standing flat on it, it has a lot of energy that makes it suitable for smaller turns and a much more fun ski to ride.” he says.

Goldberg explains that when you turn while skiing, you bend the ski in the opposite direction, and then when you come out of the turn, you release all the energy. So like a spring, the ski helps you to accelerate when you turn. “We brought that back to powder skis to make it an easier ride,” he adds.

The young entrepreneur says being in a ski haven gives HG Skis an edge over other companies because there’s no local ski company in Vermont. Goldberg believes ski manufacturing is going in the same direction as microbreweries—small, local breweries—that are now gaining popularity and market share. “All the small ski-making companies are on the West Coast that design skis based on that coast’s conditions. We are the only company on the East Coast and we customize skis for people in our region which they really like,” he says.

Moving Forward

HG Skis is beginning to make a mark for itself in the Burlington community. This season is its first year of actual sales and the inventory is already sold out. “The market is ready for us and people are excited about us. Our skis might cost a bit more [retail price of $550] but at the end of the day what matters is customers and people are buying our skis,” says the 22-year old Goldberg.

Goldberg recently graduated and will continue working hard to make HG Skis successful. He values his engineering education. “Every step of the way in school, I learned how to analyze problems and solve them quickly,” he says. “Any good engineering school gives you more work than you can do, and we have more work than we can do in our company too, but you also learn not to give up.”

Backed by their engineering skills and business acumen, Goldberg and Gaeta are aiming to take their venture to the next level. For these young entrepreneurs who learned skiing around the same time as they started walking, it will be their most exciting journey toward the top of the mountain.

Any good engineering school gives you more work than you can do, and we have more work than we can do in our company too, but you also learn not to give up.

Harrison Goldberg, co-founder, HG Skis

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January 2012

by Chitra Sethi, Managing Editor, ASME.org