We talked with Mike Kilchenstein, founder RAMP Handmade Skis and Snowboards about their revolutionary ski manufacturing process….and skis!
1. Mike, how long have you been making skis?
I started with Rossignol in Vermont right out of school, and made skis with them for 32 years. I did a lot of jobs for Rossi from Factory Worker to Tech Rep, Sales Rep then Sales Manager then VP Sales and Marketing managing Roxy Skis, I only actuall made skis for 2 years there but was always involved in testing, and part of marketing committee.
2. What’s different about how RAMP makes skis?
RAMP uses a vacuum molding process. For over 40 years, skis have been press molded, at 4 atmospheres of vertical pressure, onto expensive camber plates.
Vacuum molding is used for high precision manufacturing, like racecar bodies. We are pioneering vacuum molding techniques in skis. The RAMP process uses only 1 atmosphere of unidirectional pressure (equal in all directions and constant), so that the materials set up in their natural state based on the thermal expansion characteristics of the material – making the end result harder, more resilient and with more consistent and predictable performance characteristics. There is no camber plate, so that camber is the natural shape of the ski. The shapes can be tweaked using CAD, so R&D is super fast. We are also able to experiment with any mix of materials.
3. Why are you are using a Bamboo core?
Bamboo is extremely hard. It’s 50% harder than ‘hardwoods’, and 400% harder than poplar, the core of most skis. The bamboo core rides as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
4. You just built out a factory in Park City, Utah. That’s different, eh?
You would be surprised how Made in the USA is making a comeback. And it offers many advantages for us. Slope-side manufacturing is a natural fit with our flexible manufacturing process. We are able to do rapid prototyping, testing variations of materials, designs and shapes. RAMP does not require expensive presses and molds, so manufacturing is less capital intensive. We can also change designs fast and cheap. [Like my old girlfriend!]
5. You have a complete product line, but heliskiers want to talk powder.
This year we are launching a pure powder ski – Kapow. It is a powder-specific hybrid of our Peacepipe (Freeskier Editor’s Pick for 2011/12!). Kapow has a 125mm waist, and more rocker tip and tail, and the contact point moved back. Powder requires early rise and reverse side-cut in the tip. And the deeper it gets, the more rocker you want. This is the ultimate powder ski, but it won’t cost a fortune. It comes in a 189, 179 and 169mm. [I’ll take a 189. Need my address?]
6. You must have some fun with it. Your model names are very hilarious:
Groundhog, Beaver (women’s of course), Chicadee, Frenzy, Hysteria, Hula, Cork, Swarm, Honey, and my favorite – Kumoniwannaskiya.
Hey, skiing should be fun.
7. What’s different about the women’s models?
The cosmetics. Really. Over the years I have discovered that the really good skiers like the same skis, regardless of gender. Girls like different graphics, so that’s what we offer. [True, ask any Bad Betty, like the 5-time World Champion and Olympic Gold medalist Donna Weinbrecht]
8. Speaking of graphics, yours really pop.
We have developed a new process that allows us to sublimate graphics onto the bamboo veneer. The first time people see RAMP skis they are amazed.
9. But you won’t find them in stores, so order by midnight tonight?
Right, we sell direct and through a small number of resort-based ski shops. For years, I saw the retail ski business change. There has been a margin squeeze that resulted in consumers getting less attention and less choice. Going direct allow us to offer great prices and to engage with our customers.
10. And you also have reps. How does that work?
We found that our customers are our best sales people, so we offer them a chance to earn something for selling. [Cool]
11. What is the philosophy behind RAMP?
RAMP stands for Riders, Artists, and Musicians Project. It’s about combining creative energy and being environmentally responsible. My partner is a marketing guy who works with musicians, music festivals, X-Games and more. So we do lots of cool co-promotion. We also have a team of athletes that are RAMP ambassadors.
12. Our HELIBOARD.com readers will want to know about you snowboards.
Right, we sell about 80% as many snowboards as skis. The industry average is about one third the total volume, so we must be doing something right. You and I do both. What’s cool about your boards?
13. Again with the funny names. I guess Lobstah is a nod to your New England roots/accent?
Yeah, and Mussel and Oyster, too. The Lobstah is great for launching big air in the pipe and ripping stable, carved turns at speed. Ross Powers got us our first XGames Medal on the Lobstah! He’s a New England guy, too.
14. What’s best for big mountain and pow?
Tumbleweed. No speed limit.
15. And for the Keiki’s (kids for you Haoles)?
Gotta be the TaterTot!
Hilarious! Just send a pair of Ka Pows my way before my first heli trip, please!
And thanks for playing 15 Questions with TJ.
CPO (Chief Powder Officer)
Expert Advice – Knowledge is Powder