Staying on top of the latest and greatest in outerwear and equipment is part of being a functioning member of any ski society. Whether it is the latest materials, bold designs, or simply an undiscovered heritage brand, being able to recognize top quality from hype and marketing is the mark of discerning taste. After countless hours of research and strangers approached asking, “Where did you get that?” I present the eight best ski brands you’ve never heard of. (P.S. If you’ve heard of these, kudos, please send any recommendations...)
Life-long Aspen residents David Roth and Heifara Rutgers identified a niche for luxury-tech-focused ski wear while splitting time working in New York and skiing in Aspen. Aztech believes in “uncomplicated and purposeful design.” Specializing in “creating cross-functional, technically appointed clothing that is adventure ready, not fussy and always informed by the style of the globally active man.” Each item somehow feels at home in Palm Beach, Verbier, and The Little Nell simultaneously. As if perfectly appointed outerwear and base layers weren’t enough to stand out, in 2016 Bode Miller partnered with Aztech after sampling the brand on a shoot in Portillo. The arrival of the two-time World Cup champion and his 11 Olympic, and World Championship, medals reflects the brands intentions beyond mere aesthetics, but to operate at the highest level of performance
Frauenshuh built its international reputation for quality Austrian clothing in Kitzbuhel, the home of one of the World Cup’s most harrowing ski races. Founded in 1950, the brand’s humble origins of a family-run tannery have grown an international reputation for the finest Alpine craftsmanship and materials. Owner/heir, Kaspar Frauenschuh, has guided the company with the utmost attention to detail and a timeless elegance that sits at the apex of high fashion and heritage.
A couple of young-guns from Aspen decided they could do it better than everybody. Honestly, observing the impact their fresh style has had on the industry, they might be right. Strafe brings together the fool-proof combination of modern technology, and unique palettes while catering to discerning professional needs that go way beyond the basics. On-mountain jackets for every condition, pants that accentuate turns, while off-mountain attire round out the collection and turn heads. Launched by twin brothers John and Pete Gaston after a brief “obsession” with Highland Bowl, the Aspen Highlands showroom opened in 2011 providing ski in / ski out access to testing any new idea and the rest is history.
It is not easy to rise to the occasion of outfitting one’s national ski team, but that is exactly what Fulsalp accomplished for the French in the 1960s. Flash-forward the brand closed up shop in the 1980s and instantly became the thing of cult vintage legends. In 2013, however, it was acquired by Sophie and Philippe Lacoste, and their stylish releases since have signaled a return to alpine chic, French style that formerly defined fashionable skiwear. The full line includes form fitting body suits, warm sweaters baring their quietly luxurious emblem and a tailored elegance exuding Gaelic joie de vivre. The company credits Creative Director Mathilde Lacoste for “The retro-futuristic interpretations of the fuseau and ski suit that Fusalp offer today are a fine illustration of this boomerang game between tradition and modernity.”
From humble beginnings in Japan as a knit manufacturing company in 1950, known for their high-quality wool hiking socks, by 1964 Goldwin was tapped to outfit members the Japanese national team in the Tokyo Olympics (12 of the 16 Japanese gold medalists that year were wearing Goldwin). Having set the trend with stylish and sophisticated ski sweaters in the sixties, the business expanded to a full ski collection each season as well as two lifestyle capsule collections per year. In 2017, the lifestyle collection’s collaboration with Markaware founder and designer Shunsuke Ishikawa yielded the perfect study of winter performance translated to an urban landscape, bridging the past with the future.
Bomber is playing for keeps. In 2015, two-time World Cup champion Bode Miller, joined five-time World Cup champion Marc Girardelli as a Global Brand Ambassador for the Italian born ski company. Miller in fact doubled down and bought a stake in the business ensuring he would work “closely with the Bomber team in all aspects of the business, including working directly with the expert craftsmen at Bomber’s factory in Italy.” Bode credits the dedication to the highest quality materials and small batch production to the superior performance. “For the first time ever, I found a ski company that enable skiers of every level to experience the quality of skis normally reserved only for the best racers in the world.” With special rights to both Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Herring’s artworks not only do these sticks ride like works of art, they will look just as good on your wall.
Zai may be known as the $10,000 ski, but there is much more to say about this custom plank company than the sticker shock. Simon Jacomet, a former ski coach for the Swiss ski team returned to his hometown of Discentis to start Zai in 2003. He quit his day job at a mass market ski brand overseeing a production run of 500,000 pairs of skis a year, to focus intently on just 800. His two part plan, 1) use unheard of materials like granite, wool and cedar to create a product of a pinnacle level of performance and precision, while 2) bringing jobs back to a small mountain town that the region could be proud of. Now, not all of Zai’s ski’s cost a first class ticket to Geneva, a few of the stock models come in at a reasonable $. All of their skis come with a custom binding set, carbon fiber poles, a ski bag, one year of insurance and a two-year warranty.
On the island of Hokkaido, land of legendary bottomless powder, Uni and Onsens, a rare snowboard was fashioned. Gentemstick founded in 1990 by Taro Tamai sought to buck modern trends and return snowboarding to its essence. Tomai believes mainstream snowboarding with a focus on big air and gaudy tricks has obscured the roots of the sport. “Snow-surf or just turning is something that has existed since day one,” he says. “The snow industry has brainwashed people to just one side of snowboarding; I want to liberate that and create a kind of revolution.” Very rare in North America, if you see the iconic red almond logo on the hill make sure you give its owner a knowing glance. Game recognizes game...