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New Northern Kentucky Company Creates the Perfect Ski for Midwest Snow

Ron Gerdes is a Northern Kentucky skier.

As many from the area know, there aren’t giant mountains nearby for skiing activities, but there is Perfect North in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Gerdes goes to Perfect North up to 30 times a year. He was never satisfied with the kind of skis on the market combined with the unique snow in the area. So, he and his partner, Mark Branham, started to make their own skis.

“Obviously we aren’t in the geographic area that we want to be, but we’re making due. We’re actually building skis for not-ideal geographic areas. We’re not in the mountains of Colorado where they get the nice fluffy snow; we’re dealing with man-made conditions. It’s harder, it’s icier, it’s not what people call good snow. So we’re looking to make equipment for what we have,” Gerdes said.

The company is called Mortal Ski and currently the manufacturing is done in a warehouse in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, but Gerdes hopes to make the move to Northern Kentucky as soon as Thanksgiving.  

“If all goes well, we will be moving to Park Hills, to Dixie Highway, which would be awesome because it’s 100 feet from my front door,” he said.

Gerdes credits his start in the ski-manufacturing business to a manufacturing accelerator called First Batch which gives out four grants a year to start-up manufacturing businesses in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Gerdes is a nurse at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Florence where he works nights. Between his nursing shifts, his ski manufacturing and being a husband and dad, his schedule is filled to the brim. Ideally, the plan is to phase out the nursing gig and make skis full-time, but for now, he has to grind it out.

“It’s a full slate, but it’s cool. It’s a lot of fun. So far things are going good,” Gerdes said. “Worst case scenario is that we figure out how to make skis and it’s a cool hobby. Best-case scenario would be to where we can make living doing this and it’s fun.”

He says that nursing interests him, but that he feels the reward of producing a tangible thing has been lacking in his career.

The business started after he made a design for a specific kind of ski and had it made in California. He was excited about the design and began to build off it.

“A traditional ski is wide under waist and is soft flex, or it’s narrow under waist and it’s stiff flex. We’ve kind of blended that. We’ve created a wider-waisted ski, with a stiffer flex and increased the side cut which is basically the ski’s turning radius, and we shortened the length a little bit. It’s quicker under foot, more nimble, and a more agile product,” he said. “We basically took two existing ski designs, squished them together and came up with a really cool adaptation, and it works well.”

Gerdes took his original prototype made in California and has skied three seasons on it as a thorough test.

“I just annihilated this ski and it’s performed great,” said Gerdes. “The skis are great, the designs are good, it’s just, can we make them consistently to keep a consistent product to offer people?”

Mortal Ski hopes to find a niche in today’s craft consumer market that has succeeded in other industries like beer, furniture, and other goods. “There is a big push towards connecting the buyer to the seller on a personal level. Mass-production doesn’t connect on an individual level, handmade stuff does. So we’re trying to maintain that handmade, artisan aspect.”

Because of this, the skis that Mortal Ski produces are hand-numbered. Mortal Ski is planning to launch a KickStarter campaign in the next month to raise enough capital to fund the operation for the next year. Investors get a hand-numbered pair of skis or can earmark a pair for next year. There is even an offer for a weekend ski trip to northern Michigan and a pair of skis.

Gerdes also sees both the economic and practical benefits of obtaining his materials as locally as he can. Today’s consumer market also appreciates goods that are produced locally.

“The wood cores are made two blocks down the street. The hardest thing to find was the fiberglass. These have three different weights of glass in it. We ended up finding a source out of Nashville. The plastics come out of Harrison, Ohio. The metal edges come out of Cleveland, and the wood out of Ludlow.”

Each ski costs $150 in materials alone and the price point for the average Mortal Ski pair is $500. Because there really isn’t a ski that is built like this, there is no apples-to-apples comparison, Gerdes said. Customers might pay a little more to have the skis come with the bindings that strap your feet to the ski.

“We made a presale initially. Shoot to build 20 skis and just go from there. People were super interested and we raised a bunch of capital that way and got the ball rolling. Then I got into this grant program which was just magnificent. Now we’re going to do 80 or 100. We don’t want to push it too much because this is essentially a research and development year. We have a hunch how it’s going to work, but until they’re on snow, I have no idea. This isn’t a get-rich-quick thing, it’s a couple years growth period,” Gerdes said.

Because the only other ski manufacturer in the Midwest is in northern Michigan, it is a challenge to have Mortal Skis showcased in person for customers to buy them. The vast majority of sales are expected to come online, but Gerdes has received some support from Perfect North.

“They helped get us started. I’ve been working there since 1997 in one capacity or another. They will probably carry the skis even if it’s consignment. Most of the sales are expected to come online on the company’s website,” he said.

Once Mortal Ski can get a place of its own, it can use that space to not only show off their products, but also give customers the chance to see behind the curtain and look at how the skis are made.

“In our own shop, we can sell the cool boutique style of stuff. People can buy some stuff and hang out in the ski shop where we build the skis. Kind of get that local barbershop feel.”

Customers interested in becoming involved in the company’s KickStarter campaign, or those interested in buying a new pair of skis for the ski and/or holiday season can find more information at MortalSkiCompany.com or on its Facebook page.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor