After cracking four pairs of skis trying to perfect an insole for aching feet, a Steamboat Springs entrepreneur took it upon himself to reboot a long-dormant ski brand.
Peter Daley is reviving Northland Skis, a formerly Minnesota-based brand that went out of business more than 40 years ago, from a 6,000-square-foot Steamboat garage. After three years of tuning, he hopes to sell 100 skis this inaugural season.
Northland is bucking the fat ski trend with three narrow-cut models now available on its website. Daley thinks he’s found a gap in the market.
“We’re working with camber and a lot of sidecut, while the whole industry has moved away to the wider, and rockered skis that have really dominated the market over the last four or five years,” Daley said. “We feel that our ski really stands out because it’s very easy to ski on, and it’s very easy to carve on.”
Daley, 63, found inspiration for this iteration of Northland Skis five years ago.
He also owns a business that makes foam insoles and liners for shoes and boots, which ran into trouble testing new insoles for ski boots. The Atomic skis he was using to test his prototypes just weren’t cutting it.
“I wanted a higher-end ski that I could use every day for testing, so that when I did something with a liner I knew exactly what the cause and effect would be,” he said. “And it became harder and harder to find a high-end, carving-type ski.”
So Daley had a friend carve a ski that solved his insole-testing problem, and now Daley makes his skis from a home production facility he said cost about $40,000 to fill with production equipment.
His son and company co-owner Peter, 26, and friend Gage Achtner, 24, are in charge of production. Northland offers three styles of skis, each listed for $1,500 on the company’s website.
Northland Skis was founded in 1912 in Minnesota, according to the company’s website. The brand had a 60-year run before shutting down in the early 1970s. Daley said that in its time, Northland made skiing more accessible to people who otherwise might not have learned the sport.
The skis were sold in department stores, sporting goods stores and hardware stores, he said, and Northland published a popular how-to-ski booklet. A half-century later, Daley said older skiers still recognize the deer head logo that graces each Northland ski.
“There’s barely a lift ride or a lift line that somebody doesn’t comment that they’ve either skied on them, or their parents skied on them,” Daley said. “It’s a very common name in the industry for people who have grown up with skiing.”
Daley owned a pair of Northlands growing up, and the name popped back into his head as he struggled to come up with a name for his fledgling ski company.
“It hit me that, since we’re making a wood ski with a lot of camber, that’s what Northland was all about,” he said.
Daley said Northland’s trademark had long expired more than 40 years after the company sold its last pair of skis. He went to work claiming rights to the brand, and was issued a trademark last year.
Achtner, Daley’s co-head of production, was working at a wood furniture shop in Fort Collins where he used the same machines that Northland now uses to craft skis.
Crafting the skis came rather easily for the Northland team. The Daleys said they still use the second pair of Northland skis they ever pressed, a 168-centimeter model similar to the middle-length style they sell today.
While Northland may have been snow-ready from the jump, Daley Jr. said getting them showroom-ready was the real challenge. He said they put in a lot of work tailoring the wood veneer of the skis to create a look that would sell.
“We were having issues with aesthetics,” he said. “Working with wood, it’s something that is very sensitive whenever you heat it or add epoxies to it, or anything like that.”
Daley Jr. said what sets Northland skis apart is its three-wood core, fashioned from a blend of pine, white ash and hickory. He described it as a “stiff, but not overly stiff” ski. He and Achtner pump out about four pairs of Northland skis per week.
Northland skis are only available on the company’s website. Daley Sr. said there are a few stores they may try to get into, but added Northland would need specialty ski shops that could dedicate space to feature the ski instead of just putting it on a shelf next to bigger manufacturers.
Its Steamboat Springs garage gives the Northland team plenty of room to make the 100 pairs projected to sell this first year. But if the brand does catch back on, Daley Sr. said, they may ramp up in ski seasons to come.
“As our first year getting out there, we’re prepared to sit here and get the skis made with the facility we have,” he said. “But ultimately we’d like to get into a larger location to get our production up higher.”