Mark Wallace, MBA’14, a lifelong skier, thinks he may have spent more time on skis than in shoes. One of three founders of Parlor ski company, he grew up near Saddleback ski area in Maine, moved to Park City, a ski resort town in Utah, and then went back East to attend Williams College, where he met his future business partners. “All of us raced on the ski team, and the idea to custom make small-batch, high-quality skis grew after graduation,” says Wallace.
An English major, Wallace says no one on the team has an engineering degree, but they know how a ski should perform. To hone their craft, they cut apart skis and consulted with industry experts. They even designed their machinery and had it custom made. “We tweaked shapes and designs,” says Wallace. “We strapped on the skis and headed down the slope. We made a lot of mistakes, but we learned.”
Parlor skis are available in four stock models: Sparrow (shown), Heron, Cardinal, and Harrier. Wallace, who designed the graphics for the last two models, says the team chose birds as a theme “because skiing is fluid, like flying. And there are a lot of birds, so there’s no danger of running out of names for future models.” The performance of each ski correlates with its namesake. The Sparrow, named after a quick, nimble bird, is designed for New England backcountry skiing over tight, wooded trails. “The skis are notched in the tail so climbing skins won’t slip off,” says Wallace. “But the Cardinal, our most versatile model, is probably best for someone who wants only one pair. We sell the most of them.” And, if clients prefer, they can order skis with custom graphics.
Wallace estimates there may be a dozen American boutique ski shops similar to Parlor. “Our customers appreciate local, made-to-order, American craftsmanship.” However, he notes, a lot of people don’t think they need custom skis. “That’s fundamentally not true,” says Wallace. “We can help the intermediate skier as well as the expert. Just tell us how you ski and give us your size.”