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 decipher top quality from marketing hype is the mark of good taste. After countless hours of research and anecdotal evidence in the form of strangers inquiring, “Where did you get that?” I present the eight best ski brands you’ve never heard of.
Life-long Aspen residents David Roth and Heifara Rutgers identified a niche for luxury-tech-focused skiwear while splitting time working in New York and Aspen. Aztech believes in “uncomplicated and purposeful design.” They specialize 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 New York, Verbier, and at The Little Nell simultaneously.
Slope-cred: In 2016 Bode Miller partnered with the line after sampling a few pieces on a shoot in Portillo.
Item to get: The Nuke Suit, $1,650, Performance Ski, 614 E. Durant Ave.
Frauenschuh 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 crossroads of high fashion and heritage.
Item to get: The Lizzy Jacket, about $1,190, Gorsuch, 611 E. Durant Ave.
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 a fool-proof combination of modern technology and unique palettes while catering to the needs of pro mountaineers that go way beyond the basics. They create jackets for every condition, pants that accentuate turns and one-pieces for deep powder days. Launched by twin brothers John and Pete Gaston after an admitted “obsession” with hiking and skiing Highland Bowl, the Aspen Highlands showroom opened in 2011 providing ski in / ski out access to testing any new idea—the rest is history.
Item to get: The Sickbird Suit, $899, Strafe Showroom at Aspen Highlands
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 shop in the 1980s and became the thing of cult vintage legends. In 2013, however, it was revived by Sophie and Philippe Lacoste, and their stylish releases since have signaled a return to the 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 ski suit that are a fine illustration of this boomerang game between tradition and modernity.”
Item to get: The Montecarlo Jacket, about $1,500
See also: Chanel Launches the Perfect Winter Gear
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 of 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 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.
Item to get: The Ski Jacket, $419
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.” Miller 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 enables 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.
Item to get: Keith Herring Bright Vibes All Mountain Skis, $2,500, Performance Ski, 614 E. Durant Ave.
zai testa. the classic among the zai ski convinces with its elegant surface and its hand-made walnut veneer. the differences in the wood grain give testa its individual looks and turn it into something unique! #zaiski #skiing #switzerland #swissalps #hightech #alps #alpine #zaionza #skisport #skilovers #wintersport
Zai may be known as “the $10,000 ski,” but there is much more to say about this custom plank company than its 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 for peak 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 skis cost the equivalent of a first class ticket to Geneva. A few of the stock models have a more standard price. All of its skis come with a custom binding set, carbon fiber poles, a ski bag, one year of insurance and a two-year warranty.
Item to get: The Testa Ski, about $5,200
On the island of Hokkaido, land of legendary bottomless powder, a rare snowboard was fashioned. Gentemstick, founded in 1990 by Taro Tamai, seeks 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 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...
Item to get: The Stingray, about $1,100
Photography by: All photos courtesy and/or Instagram