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Ski enthusiasts looking for perfect ski decide to make it — and deliver handcrafted ones for Midwest slopes

Hand-crafted skis, perfect for Midwest slopes.

Hand-crafted skis, perfect for Midwest slopes.

By Vicki Prichard
NKy Tribune reporter

When hell freezes over, Park Hills resident Ron Gerdes will ski there too. And with specially made skis from his innovative start-up company, he means for you to be able to do that too. For starters, you can take his hand-made skis to your Midwest slopes.

Gerdes is a St. Elizabeth Hospital emergency room nurse by night, a father, husband, musician and artist the rest of the time, and ski enthusiast always.

Ron Gerdes and Mark Branham are the founders of Mortal Ski Company (provided photos).

Ron Gerdes, left and Mark Branham, are the founders of Mortal Ski Company (provided photo).

Because he could never find just the right skies for the Midwest slopes most readily available to him, he teamed up with fellow ski enthusiast and friend, Mark Branham, an engineer for Cummins. Together they formed Mortal Ski Company, which espouses the tagline that a frozen underworld is not off limits.

It’s a skier’s ski design company — with the Midwest skier in mind.

Midwest slopes likely mean man-made snow. That, Gerdes says, calls for man-made, handcrafted skis.

Gerdes and Branham, who lives in Greendale, Indiana, formed Mortal Ski Company LLC in April of 2015.

“We are building skies optimized for the conditions we see where we live here in the Midwest,” says Gerdes. “As passionate skiers, we are going to ski wherever and whenever we can. Our skis are built to accommodate that passion.”

The pair raised some capital through some ski friends and started the development process. In May, they won a physical product grant from First Batch, a small product accelerator in Cincinnati.

By November of 2015, they started delivering skis and on November 17th, Mortal Skis were on the snow for the first time in Colorado.

Meeting the needs of a man-made market

Man-made show is hard, coarse and icy, but that doesn’t keep avid skiers like Gerdes from the slopes; it’s simply context.

“When its cold, the snow is hard as asphalt. When its warm, it feels like mashed potatoes.”

During the 2013-’14 ski season, there were 56 million skiers in the U.S., of which 27 million were in the Midwest. Gerdes says there was a huge market looking for its own product.

“Of an $820 million industry, more than two million pairs of skis are sold in the Midwest,” says Gerdes.

Make it yourself

For years Gerdes, sought out a ski that was designed for those conditions. He came close, but could never find a ski that fully excelled on the conditions that man-made snow precipitates. So he and Branham decided to build optimum skis themselves.

They received funding through a grant from First Batch, a Cincinnati-based manufacturing accelerator program that sees prototypes to production, providing space, mentoring, business connections and funding.

“We are skiers building skis,” says Gerdes. “It’s our product, it’s our design, it’s our hands that are building them.”

To understand the full breadth of design needs, Gerdes and Branham took the necessary contextual inventory, talking with ski patrollers, instructors, ski area managers, and ski techs, to vet essential design details.

The Over-the-Rhine workshop of the Mortal Ski Company

The Over-the-Rhine workshop of the Mortal Ski Company

An artisan approach

“We started by simplifying the ski design to its basic components: wood cores, fiberglass laminates, high density plastic bases and hardened steel edges,” says Gerdes.

The skis are built one at a time, by hand.

“With years of industry experience, we understand cost, value and competitive price,” says Gerdes. “At $500 per pair, we have priced our skis competitively to ensure we are giving our customers a great price.”

The design combines stuff flex, short length, wide was and small turn radius, and the results, he says, are a high performance ski that is responsive, quick under foot.”

Gerdes said it performs brilliantly on hard snow and ice, as well as soft snow,” he says.

“The designs are working (and) the skis are performing as hoped.” Gerdes said. “As expected, we have run into a few issues, but we are working through them with fairly good success.”

Mortal Ski Company currently has 40 pair of skis on the snow in several states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and New York. The goal is to sell out of our first run this winter and begin preparation for next year’s product line.

The three designs in production include:


* The Arc Angel – the flagship, high performance ski, built with a ski patroller or instructor in mind

* The Trinity – designed for the skier who wants to explore all parts of the mountain, accommodating a traditional alpine as well as a free heel telemark binding

* The Original Sin – a woman’s ski that breaks the standard mold of a woman’s ski, designed for high performance with a female frame in mind.

“Don’t say it ‘skis like a girl’ unless you think you can keep up,” says Gerdes.

Gerdes says Mortal Ski is running demos through the ski shop at Perfect North Slopes in Lawrenceburg by appointment. Demos are also set up at Mad River Mountain, in Zanesfield, Ohio Cascade in Portage, Wisconsin, and Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs, Michigan.

The company is also working with the U.S. ski team, to design and build a competition aerial ski.

They hope to have a new snowboard “on the hill” this season.

Currently, all manufacturing is done in Over-the-Rhine, but the goal is to relocate to the Park Hills/Covington area in the spring.


See Mortal Ski Company on Facebook.

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