You can trace the origins of the Batalla Ski Company back to a winter night in 2011 at the Cross-Eyed Seagull dive bar in San Antonio, Texas, where Kyle Fox was drinking beers and whiskey in a private booth with his girlfriend. They were enjoying a nice evening together, except men kept hitting on Fox's girlfriend. At first, the couple shrugged off most of the advances. But when one guy said something about his manhood, Fox finally had enough.
At the time Fox weighed 245 pounds. He'd trained with body builders, boxers, and also knew Brazilian jujitsu and Chinese Kenpo. After the guy made the nasty comment, Fox rose out his seat and was about to start swinging when someone from the bar came running over to restrain him.
The guy who got in the middle was a former military medic and rancher from rural Texas named TJ Lackey. He was wearing cowboy boots and one of those classic Western button-down shirts. Lackey and Fox had briefly met earlier in the night because they'd seen each other's tattoos and realized they were from the same artist at a parlor in San Antonio. When Lackey saw the scene go down, he ran into the middle to stop what surely would have been a blood bath.
"I told the other guy, 'Kyle is going to kill you, so watch out,'" says Lackey, who speaks with a classic Texas drawl.
Once everyone's pulse had dropped, Lackey and Fox kept talking. They realized that in addition to the same tattoo style, they also had similar tastes in motorcycles. "It was pretty funny how much we had in common," Fox says. "At one point we also realized that we had the same birthday." Being in Texas, it took a couple months before skiing popped into their conversation. But they soon realized that, come winter, skiing was all consuming for both of them.
The idea to start a ski company came during a trip to Ski Apache in Southern New Mexico in 2012. Both have seasonal jobs—Lacky runs a feed center for cattle and two ranches and Fox has a landscaping business—and have a lot of free time in the winter. But living in Texas, they typically only make it up to the mountains several weeks a year. Unless they were to start a ski company, giving them reason to be in the mountains full time during the winter.
“TJ and I have never been scared to try new things,” Fox says. “We’ve always had the attitude that if anyone else can do it we can do it too.”
Later that winter at Wolf Creek in Southern Colorado, Lackey looked down at his skis and saw that they were made in China. That sealed the deal. “I was like ‘I paid 800 dollars for skis made in China?’ Right there I told myself we are going to do this in the United States and we are going doing it better,” Lackey says.
Neither Fox nor Lackey knew a thing about building skis, but they both had experience starting and running businesses, so they dived in. Lackey filled a notebook with possible names for the company until he and Fox landed on Batalla (pronounced “Bataya”), which means battle in Spanish. It had Texas flare and represented their determination to make the company work.
To get a sense for what people were building and what skiers liked, Lackey methodically tracked down, cataloged, and averaged the dimensions of every ski he could find from the past 10 years. He also started searching for American manufacturers. He came across Wagner Custom Skis, Never Summer, and eventually landed on Epic Planks. He contacted their engineer, ran some initial numbers by him, and made the decision to build a small run of skis in the company’s factory in Michigan.
With help from Epic Planks, Fox and Lackey also started talking to pros and building a team of riders that could help them design and promote the skis. The guys at Epic Planks knew that John Spriggs—the well-known dreadlocked big mountain skier—was looking for a team, so Fox and Lackey brought him on board and had him design his own pro model. They also brought on Mike Cappola, Mike Urich, and Jordan Clarke and word started spreading that a small, new company was looking for skiers. The team rapidly grew to 15 members who were spread across three continents.
"For me, Batalla is great because they bring a fresh perspective to the industry," Spriggs says. "They're small and new but that's a good thing because they're not stuck in their ways. They're still open-minded about trying new things. That and they're just a couple of hard working guys who love to ski."
To fund the fledging company, Fox and Lackey used their own savings. Lackey’s mom also came on as backer, as did a local doctor they knew in Texas. As small business owners, they knew the danger of going into debt and wanted to make sure they had enough money up front.
For their first run this past winter, Fox and Lackey rolled out four different models: the Spriggs pro model ($750), a park ski ($550), a powder ski ($750) and an all-mountain ski ($650). Each one came in two sizes and overall the skis have been getting positive reviews. I tested the all-mountain model at this year's POWDER Week in Jackson Hole and was surprised at how well it performed for being a first run. I wasn't ready to invest in a pair just yet, but could tell the company was onto something.
Part of the reason they've come out the gate strong is because Fox and Lackey went all in on the construction right from the start. All the skis were built with poplar cores, maple stringers, and features like extra-thick bases.
Like most new ski companies, however, Batalla has run into its fair share of problems. The skis didn't start rolling out until January of 2014, and they've only received 40 pairs of skis to date, even though the original order was for 130. There were enough pairs for teams riders and some demos, but not many skis made it to customers.
"There were definitely some bumps but that's fine," Fox says.
To try and streamline the process for next season, Fox and Lackey say they're going to build their own factory where Lackey lives in Center Point, Texas and will be producing their 2014/15 lines of skis with the same engineer who helped them at Epic Planks. The Batalla factory will certainly be the only ski factory in Kerrville, and maybe all of Texas.
Fox and Lackey say they realize that skis made in Texas are sort of like salsa made in New York, but they don't care. Just because the skis are made in an odd place doesn't mean it will affect the build quality or the passion they've put into the company.
"We're proud that the company is from Texas," Fox says. "From the beginning Batalla might have seemed like an idea what would have never worked, but it has."
Find Batalla Skis online at BatallaSkis.com.