Ed’s note: Poaching his way across the nation, Powder Intern Max Santeusanio recently stumbled his way into the Moment Skis factory in Sparks, Nevada, where he proceeded to conduct a four-way interview with Moment’s owners/operators: Casey Hakansson, Luke Jacobsen and Ben Eide-Hughes. And poach a couple of decent photographs, too…
By Max (The Poacher) Santeusanio
POWDER.COM: What do you guys do and why do you do it?
CASEY HAKANSSON: We make skis because we love the sport and we love making something that drives the sport we care about.
LUKE JACOBSEN: Casey's past profession and what I went to school for was all just about making things. To make something you’re super interested in, and that you care about as a sport, especially when we run the manufacturing facility and we make things that are really rewarding.
How did Moment come about?
Casey: In 2004, and it came about when I had the opportunity to build a pair of skis. [After] the first pair, friends and family wanted pairs also, so it eventually grew from a hobby into a business.
How do your backgrounds factor into running a ski company?
Casey: My background was masonry construction, so that helped just because I was already building things. It being my passion also was a huge help.
Luke: I went to school for mechanical engineering and learned a lot about different materials and composites. When I got into making skis with Casey, there was a lot of trial and error, a lot of testing; definitely the engineering helped give me the math concept of what to look for in material builds. Then I've always kind of been a computer nerd, so understanding marketing, branding, and websites helped the company grow that way.
Moment Worker: Can I use the CNC right now? [Sidenote: CNC = A control system in which numerical values corresponding to desired tool or control positions are generated by a computer. Also known as computational numerical control; soft-wired numerical control; stored-program numerical control.]
BEN EIDE-HUGHES: I came into Moment when basically I didn't have a lot of capital, needed to just work for free for a while to survive. I had background in a factory situation, I'd been a general manager of a cabinet factory, so I had a lot of knowledge of how to build and organize projects. So now I'm the production manager and run the construction of the skis and day-to-day operations.
So how did you all meet and come together to form this company?
Casey: Ben's been my friend through high school, so we've always known each other. He was off living in a different city through the first part of Moment. Luke and I met through the Internet looking for an internship, and then after Luke came in, Ben came in three years later to help with the growth of the company.
Has there a big learning curve associated with the growth of Moment?
Casey: Yes, big time.
And what did that involve?
Casey: Material research and problems associated with bigger production. One thing that we did, that was kind of luck, was grow to slowly. So when there was a big problem it wasn't thousands of units [of skis]. It was a small batch, but big enough that it presented itself.
Luke: Well, I think we grew pretty fast, we doubled in a year, that's a pretty good margin. We weren't starting with thousands and thousands of units, you know, we were starting with 50 and then to 100, and then doubled and doubled and doubled. Casey had an awesome background in running a construction management project, so that's what helped the workflow in the manufacturing stages early on. Organizing is huge just to run a business, we still learn so much everyday, everyone has to be on the same page. I mean, we did a lot of funny things in the past. In terms of how we thought a business was supposed to run, and how we thought, ‘Oh yeah, we'll just ship one day a week from Casey's house across town.’ That's not how a business runs. You get an order; boom you have to ship it. You learn a lot about a business every single day, the day you think you've learned everything is the day you will fail.
Casey: We constantly strive to improve the products, so the learning curve is still going because we've got the quality of the ski where we want it but even with that we try to improve it every year, when we bring in new machines. We have knowledge of what we want to do, it just comes down to having the money to invest in new machines, and implementing that into the process of constructing the skis. We don't stop, we just keep striving to make it better and better.
So you guys throw most of the money back into the company to make it better and improve?
Luke: All of it.
Luke: Throw it in the garage. [Laughter.]
It's a sweet garage though
All: Yeah. [Laughter]
Can you describe when and how you got your big break?
Casey: Every year we've been doubling, every year we get more and more awareness of our brand. One big standout was the Olympics, everyone watches the Olympics, so getting a bronze was a huge step.
Luke: Our first year at SIA, we went down there not even to sell product to retailers, we were just like, ‘Hey, we're a ski company, we're serious about this.’ Backcountry.com approached us and ordered a ton of units. Then we got a Freeskier cover, with Josh Bibby on it, and that was huge. Josh Bibby rides for us, and it’s really cool to collaborate with awesome skiers who share the same outlook.
Ben: It’s been pretty natural over the years. I'd say because we came in at a time when skis needed to change, got lucky with when we started with the need for skiers to have fatter powder skis and rocker technology. Everything we've put in has naturally helped us grow with demand.
Luke: Timing was key for sure. We couldn't just come into the market right now. I don't know if skiing would be the same without all the little guys that started like us. I'm not saying we're the ones that revolutionized the sport, but us and a bunch of other little guys are at each other's throats to keep on saying, ‘What are going to do next? How are we going to make this better?’ It’s just kind of how the industry works.
What do you think separates Moment from the rest of the independent ski company pack?
Luke: U.S. Manufacturing. Running our own factory, we can come up with a design right now in this conversation, and we could have the finished ski to you in two days. A lot of ski manufacturers are not made in the United States, and even if they are they're often made by a snowboard company. So they don't control their production.
Casey: The passion we all have for the sport, that's how it all started. The people who are designing the skis all ski and enjoy the sport.
Ben: As owner-operators this is our passion, it’s our life, this is how we survive.
Luke: A side note to that, a lot of the time when we go out and make a ski it’s not like, ‘Oh, lets make a ski that's gonna sell like crazy, we’re gonna make a great margin on this.’ We usually make skis because it's a crazy idea, like our Comi. We make a ski because we’re skiers and we think a ski is really fun, not because we’re going to sell a ton of them.
So square tips, please explain that one...
Casey: The first ski I made had a round tip, I used base materials for the top sheet, so it was a pure black ski. When I was out on the hill with them, I was pretty excited about them, everyone thought I just painted my K2s black. So the next pair I made I knew I needed to make them different. I thought of the square tip as a joke, but then no one would stop talking about them on the hill. It was the conversation in every lift line. So from there we just stuck with it.
Ben: I'd say we get this question in almost every interview we do now, because it is something to talk about. People question, ‘Why do you do it? Is there some technology to it?’ But really it just creates that buzz. In any movie or photo you see, you know right away that it’s Moment.
Luke: Doesn't make the ski better, doesn't make it worse.
Could you walk us through from the beginning where you first got the idea to make your own skis.
Casey: In 2004 we started making the first ski, it took a whole summer to design it, and learn how to do the CAD associated with the CNC, how to mill the profile of the core, build the templates to create the shape. So in the beginning of 2004-2005 season, was the first time I was able to ski it, and that season everyone wanted to borrow the ski to see how it rode. The next year friends and family that wanted a pair spawned me to make about 30 pairs. This was still all on the side, while keeping another full-time job. The year after that Luke came along, Moment at the time did not have any sort of marketing like social media or website. Luke came along and created and pushed that side of things. That year we made over 100 pairs. Half of the shop was still at my personal residence and the other half was behind a newspaper factory. It was very unorganized as far as flow of production. It was still a hobby for both of us at this point. Ben came in the following year, when we were looking for money, creating real business plans, and trying to get Moment to the next level. Since then we have doubled every year since then. And here we are today.
A lot of people like your artwork. How do you go about choosing it?
Luke: We get a lot of submissions, but it's hard to find a lot of guys and girls that their styles all mesh together. Right now we have about eight different people were working with and it’s all about always staying up on the blogs. I am into that kind of stuff, so I will look for artwork I like and reach out to those people and say, ‘Hey, you wanna try making a ski graphic?’ Most of them are really pumped on the concept and the fact that they can work with a small company on such a unique canvas. So we work with a lot of cool different people.
So can I make my own pair of skis?
Casey: For the right price!
How did Moment get involved in making skis for the U.S. mogul team?
Casey: Our good friend Shelly Robertson was the one who inspired us to start doing it. She didn't like the skis she was on, so she inquired if we could make a mogul ski that could work for her. That was our introduction to the ski team. Shelly skied on Moments for a couple of years, and then slowly they pulled us into the team. So we became an official sponsor of the U.S. Ski Team.
Print media? Or online media?
Luke: We're a small manufacturer, and we sell directly from our website. So if a reader of Powder Magazine sees our ad, that's really cool, but they still have to remember to go to momentskis.com. Whereas, if it's a banner ad online, they click on it, links to our website, and they can instantly buy something right there. So the online media aspect is definitely huge from a sales standpoint. But there still is something really cool about picking up a nice high-gloss catalog, and being able to hold it and look at a picture and a really good story. So there are benefits of both.
Best part about working for Moment?
Casey: Long hours?
Luke: No money?
Ben: Friends. It’s fun working with our friends.
Casey: We don't mind working long hours
Ben: It’s great to have time off, but when you have a project going where you have to come in on weekends or stay all night to get the stuff done. It's OK, because we know we’re growing, and it’s really exiting to see that happen.
Casey: Watching it grow is the biggest reward.
If you could go back in time and give advice to your 18-year-old self, what would it be?
Luke: You have to put in hard work and you have to in anything you do in life. It really is like the classical saying, it’s about the journey, not the destination. And you need to realize that you’re not just gonna be a superstar right away and you probably wont be in life. But it's the journey that makes everything worth it, and the hard work in whatever you wanna do, will pay off. Kind of cliché, but completely true.
Ben: You have this delusion while you're in school … that you're going to get out of school and all of a sudden have some million-dollar idea or just fall into a great job. But you really have to put in that work, and that's where the reward comes from I think, accomplishing what we've set out to do here with this company. Every year we grow, and every year maybe our bank accounts aren't any bigger, yet, we are smiling everyday because we know people are loving what we’re doing. We get emails, we get calls, we get called out at the hill. You go up on the mountain, and somebody's wearing a pair of your skis, and you're on the lift with them, your go, ‘Hey I work at Moment.’ People will tell you how much they love what you’re doing and that's where the reward is.
Anything else you guys would like to add?
Ben: Our outerwear has really started to come together. Last year we launched it and that's our new direction along with the skis.
Luke: Next year we have a 20K 3-layer program, an insulated 10K program, and a spring 5K program. Moment is a ski company, we manufacture skis, but we're also here to make as many products that we feel need improvement or a little bit of a different flare in the industry. It's a lifestyle brand, it’s not just a niche ski company.