Last January, Worth Skis co-founder Dalton Harben woke in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke. His Cambridge, Vermont, home was on fire. By sunrise, the entire two-story house was destroyed. Included in the debris the following morning were the remains of Worth's fleet of demo skis. With their arsenal of skis reduced to ashes, Worth not only missed sales, but was also down an estimated $8,000, a significant blow to an indie ski company that was just then gaining traction.
"We lost it all," says Harben. "It definitely put a damper on our season, unfortunately we had to cancel our demo circuit for the remainder of the year to regroup."
Harben and his co-owners could have deemed Worth Skis finished. As a micro-company without a retail store, Worth historically gained most of its customer base via demo days at East Coast resorts. Without a demo fleet, the guys would have to start nearly from scratch to hoist their company back to its feet.
Four years prior, the founders of Worth Skis became a living testament that the discussion forums of Teton Gravity Research's website is home to more than playful banter. Sitting at his computer in 2010, Vermont native Jason Douquette-Hoffman landed on the "East Coast Roll Call" page and struck a conversation with a fellow skier. On the other end sat Harben, who was recovering from a severe fall at Ammonoosuc Ravine and had some extra downtime to become an active member of the TGR forums.
Once Harben and Duquette-Hoffman cyber-met, they bonded over their mutual passion for the East Coast. In a natural progression, gear became the topic of discussion and the two agreed that it was difficult to find a ski specifically tailored to the Green Mountain State. Since snow conditions could go from powder to ice in a day, the pair dreamed of planks that maneuvered the glades with precision, yet trucked through crust with ease. The idea to build a line of skis cemented shortly thereafter, when Harben and Duquette-Hoffman were skiing Vermont's Middlebury College Snow Bowl with another frequent user of TGR's forums, Adrian Kostrubiak.
"Skiing in the East Coast you have more variable conditions and tighter terrain, not wide open trails like the West," says Harben. "We wanted to make skis with more shaped designs, more tail taper, something that will help you finish a tight turn but will stay afloat in crud."
The trio launched Worth Skis in 2011. They kept their day jobs as University of Vermont faculty members and web developers, and funded the project independently. As their job titles prove, the guys didn't have much of a background in ski design at the time. Yet through a series of trial runs, and well-received critiques from friends and locals, the team landed on a line of ski designs with the "right coaster" seal of approval.
Contracting Nevada-based Praxis Skis to construct the what they designed, Worth created four different models. They are far from the first company to claim a ski that charges through anything, however, the guys succeeded in inventing a unique design. Ditching the flexible powder ski mindset, Worth incorporates a perimeter of Ash behind the sidewalls to reinforce their Ash and Aspen based cores. While this stiffens the ski and increases stability through bulletproof conditions, Worth also includes a significant taper in their shape, making on-point turns in forested glades manageable.
"Most companies are integrating more and more rocker into their skis," says Duquette-Hoffman. "We're using a combination of early rise in the tip and tail with more aggressive tapering of the sidecut to achieve the planing effect we want in snow."
Featured in the stock is their most popular ski, The Humpback, inspired by Vermont's classic mountain and built to carry its skier through East Coast conditions in and outside of the ropes. For those that like a little more meat on their ski, Worth also designed the MegaGeorge. At 195cm, these cannons are built to charge some of the Green and White Mountains' bigger lines, yet hold their own in low-angle woods.
Roughly 100 skis were sold in their debut 2011 season. The owners of Worth don't see their product necessarily taking off like Pit Viper Sunglasses, but they hope to give skiers an alternative choice to what's already out there.
In the aftermath of the fire, the guys are bringing Worth Skis back for the 2014-15 season with more skis in their stock, including a line sourced from Vermont wood. With that revival, they plan to move production to the East as well.
"We do this because we love the sport and love connecting with like minded skiers," says Duquette-Hoffman. "We're going to move forward and we're excited about what's next."