Ron Gerdes was driving from Cincinnati to Minnesota’s Mt. Lutsen when he got the idea to create skis specifically designed for the Midwest—swooshing downhill in the bitter territory north of Duluth, on the hard backcountry snow in Michigan, or the manmade powder at Indiana’s Perfect North Slopes. He and his business partner, Mark Branham, incorporated Mortal Ski Company in 2015 and now build those skis here.
Gerdes, an emergency room nurse, has skied for 22 years, worked at Perfect North, and been a sales representative for a snow sports company. But manufacturing a product was new territory. The men commissioned a custom builder in California for their prototype, then, Gerdes says, “We went to the University of Google to learn how to make skis.” They financed their start-up with personal money, an $8,000 grant, workspace from the First Batch incubator, and pre-sales to friends and folks in the industry. Currently they’re turning out about 60 custom pairs a year, “and every one has been closely scrutinized, documented, and tracked,” Gerdes says. He uses local vendors for components such as the laminated wood core, which is milled nearby in Over-the-Rhine, and students at Northern Kentucky University weigh in on branding.
Marketing, which has been largely word-of-mouth, will be important as Mortal Ski expands into snowboard production this year. The goal is to eventually fill 300 snowboard/ski orders annually without sacrificing quality. Not a huge number, but a significant one considering that most people assume the number of skis manufactured in Cincinnati is zero.