You’re running a successful super-niche business within an
already tiny industry — what’s your value proposition to your
customers that is creating success?
I saw the level of service that we were getting as athletes compared to
what was available to most cross-country skiers, and I knew that if we
could offer that kind of service, we would be successful. A motto grew
out of that idea and it has sort of stuck with us — “World Cup service
for everyone.” It’s been a lot of fun because our customers are having
a blast, we’re having fun, and success follows.
What motivates you to face a wall of skis in need of tuning,
day in and day out?
We ask ourselves that a lot. There are some days when you just have
to sit down and grit your teeth. But other days, doing physical work is
a welcome respite from sitting in front of accounting software, drooling.
It’s work, and sometimes it can get tedious, but when you’re working on
incredible machines that constantly amaze you with the quality of work
they can do, and you’re making people happy, it’s worthwhile.
How much time do you spend on every pair of skis that comes
through your shop?
One of the more frustrating things about this business is that the actual ski work is a small portion of the job; administration, billing and
processing skis almost takes more time than working on them. The
actual work time varies a lot with what we’re doing, but an average
stone grind requires 20 to 30 minutes of hand work on each pair, plus
the time spent fiddling around getting the right cut on the stone, etc. So
probably 35 to 45 minutes per pair. We can wax nordic skis pretty fast
— if you don’t count the time that it takes to cool them down, maybe
five minutes per pair.
How are you and your staff staying current?
We get into the field and do race service. Last year we had three people
at the Olympics working for the U.S. Ski Team, and we do service at a
lot of events in the U.S., ranging from NCAAs, national championships
and super-tours to local high school races. We have great relationships with elite athletes and high-level coaches where we help them by
giving them our knowledge and service, and we get feedback on our
ski selections, stone grinds and waxes. We spend a lot of time testing waxes and stone grinds on the snow, and we try to race ourselves
— even though we are painfully out of shape.
What do you think is the most exciting trend or technology in
The new wax formulations of the past few years are just ridiculously
good. In one sense, I think it is great, because you can pretty much put
something on your skis on any given day and it will make you giggle,
it’s so fast. On the other hand, it makes ski service more important relative to fitness and technique, which I’m not convinced is 100 percent
If you could share anything about being a ski tuner, what
would it be?
Don’t be intimidated by ski service. We do work in a very technical
realm, but it is easy to figure out if you have a good understanding of
the fundamentals, which are actually not that complicated. Don’t listen
to anyone who says that you have to do it exactly some specific way
— they are teaching you the wrong thing. Figure out the basics of what
you need to accomplish in each area of waxing, and then learn the
techniques to make it work for you.
The Podium Productions team at Sugar Bowl includes Willi Wiltz, who
has been the service technician for Daron Rahlves, Bode Miller, Tommy Moe and Shaun Palmer, among others. Also part of Podium is Ben
Cranson, who began waxing his nordic skis in his Massachusetts basement as a child with his dad, kept growing as a repair tech and moved
to Tahoe more than 10 years ago.
What aspect of your background do you feel has given you
the ability to create success as a small business?
Wiltz: I have over 30 years in the winter sports business, and still have
a big heart and passion for our profession to succeed, whether it’s winning the Hahnenkamm or making a small adjustment to Mrs. Smith’s
skis so that she can have a tremendous day at the Bowl.