Posted: December 19, 2013
Colorado cool stuff: Holiday gift guideBy Eric Peterson
1 FLYLOW GEAR
Dan Abrams and Greg Steen started Flylow Gear in 2010 with a focus on outerwear made from Polartec fabrics along with leather gloves. New for 2013-14 are premium goatskin gloves as well as the new Lab Coat and Compound Pant made of NeoShell, Polartec’s next-generation fabric.
“We’re really the only American company using it now,” Abrams says. “It’s twice as breathable as any other fabric.”
Abrams and Steen moved to the Lake Tahoe area of northern California in 2012 but kept the company in Denver, where four employees tend to marketing, distribution and put the finishing touches on the leather gloves by triple-baking them in “ovens on their last legs that we buy on Craigslist,” Abrams says.
Made by Flylow Gear
There is a dealer locator on the website.
Outerwear: $250 to $350 retail; Gloves: $30 to $75.
2 AKINZ BEANIES
In 2005 Suzanne Akin launched Akinz as a side project in Houston. She moved to Colorado in 2007, worked in real estate, the ski industry and graphic design before going full-time with her hat and clothing company in 2010.
“It started as T-shirts,” Akin says. “Now it’s all about the beanies. All of them are handmade and we plan on keeping it that way.”
The company’s “two and a half” employees now have a 1970s hand-operated knitting machine that speeds the process up considerably. Akinz opened a store in Old Town Fort Collins in 2012, but she says the turning point was her decision to go full-time three years ago.
“Since then it’s been insane,” she says, touting years with 500 percent growth.
Made by Akinz
Also available at the Akinz shop at 15 Old Town Square, #132 in Fort Collins.
Beanies: $24 to $34 retail; T-shirts: $24; Hoodies: $42 to $46.
3 LIBERTY SKIS VARIANT113 CAIC LIMITED
Founded in 2008, Liberty Skis feature bamboo cores and have enjoyed plenty of critical and commercial acclaim since their debut. Sales have grown by about 20 percent a year, says Tom Winter, VP of marketing.
“People have started to embrace fatter skis and technology like rocker.” The 2013-14 Liberty catalog includes the limited-edition Variant113 CAIC Limited, a limited edition of 100 pairs to benefit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “Like any agency relying on federal funding, they’ve seen plenty of budget cuts,” says Winter.
Made by Liberty Skis
There is a dealer locator on the website.
4 WESTON SNOWBOARDS
Barry Clark spends time in Denver and Minturn and saw the “devastation” wrought by pine beetles on the drive between the two locales as well as “a parade of logging trucks” rolling through Minturn. To do his part, he launched Weston Snowboards in fall 2012.
He uses beetlekill in the boards’ cores as well as poplar and timber from statewide aspen blowdowns. “It’s surprisingly strong and responsive,” says Clark, describing the combination of woods as “an incredibly lively and light core.”
Top sellers include the flagship Beetlekill and a splitboard. For 2013-14, the limited edition Friends of the CAIC model is new, with Weston (like Liberty) donating a portion of sales to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Made by Weston Snowboards
Available at the Weston store at 106 Main St. in Minturn.
$499 to $599 retail.
5 FIRST DEGREE STORMTROOPER SKI BOOTS
Ben Anderson, founder of Denver-based Icelantic Skis, received permission to resurrect a 1980s-era boot design from Switzerland-based Raichle. “Modernized” and made in Italy, the First Degree Stormtroopers are hitting the market for this ski season after a soft launch in 2012.
“It’s one of the original Raichle molds,” says Anderson, noting that using an existing mold made the boots economically feasible. “It’s a three-piece shell with a full walk mode and five different lean options.” Best of all is the “sock-like fit,” he adds. “The foam compresses and rebounds correctly back to the original shape.”
Made by First Degree Boots
$599 to $699 retail.
6 PHUNKSHUN WEAR FACEMASKS
For extra money, Jacob Levy stitched facemasks as a ski instructor in New Zealand in 2010. Fellow instructor Lanny Goldwasser convinced him to go pro, and Phunkshun was born a year later. Goldwasser says Phunkshun’s technology sets its facemasks apart, touting a two-layer mask that moves water out but keeps heat in.
“You’re basically creating a little micro-climate in your mask,” he explains. Goldwasser has since bought Levy’s shares of the seven-employee company, and Jason Badgley came on as Phunkshun’s CEO in 2012 to push it into the promotional market.
“Private label has become the bread and butter of the company,” Badgley says. “Companies are moving away from throwaway promotional products.”
Made by Phunkshun
About $20 to $30 retail.
7 FREERIDE SYSTEMS / FULSUS USA OUTERWEAR
Michael Collins began making winter outerwear in Colorado with Freeride in 2010. Not only is Freeride a rarity in the state, it’s a rarity in the U.S. “Everything is sewn in Colorado,” says Collins. “There’s not too many people doing this here, or anyplace in the country.”
He recently launched a sister brand in Fulsus USA for the corporate market, selling jackets to the ABC news team for inclement reporting assignments as well as private-label outerwear for Weston Snowboards and other Colorado manufacturers.
New for 2013: the Antero II, a breathable, three-ply Freeride jacket with an integrated collar and hood. “It’s on par with the top brands in the industry,” says Collins.
Also in the works: Freeride kicked off a Kickstarter campaign in November to raise capital for a breathable, waterproof fabric lamination plant, the first of its kind in Colorado, and the U.S. The facility would allow the company to produce the only 100 percent American-made waterproof technical jacket of its kind.
Made by Freeride Systems
About $200 to $300 retail for Freeride jackets; under $200 for Fulsus USA.
Julie Adams left corporate law in early 2011. “I was sick of my little boy being the last kid picked up every day,” she says of the move. Soon thereafter, she launched Pakems, inspired by uncomfortable ski boots on a trip to Italy.
“I said, ‘I wish I had some packable boots,’” Adams recalls. So she set out to create exactly that in Pakems: packable, water-resistant, durable footwear meant to replace one’s ski boots during lunch, aprés-ski or the walk to the car. Manufactured in China, the product debuted this season after two years of R&D. Adams says Pakems have found fans in backpackers, hikers and commuters, as well as skiers, and kid-sized boots are next on the agenda. Best of all, adds Adams, “My goal of not picking up my son last from school every day has been reached.”
Made by Pakems
Also available in Colorado at Christy Sports and Neptune Mountaineering.
$60 to $70 retail.
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com