Small Batch Subtleties: Indie taste test at Snowmass yields microbrew mavens

Comments by Donny O'Neill/

It takes a certain kind of person to enjoy a microbrew. Somebody who appreciates the tastes and textures of a small batch as they swish it around. Some are OK, some are no good, but then you find a few that are the best you’ve ever had. Much like a brewer, when a ski company starts out, skis might be slightly different from batch to batch. But once they get a system down, consistency grows, and you know what to expect. Some of the branding and colors are a little funky, which is nice for those who want to express their individuality, to differentiate themselves from the masses. We certainly enjoy a good microbrew ourselves and that’s why we dig deep into them every season. This year we headed out to Snowmass for a week and invited all the small-batch brands to give us a taste of the skis they had brewin’.

The night before the test started, the drive to Aspen took a little longer than usual thanks to excessive snowfall. Once again our weather foresight (luck) had been on point, and we would be starting out the week with optimal conditions.

The testers rolled in and headed for the new Wildwood Hotel in Snowmass. Situated just a stone’s throw from the Village Express lift, with funky décor and delicious pizzas, it made a perfect place to call home for the week. As we took over the hotel, we saw to it that the kind folk behind the New Belgium bar never got bored.

Highlights from the 2013 Microbrew test at Snowmass Mountain

From downtown Aspen, Snowmass mountain is a 20-minute drive. A quick trip, but one that’s just far enough that many of the residents opt to ski Ajax or Highlands, leaving us with plenty of breathing room to hammer on the new boards. And that’s what we did.

Setting up shop at midmountain, we laid out hundreds of skis and spun as many laps as we could throughout the week in a carefully orchestrated, categorical dance that may have looked like a free-for-all to passers-by. “Oh, are you guys having a demo day?” Something like that. However it’s impossible to concisely explain #FreeskierFest and its perfect blend of chaos and control in less than a thousand words, let alone a shouted response as you push off on your 33rd pair of skis.

While we love Ajax and Highlands as much as the next guy or girl, Snowmass has so much to offer. First of all, it’s massive, with nearly three and a half thousand acres, and it has something for everybody or enough to hold the interest of somebody who is easily bored. The terrain park, complete with a pristine superpipe, offers multiple lines and hits for every ability level. Wide-open groomers let you carve up a storm before dipping into the perfectly spaced trees to test out your agility. When you’re looking for something a little more challenging, simply head up to the top of the Big Burn lift and take a trip out to the headwall.

As we had been blessed by almost a foot of snow upon our arrival, it was an easy choice to start out the week testing the fat boards. Our crew of skiers tore up the mountain the first couple days—heading straight for the headwall despite whiteout conditions at times. As the powder got chopped up and smashed down, we moved on to big-mountain skis, which we tested on the same grounds, under more variable and high-speed conditions. Later in the week, as temps warmed slightly, the snow was prime to put all-mountain and park skis to the test. We carved up the groomers, ripped through the trees and wreaked havoc on the superpipe. No flake on Snowmass was left unturned.

The consensus when the week was done? These small-batch companies know what they’re doing. Recipes have been tweaked, and among the 2014 offerings we found a pleasing mix of strength and finesse, consistency and uniqueness. What once was just a tiny sliver of our industry has grown immensely, and the small guys are now producing high-quality products that are certainly on the radar of the general ski population and larger ski companies alike.

Take a look through our Online Buyer’s Guide to see what we deemed our favorites of the bunch. You’re sure to find something that tickles your taste buds.

Related: How we use technology to simplify ski testing

Freeskier would like to thank Aspen/Snowmass, Snocru and the Wildwood Hotel.