Inside the Design-Led World of DPS Skis
How an American ski maker is changing an old school industry with new school design
The cold peas defrost, condensing into the thin rag separating my bony, swollen knee from the thawing legumes. Ice-Compress-Elevate, seems like this is all I ever do after a long day on hill anymore. My wife looks at me and rolls her eyes, silently posing the question she loves to ask, why? Why push it so hard, so often? It’s like a switch gets flipped. At one point are four turns down an open powder field NOT worth it? Naturally, I have canned answers for such questions, designed to soothe her worries, and help us, as a couple, cope with my habit and obscure the suspicious feeling that I may be a man possessed.
Luckily, I’m not alone. At least that was the bet professional skier/designer, Stephan Drake, and leading ski engineer, Peter Turner, hedged when they founded DPS Skis back in 2005. And as its turned out, we were right.
Rising in notoriety as fast as the Wasatch mountains from Salt Lake City’s photochemical smog, DPS was founded with a vision to make perfect skis worthy of those who live and breathe the sport. In this pursuit, DPS has attracted a tight-knit, yet growing, community of designers, photographers, filmers, Koalas (the cleverly cute name given to DPS team members) and ambassadors spread around the globe.
The company’s rapid ascent to the top of the performance ski market can be attributed to a series of technological breakthroughs, including but not limited to: the development of the world’s first and only pure prepreg carbon fiber sandwich ski, the first 120mm powder pintail, the adoption and application of the surfboard term “rocker,” the development of the industry’s first rockered ski with sidecut, and their patented Spoon Technology.
"We tend to zig when other people zag.”
That’s quite a list for a USA-made ski brand playing against competitors with at least 50 years’ experience under their belts. Not to mention operating, engineering and production budget that are likely millions of dollars more than that of the humble SLC-based brand. DPS’s Director of Marketing and Cinematic Dan Benshoff chocks the success up to an underlying differentiation that’s been driving the brand since its inception: “Simply put, we tend to zig when other people zag.”
The most obvious example of this divergence from the norm is DPS’s minimalist, monochromatic primary and secondary color topsheets. Clean, strikingly simple, and capable of weathering skiing’s color-of-the-month fashion mentality, the timeless look turns the industry’s push for seasonal obsolescence upside-down, then gives it a swirly. It says, yeah, these skis are five years old, but they’ll look better and probably even ski better than your 2017-18 models in two years time.
Thankfully, the obsession over detail doesn’t stop at the topsheet. From construction to flex pattern and shape, the skis are constantly prototyped, tested, and tweaked. While a lot of ski manufacturers will recycle skis for multiple seasons, DPS is changing each model from year to year in order to ensure the skis are skiing the way they want them to ski.
And it’s working. “Market share comes from building great skis that people want to look at and use,” says Benshoff. DPS is delivering on this, and their name is getting out there. From Engelberg to Portillo, and Alta to Revelstoke, skiers around the globe tune in for the DPS Cinematic’s festival-worthy short films, which drop intermittently throughout the winter. Falling in line with the trend, we’ve seen an up-tick in the brand’s presence in lift lines, trains, Thule rocket boxes, garages, and the minds of the snow-obsessed.
To confirm everything above and commit my knee to another night of frozen pea therapy, I recently hopped on a pair of the 2016-17 Wailer F 106s. Falling right between the DPS Wailer 99 and the Wailer 112RP, the Wailer 106 is available in two construction options—DPS’s Pure3, and the new Foundation, hence the letter preceding the length designation. The F 106s I found myself atop were developed based on the Foundation (F) Chassis Design ideology, which centers around the concept that ski design should start directly under the boot and move outward to the tip and tail. Through the blend of bi-phase bamboo and poplar with unidirectional carbon, the Foundation construction is, according to DPS Founder Stephan Drake, designed to “create a distinct DPS feel that can be sensed in every ski.”
After my first few turns on the F 106s, I immediately understood just what Drake was talking about. Presented as DPS’s more traditional and financially approachable line, The Foundation construction provides a unique combination of dampness and power. During the test, whether I was mashing through chop, slicing windbuff, hammering moguls or ripping groomers the ski seemed predictable and strong when and where I needed it.
We started the ski test on the open face of James Peak at Powder Mountain, where the skis’ soft shovels and shorter turning radius allowed them to ski tight and powerful turns through the windbuff powder. The springy snow and stiffer tails propelled the skis from edge to edge, popping me out of each turn with ease and confidently initiating successive turns through the soft shovel and forward edge.
"We’re not going to follow industry trends. This is who we are."
Day two on the F 106s started off the top of the tram at Snowbird. Looking south into Mineral Basin, we skirted the precipice edge westward along the ridge to the top of Junior’s Powder Paradise. While not a technical run, Junior’s Powder Paradise is wide open with roll-overs and short steep pitches—perfect for testing the F 106 at speed. As I dropped in, the chassis design placed me in the center of my ski. With no hesitation, I plowed my shins into the front of my boots, springing out of each turn with the reaction of a slalom ski. The 18 meter turning radius pushed me into turn after turn, while the stiff, dependable tail, damp feel and fresh tune kept the ski on edge and accelerating throughout the run.
After lunch atop Hidden Peak in Snowbird’s new (and beautifully designed) Summit Lodge, we were back at it, stacking 1,900-foot vertical tram laps all afternoon. Whether I kept my turns tight or opened them up, the F 106 felt balanced, damp and powerful, leaving me encouraged by the results of the Foundation Chassis Design ideology. When compared to the twitchy feel of other carbon skis I’ve been on, the DPS F 106 felt smooth, responsive and commanding in all snow types.
This speaks to the brand’s overall approach through and through. DPS isn’t a brand you’ll find under the feet of every Joe Shmoe, but when you do meet someone else on hill rocking a pair, a sly head nod is surely in order.
As Benshoff explains it, “we’re going to do things our way and we’re not going to follow industry trends. This is who we are, this is what we do and this is how we do it. If we make great skis that people love to look at and ride and feel happy about, they are going to come back to us over and over again” Dan told me.
And at the end of the day it all comes down to what drives the company—an enduring and attractive minimalist design made even better by an R&D team of athletes, designers and ambassadors obsessed over making the best skis. “You know, we don’t want to be the biggest ski manufacturer in the world,” continues Benshoff. “We just want to be the best.”