Many good ideas were born in garages with a bit of liquid courage and a group of friends: Apple, Nirvana, and Disney, to name a few. In 2008 in Frisco, Colorado — an unassuming mountain community nestled in the hustle and bustle of Summit County — a couple of friends built a ski press and started making custom planks for the price of materials and a thirty rack of beer. Fittingly, they named their nascent brand Rocky Mountain Underground, or RMU, as they are often referred to.
In product manager and co-founder Luke Allen’s words, the first skis were “really crappy.” So Allen, Mike Waesche (CEO and co-founder), and their partners — not content with what they’d built or saw in the ski market — continued to innovate. Quality rapidly improved. Production started slowly, but demand grew exponentially. Six years later, they moved shop to Breckenridge. Today, RMU’s unique designs push the cutting edge of ski technology, shaping the industry’s future and, as they’ve done since the beginning, the local community.
RMU has always been bold in pushing the envelope. In the early years, they built a 120 mm underfoot ski with a 32-meter radius and rockered tip and tail. It seemed insane at the time, but it floated and held speed like nothing they’d skied before. They experimented with an unfathomable 176 mm underfoot plank. They’re still tinkering with the concept of a ski eight years in the making, referred to as Project North Shore. Some ideas are only crazy before you try them.
Team athlete Wiley Miller showed the founders a hand-drawn sketch for the Butterknife — a radically different 126 mm asymmetrical ski inspired by surfboard shapes and designed to float atop low-angle powder when Colorado’s volatile continental snowpack keeps its backcountry steeps off-limits mid-winter.
“It’s very out there, bizarre,” Allen said with a chuckle, “But it brought us back to our roots again. We want to keep trying new things; even if it’s not going to make it to production, keep trying new stuff.” The Butterknife sold out and is now a staple in the company’s powder lineup.
A few years ago, RMU reaffirmed their commitment to innovative ski construction, signing legendary Canadian skier Mark Abma. “Having Abma adds a pedigree to the team and a wealth of knowledge,” says Allen excitedly. “Eventually, we’ll build a ski with him from the ground up. It’s going to help us push the company into the future.”
The company’s future will always follow the progression of ski design and technology. This is evidenced by RMU’s partnership with Sweden’s Åre Skidfabrik — a manufacturer specializing in cutting-edge technology while operating out of a factory run entirely on hydroelectric and geothermal renewable energy. It’s an effort to balance the brand’s DIY roots with its promises of uncompromising quality and environmental stewardship.
But RMU isn’t limited to its role behind the press. The Colorado-based company operates three unique concept locations in Breckenridge, CO, Truckee, CA and Whistler., B.C. The locations — which serve as retail storefronts, après bars, and gathering places — started with a simple concept and grew into something much more significant. With extra space in their new Breckenridge shop, the founders sought a means to bring more people into the shop to chat about their skis.
“We kept growing and realized we could use this space to be a community hub and bring in more people, do more things for the community, use our influence to help grow the business and help as much as we can within the community, and simply have fun with the people who support us,” says Allen.
Local community members run all three concept locations. Ambassador teams scouted each location for more than six months before looking for real estate. Local athletes led the movement, bringing friends to the bar and on group rides.
“We encourage community events, fundraisers, local appreciation nights — eventually, it becomes a pillar in the community,” Allen says proudly. “Positive community impact is a core value at the forefront of what we do when we build a new location.”
The atmosphere is uniquely refreshing in a ski town — a less hardcore party vibe and a more friendly neighbourhood watering hole. RMU fosters the down-to-earth communal concept at the flagship location in Breck, where they still press skis and have a full-service tune-up shop for bikes and skis.
“It’s fun for us because we’re prototyping in the bar and shop, and people are looking over the counter like, ‘What are you guys doing?’” laughs Allen. “We’re just hanging out testing new ideas, and it’s a cool way to introduce people to the brand.”
The environment creates a feeling more intimate than a retail shop, reminiscent of when friends would bring the beer and watch them press skis in the garage.