Dave Puckett was riding a chairlift at the Steamboat Ski Area with a friend when he was reminded of the days when he used to struggle to help his own children in and out of their ski equipment.
"I was always battling to get the kids into their bindings, and I shredded some gloves trying to get rid of the ice," he said.
Puckett's children have since grown old enough to deal with their own icy buildup. However, the sight of a couple of snowboarders on the chairlift ahead of him struggling to knock the packed snow out of their bindings gave him an idea.
The result is the PowderPucks, a combination plastic scraper and brush that fits easily into a gloved hand and eliminates the only bad thing about a powder day -- ice that makes it hard to get back into your bindings. Puckett and his longtime friend Wendy Crawford have formed a company, Wen-D Enterprises LLC, to manufacture and market PowderPucks.
Puckett is a familiar face to most people in Steamboat Springs in his role as a postal clerk at the downtown post office. Fewer people are aware that he is a longtime woodcarver, tinkerer and someone who always is looking for his next project.
After that fateful chairlift ride when he experienced the proverbial "a-ha moment," Puckett went home to create a tool to make his powder days go more smoothly. He didn't have any plans to start a business when he went to the hardware store and purchased some plastic products that originally were meant for other purposes.
"I started with a block of plastic. It was just something I wanted to make for myself," Puckett said. "When I got home, I began Dremeling it and filing it down until it felt right."
The PowderPucks resembles a miniature ice and snow scraper intended for use on automobiles. However, Puckett said his original prototype didn't begin with a windshield scraper.
The first time he took his new gadget with him on the ski trails, friends began asking him for one, and he made several more, including one for each of his youngsters, who quickly endorsed it. When he showed the binding scraper to Crawford, she saw greater potential.
"I thought it was great, and I said, 'Let's go for it,'" Crawford said.
PowderPucks just received its official patent number this month, culminating a two-year process.
Crawford placed a phone call to her ex-husband for manufacturing advice. He has a longtime relationship with a plastics manufacturing plant in Taipei, Taiwan, which produces the automotive parts he imports to the United States.
It was easy for Crawford to make the connection with a representative of the manufacturing plant.
Based on the level of trust her ex-husband has developed with the manufacturer, Crawford and Puckett were able to send a refined prototype of the PowderPucks to Taiwan and follow through on its manufacture strictly by e-mails -- they never visited the plant. The final product is black with red brush bristles and is fitted with a removable elastic leash and alligator clip. The leash allows skiers and riders to clip the PowderPucks to their jacket pocket if they choose.
It came as no surprise to Puckett and Crawford that the more PowderPucks they ordered, the lower the cost of production would be. Based on unit cost and the economics of filling a shipping container for transport across the Pacific Ocean, they placed an order for 172,800 PowderPucks. The thousands of devices now fill a couple of storage units on Steamboat's west side. The PowderPucks arrived sealed into plastic bags, some bearing logo art depicting a skier and others reflecting the sport of snowboarding. Northwest Graphics has produced an attractive "header" label to be stapled on the bags. The product is designed to retail for $7.95, Crawford said.
Crawford, who was semi-retired before starting Wen-D enterprises with Puckett, has taken responsibility for marketing the PowderPucks.
"I hate computers, but now I have a laptop," she said with a laugh.
The product hasn't appeared in local stores, but a sales representative based in Southern California has had good success placing the product in sporting goods stores in that area. He is sending Crawford a steady stream of orders for a couple dozen of the little snowscrapers.
Crawford, who enjoys equestrian sports, thinks people who ride horseback and need to scrape their boots clean may create an additional customer base for PowderPucks. And they would be just as effective on muddy soccer and rugby cleats.
"There's nothing else out there like it, which is the surprising thing," Crawford said.
Wen-D enterprises can be reached at 871-9556.