When Zags cross paths

Ex-ski instructors team up to take on ski industry

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It doesn't seem fair.

Tom Ponrick is selling ski wax and a new line of all-mountain skis from his poolside office in Venice Beach, Fla.

"Yeah, I'm in the ski industry," Ponrick said with a hearty laugh this week. "I'm sitting on my lanai right now. The air temperature is 78 degrees, and the temperature of my pool is 87 degrees!"

Ponrick is the president and owner of Dr. Zag's Mountain Tools. He was a Steamboat ski instructor in his early 30s when he founded the business here in 1994. As a ski instructor, Ponrick needed to take care of his boards, but he didn't want to use expensive waxes that necessitated putting his skis in the vise a couple of times a week.

That desire for a durable ski wax that worked but didn't require a lot of fuss and expense provided the genesis for Dr. Zag's.

Ponrick is vague about the precise details of the genesis of the Dr. Zag's name, but he's pretty sure somebody thought it up during one of the "cheeseburgers and champagne" parties he and his buddies used to host in his Tree Haus home in the early 1990s.

Ponrick reluctantly left Steamboat to be closer to family in Florida. But he continues to sell ski wax and ski-tuning shop equipment and supplies to shops across North America.

"I made a decision not to use (sales) reps, and I've lost some accounts since I moved," Ponrick said. "But with FedEx, UPS and the Internet," it's possible to be based in Florida and still remain active in the ski business.

In addition to his wholesale business, Ponrick does a growing amount of direct-to-consumer business via his Internet site.

Now, through the unlikeliest of scenarios, Ponrick is marketing a line of ZAG Skis in North America.

What are the chances a one-man company called Dr. Zag's would connect with a French ski designer who coincidentally named his product ZAG Skis?

It happened to Ponrick and Stephane "Zag" Radiquet, director and creator of ZAG Skis.

The two men became aware of the coincidence via each other's Web pages and decided to seize on the opportunity. They've signed a marketing agreement allowing Ponrick to market Radiquet's ZAG Skis in North America.

Radiquet, who shares a background as a ski instructor with Ponrick, is also a snowboard designer and a free skier who likes to drop into halfpipes on his twin-tip skis. Obsessed with equipment design, Radiquet decided to make his own freeride skis in 2001 when he couldn't find exactly what he wanted in the racks at ski shops,

Ponrick said. He wholesales ZAG skis to 200 shops worldwide, from Europe to Chile to New Zealand.

ZAG skis began with just five ski shops in North America this winter, including One Stop Ski Shop in downtown Steamboat Springs. The ski industry trade show in Las Vegas in January resulted in interest from 50 more ski shops for next winter.

Ponrick is optimistic that ZAG skis can carve out their own niche in ski sales even though national sales this year are flat to slightly down.

The wood-core ZAG skis stand out in a crowded marketplace because of their versatility and durability, Ponrick said. A hardcore skier who puts in 100 days or more a season will be able to get three winters out of a pair of ZAG skis, he said.

"It's the combination of shape and construction that makes them all-mountain skis," Ponrick said.

One Stop's John Kole said that, upon first glance, the Free Ride 75, the ZAG model he carries, looks like a specialty powder ski. He put the ski through its paces and found out that wasn't the case.

"I took it out in soft snow, and it really surpassed what I thought it would do," Kole said. "It was exceptionally fast under foot."

George Clark, a One Stop employee, said he too was surprised at how well the ZAG ski performed at speed. The big, wide tips on the Free Ride 75 look as if they might begin to flop around it high speed.

"It held really well at speed, and it also did well in the crud," Clark said.

The skis are handmade by a major European manufacturer to Radiquet's specifications.

"There's plenty of room in this industry for both a Dr. Zag's and a ZAG. We're going up against the big guys," Ponrick said. "We know they won't give up any market share without a fight, but we're going to give it a good go. We're just a couple of ex-ski instructors who want to stay in the snow industry."

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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