Every mainstream ski brand can trace its roots to a founder, a visionary who nursed a fledgling idea to life. If we’re aware of a brand’s history (a big if), we’ll associate the brand’s formative years with the sepia-toned photos of its first factory.
But new brands still in their tweener years are an abundant breed, whose founders – often two or more bros rather than a single pater familias – are still very much alive and making skis. In recent years Realskiers has profiled three such brands, SkiLogik, Black Crows and Faction. Two years ago we presented a sampling of the Liberty collection for the first time
Liberty, the brainchild of Dan Chalfant and Jim Satloff, was born 16 years ago from the urge to develop a lighter ski that would reduce fatigue and return more energy to the skier than the relatively dead planks of the day. They were on the leading edge of the Lighter is Better (LIB) movement in consumer goods that has come to dominate the current equipment landscape.
If you’ve ever heard of Liberty, you probably think of it as the “bamboo ski brand.” Actually, according to Chalfant the first material they considered was carbon, which remains elemental to the line to this day. As experienced fly fishermen, the founders knew bamboos possessed many of the same properties as carbon. Their interest piqued, Chalfant and Satloff set about seeing what carbon and bamboo could do together.
The original plan called for Frontside as well as broad-in-the-beam Freeride slats, but the best market opportunity lay in the latter course, so that was the line’s first focus. A lightweight mission is well suited to the women’s market, and Liberty has offered made-for-women models almost since its inception. All Liberty’s women’s models have their own core profile, center of sidecut, mount position and all-Paulownia cores.
Over the years, Liberty’s line has expanded its reach to more categories and skier types. Its popular Origin series, for example, began with a 116mm; Origins now run as fat as 122mm and as skinny as 90mm at the waist.
The intention to make something special for the Frontside skier has been realized with arrival two seasons ago of a new V Series, featuring Vertical Metal Technology (VMT). In its first incarnation, VMT added two vertically inlaid strips of aluminum to its wheelhouse carbon and bamboo construction, creating a series of three skis that were strong, secure and preternaturally easy to ski.
(In an echo of the simultaneous discovery of calculus by Leibnitz and Newton, Liberty unveiled VMT the same season that Blizzard debuted C-Spine and Rossi trotted out Line Control Technology. Is this proof that ideas exist in the ether? Discuss.)
Vertical Metal Technology may prove to be the tipping point that puts Liberty into the big time; it’s certainly the focus of the brand’s immediate evolution from an off-trail-only collection to something closer to a full service provider. Last year, Liberty increased the number of vertical aluminum struts in the V92, V82 and V76 from two to three. This enhancement virtually nails these models to the snow, creating a level of security that rivals the best the Frontside genre has to offer.
Last year also saw the extension of VMT to two all-mountain models, the evolv90 and evolv100. The evolv models use the first generation, two-strut arrangement so they’re a little livelier and don’t cost as much to produce, which allows Liberty to price them more attractively. A polyethylene sidewall also boosts rebound energy and makes the skis feel more responsive. Viewed from the target skier standpoint, the V-Series models aim more for the mature cruiser who spends more time on-trail, while the evolv models skew younger and are better adapted to off-trail conditions.
We wouldn’t be profiling Liberty in these pages were it not for a decision Liberty took about seven years ago to commit the resources necessary to support specialty retailers. The brand has three other attractive credentials: it’s dedicated to rigorous quality control, as evinced in its tag line, “Details Matter;” it offers a 3-year warranty; and it prices its line aggressively so the customer gets more bang for the buck. Liberty also wisely keeps it attention squarely on making skis and skis only.
One advantage of being small is that ownership, design and manufacture are all in the same hands. We like the fact that Chalfant doesn’t just consider himself a ski maker, but a “brand guardian.” In Chalfant’s words, “Liberty makes skis for committed skiers.” Or, as we might rephrase it, for real skiers.
The 2021 Liberty Season
In light of the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic, Liberty was wise to keep its ambitions in check, limiting its line expansion to a quartet of evolv models, evolv 84 and 110 for men and evolv 84w and 90w for women. There’s now an evolv in every category from Frontside to Big Mountain, a clear indication that Liberty believes its future lies with VMT. If Liberty can survive the coming contraction, it’s poised to further infiltrate the market as the best of the small batch brands.
Small-batch producers like Liberty have a tough row to hoe. Aside from zero name recognition, they have to either work with an established factory or try to start their own facility, both of which have their disadvantages. Their other two biggest problems are how to differentiate themselves from the pack and thereby generate a sense of mission when it’s highly unlikely they’ll have unique materials or processes, and how to make a consistent product when …READ MORE
If you assembled a personality profile of the Liberty evolv 84 based on appearances, you could be excused for thinking it’s some variety of all-mountain ski. Which I’m sure it’s intended to be, but it behaves more like a GS ski with a fall-line fixation. Its sunny cosmetics suggest a free spirit that will float over anything fluffy; in reality, the evolv 84 is one of the most connected carvers in the Frontside genre. The …READ MORE
When the fabulous Kim Beekman opined in her review of 20/21’s season’s evolv 84 W that it “definitely prefers to mach the groomed at eye-watering speeds,” she had her finger on what makes the evolv 84w special. Even though it belongs to an all-mountain family of which it is the narrowest member, it behaves as if it has a carving obsession. Over the 21/22off-season, Liberty encouraged this behavior by adding a third aluminum strut to …READ MORE
Little Liberty out of Avon, Colorado distinguished itself from scores of other small-batch brands when it made two momentous decisions a few years ago, one commercial, one technical. On the brand-building front, it opted to establish a viable network of specialty shops, despite all the hassle and expense compared to selling direct to the consumer. On the technical, ski-building side of the business, it created a new design that used vertical aluminum struts, in lieu …READ MORE
Forgive me, Dear Readers, for I have sinned. I’ve included the Liberty evolv 90w here without knowing, deep-down, how women will feel about its latest incarnation. You see, last year Liberty added a third alu strut to its innovative Vertical Metal Technology core, which requires a certain amount of energy to deflect. I’m sure Liberty understands that any skier, regardless of gender, has to be able to bend a ski to extract its best behavior. …READ MORE