Today, Igneous Skis turns custom skis and snowboards out in its Gregory Lane facility. But in the late ‘90s, when Michael Parris took a brief break from his work at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, Igneous Skis was a new idea taking shape in a garage, and the company was just starting to push the ski innovation envelope.
Parris didn’t start out as a ski designer at all. In fact, he was an architecture major who developed a reputation at Carnegie Mellon as “the guy who makes things.” When a robotics-powered art project caught the attention of the head of the Robotics Institute, Parris received an unexpected visit and job offer.
“In the Robotics Institute, they have a whole lot of people with doctorates and big ideas, but they didn’t know how to make them a reality,” Parris says. “They saw a couple of guys in an art studio who had an idea, executed it, and made it functional. That led to some work on the project they were doing—a lunar rover initiative.”
The work took Parris, along with the team, to the Chilean desert and later Antarctica to test their prototypes. But Parris still had some other things he wanted to do. One of them was to ski, and the desire to hit the slopes was always in the back of his mind.
When Parris moved to Jackson in 1999, he found a new use for his skillset: making skis.
His friend, Adam Sherman, founded Igneous in 1996. While Parris encouraged him and checked in about the company while traveling back and forth from Pittsburgh, Parris became directly involved in 1999.
They developed a production process that allowed them to design and produce custom pairs of skis that would fit each individual rider’s needs. For the robotics engineer in him, it was a thrilling opportunity.
“We could have an idea, build it, and ride it—it was a quick, closed loop,” Parris says. Unlike his robotics prototypes, his ski solutions could be taken from concept to testing within days, making it possible to make big advances in ski technology in minimal time. Durability was their first focus, making skis that could endure bell-to-bell skiing in the Tetons.
Today, Igneous makes around 100 pairs of custom skis every season, sold almost entirely through word-of-mouth.
“Our skis bring me work from Japan, Austria, all over,” Parris says. “Someone calls me and says, ‘I met someone on a heli-ski trip who was riding a 10-year-old pair of Igneous skis, and I have to have some.’”
And Parris, true to his nickname as “the guy who makes things,” will gladly build them.