In the heart of East Boston, tucked in the back corner of an industrial building that sits roughly 4,000 feet from Logan International Airport’s runway, lies Parlor Skis headquarters. They moved to the location two years ago, after they were kicked out of their first location. “We started in a funeral parlor in Cambridge, which is where we got the name Parlor,” said co-founder, owner and manager Mark Wallace. “We actually got thrown out of the funeral parlor by the building department, because it was not the zoned use of the building.” When forced to relocate, they considered other locations. “We talked about Portland, Maine originally,” Wallace remembered. They also discussed moving to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But for Parlor Skis, a company with deep roots in the hills of New England and a need to access high-income urban clientele, it had to be Boston.
Parlor occupies two floors in the building. On the top floor is the offices and a showroom, where they host shop nights that Wallace describes as a “brewery tour for skis.” People from New England (and all over the country) come to see the ski-making process take place and share a few beers with the minds behind these high-end custom skis. “You actually get to watch the whole construction process of the ski, and we talk about the different elements and the cores,” Wallace added. And then, on the lower floor, the everyday magic happens. A full wood shop and work room is complemented by a storage room for blank cores as well as a design and top sheet studio where all graphics are printed and sublimated in-house.
Wallace spent most of his early life heavily involved in ski racing, routinely spending around 150 days on snow a year. This ski racing experience is at the heart of almost every ski that Parlor makes (to a lesser extent with the Heron — a deep-snow ski that still offers a hint of carvey-ness). “I say a lot that at the core of all of our skis is a carving ski, and then we’ve sort of added other pieces to it,” Wallace noted. “I feel like some of the ski companies get very specific and they create a ski that only works if you’re really good.” But Parlor took a different approach. They developed a series of skis that can be skied hard by more experienced skiers, but are also approachable to those who are less experienced. “I think that we’ve created a wider range by making a dank, beefy ski, but because we can change the flex profile, and we can change the camber, we can make a ski that’s much more accessible,” Wallace said.
Each of Parlor’s four “platforms” (the company’s term for models) starts with a ski fitting. Customers fill out a questionnaire, answering questions like “How do you like to ski?” or “What is your home mountain?” as well as statistical information like height, weight and age. Parlor then takes that information and makes a recommendation as to what platform best suits you. Alternatively, Parlor also offers demos at a handful of locations throughout the year as well as a “build your own” class — similar to Grain Surfboards or PowderJet Snowboards. At first, they had trouble getting the timing right for the classes. “Mike and John of Grain Surfboards were like, ‘you’ve got to do classes, you’ve got to do classes,'” said Wallace. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know how to do it.’ The cure times are all wonky and we couldn’t really figure it out.” Then, last summer, they sat down and developed a process. They now offer two different classes: one month-long class geared towards local customers and one two-day intensive class catered to those traveling to take the class. Offering the classes further builds the ski-maker culture at Parlor, something that they take very seriously.
The Parlor vibe is New-England-ski-maker-meets-dedicated-genius. Empty cans of Narragansett can be found in nooks and crannies of the shop, and shop dogs alternate between eagerly wanting to see what’s going on and taking day-long naps. Despite having a long list of orders, the shop is relaxed and there is no sense of stress or urgency. These are important factors in the culture of Parlor Skis, but Wallace lists the most important factor as something entirely different. “A big piece of the culture here is never to be satisfied with the way that we are doing stuff,” he said. “For example, we’re always working on our skis. We always want to be a little bit embarrassed by the skis that we made a year ago. If you’re not improving your process and you’re not improving your product, then you’re not providing the best service that you can to your customers. We always want to be that much better next year than this year.”