St. Michael's first-year starts up dorm room business
Jon Ketchum | tech editor
When first-year John Ubersax entered St. Michael’s College, he says he was aware that he’d have to take on many new responsibilities. There was one academic task, however, that he was already prepared for: tuning skis.
A fresh wax
Ubersax sets up his $90 table to tune a pair of skis.
Jon Ketchum, photo
As a business major, Ubersax is required to take a 100-level course entitled the Foundations of Business. The class’ primary function is to teach students the fundamentals of running an on-campus business. According to Ubersax, the class gave him an opportunity to pursue a business involved with his passion, skiing.
“It’s such a great idea to make students start a business,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to have some sort of ski business and this class has given me the motivation to finally get it off the ground.”
When it came time to choose an idea for his business project, Ubersax chose to sell ski tune-ups. For a $15 fee, Ubersax hot waxes and sharpens the edges of skis and snowboards in his dorm room. However, in order to get his business going, Ubersax had to buy $350 in equipment, he says.
“It really wasn’t a cheap business to start up,” Ubersax says. “I had to buy a $90 table, an iron, files for edging, clamps and the wax.”
Despite the cost, Ubersax feels confident that his business will become profitable. Taking only four classes this semester, he has a lot of time to tune skis, he says.
“It only takes me about 25 minutes to do a pair of skis,” Ubersax says. “I have enough free time this semester that I should really be able to turn a profit.”
Since age 3, Ubersax has spent nearly every winter weekend skiing at HoliMont Mountain in Ellicottville, N.Y., he says. Prior to coming to St. Michael’s, Ubersax would steal away with his family each Friday night and spend the next two days at his ski house.
Ubersax was taught to tune skis two years ago by a family friend.
Jon Ketchum, photo
“Every weekend my family traveled a total of six hours,” Ubersax says. “We didn’t care though, every free second we had we were skiing at our ski house.”
Through many trips to his ski house, Ubersax and his family developed relationships with fellow skiers on the mountain. One skier who made an impact on Ubersax was Stas Baoenevsky, he says.
“Stas is a really neat guy,” Ubersax says. “He grew up in Russia and then moved to Buffalo, N.Y. to pursue a career in coaching professional skiers.”
Ubersax and his family were first
introduced to Baoenevsky
the day that they bought their ski house, as he was the man who sold it to them, Ubersax says.
Since that day, Baoenevsky has remained a family friend, skiing with Ubersax’s father and teaching Ubersax himself some helpful knowledge, he says.
“Baoenevsky gained some extensive ski tuning knowledge from working and touring with professional skiers,” Ubersax says. “Two years ago I was lucky enough to have learned some of this knowledge. He showed me the right way to tune skis.”
Since then, Ubersax has been tuning his own skis before heading out to the mountain, he says.
“I keep my stuff in pretty good condition,” Ubersax says. “Every two ski days I’m tuning my equipment.”
Ubersax admits that he doesn’t have the same kind of resources for tuning skis that larger ski businesses have. However, he believes that for the cost, his final product is equivalent to any professional establishment.
“Some of these places charge $30 and $40 for a tune-up,” Ubersax says. “I think it’s absolutely crazy to charge any more then I do.”
Ubersax spreads hot wax on a customers ski.
Jon Ketchum, photo
According to Sefton Hirsch, a service technician for the Skirack in downtown Burlington, most ski businesses have to charge a lot of money for their ski tune-ups in order to pay for the expensive machines that they use.
“These usually aren’t the type of machines that a normal person would buy to keep their stuff tuned,” Hirsch says. “It’s crazy to say, but our machines cost between $150,000-$200,000.”
The Skirack has three different machines that they use to tune their skis, Hirsch says. They use a base grind, a stone grind, and a ceramic edger. The base grind flattens out the base of the ski while the stone grind cuts a structure in the base of the ski that helps to channel the snow from beneath the skier’s foot.
Hirsch explains that the Skirack also uses a new machine called a ceramic edger to sharpen the skis edge as though it was brand new.
However, Hirsch admits that many times in the service shop, skis
and boards are still tuned by hand. It is still the preferred method of tuning, he says.
“Even though we use our machines frequently, we still use our hands a good bit in the waxing and sharpening process,” Hirsch says. “Therefore, I’ll bet that in the end someone with the knowledge could do just as good of a job as we do.”
Peter Murray, a junior St. Michael’s student and an avid skier, thinks it is worth it to stay on campus to get your skis tuned, he says.
“I’m a big skier who likes to get the most out of his equipment,” Murray says. “But, for the money, I don’t see the need in getting my stuff tuned anywhere else.”
Ubersax says that he will pick-up and drop-off equipment to those interested in a tune-up. He also says that his costumers won’t be disappointed by the end result.
“I believe that my finished product is just as good as the more expensive ski shops,” Ubersax says. “I say this because I treat everyone’s equipment as though it was my own.”