Winters mean slaving away in the factory, and it's often only during the summer patch skiing season around Lake Tahoe when Pat gets to shred on his own creations.
Pat Keane is a renaissance man in the Louis C.K. tradition. With a dirty mouth, brutal honesty, and a regoddamndiculous sense of humor, Pat is the most entertaining guy you could ever hope to build your pair of skis. Pat was mid-career selling energy efficiency to the federal government when the roof of the corporate world came crashing down on his head.
Meanwhile Pat was swapping ideas for new skis in the Powder Magazine forums, whose populace would eventually depart in a mass exodus to the TGR Forums, where Pat, going by the handle splat, would eventually help moderate the discussions going on in one of the most honest and hilarious sections of the shred internet. With the financial backing of other members (known as maggots), the idea became PM Gear. Named after Powder's forums, the company would eventually settle on creative shapes for all-mountain and powder skiing, and some of the most progressive carbon fiber designs available today.
Over ten years later, Pat’s having to change up his game, as a brutal and growing sensitivity to fiberglass is forcing him to set up manufacturing out of house for the first time in years. While still looking for fifteen grand out of a total of fifty grand it will cost to get his outsourced manufacturing started on the first couple hundred pairs, Pat looks back on ski building, the Gaper Spirit Animal, owning the trademark to “F-K-N-A,” and bomb scares in Quebec during the early days of the company.
How's life in Reno these days?
Respondent: For me it's very grueling. I have developed what is known in the business as “the sensitivity.” Basically, fiberglass drives me fucking crazy, so it's been really difficult after ten years of making skis. Now when I do it, my arms break out in rashes and it gets in my airways, and I hack up all kinds of shit and have trouble breathing.
It's the hardener in the resin that has the irritating qualities. When I'm laying up the skis, if I get one drop of res on me, my whole body goes crazy. And it's an increasing sensitivity. You have to walk away from this shit or it will kill you. [Laughs]. Gosh, I’ve felt like death since Christmas, to be honest. That was when it kicked in. So I'm basically wearing this spacesuit, and gloves, disposable gloves-everything I can. I’m putting paste on my arms wherever the resin might get in contact with my wrists, but if I get this stuff on my arms they itch so bad, I scratch them in bed until they bleed.
Why have you been building the skis yourself anyways?
Having whittled production down to mostly a solo operation in order to ensure the quality of product he demands, Pat now suffers from severe sensitivity from the hardener needed to work the fiberglass into the ski layup, and is looking to outsource production.
I never got into this business to build skis. I only got into it for the marketing aspect, but after bad experiences with three other companies that I had build the skies, I decided to build them myself. So I hired a bunch of people from the forums to work for me, and that didn't work out either, and so over the last couple of years, I've been building them myself with various helpers.
I mean, I had one guy who in the first year did everything that he was told to do, did fine, and then the second year, I guess he started thinking for himself, and decided to leave out a couple steps, and I had a couple hundred pairs of delaminating skis that certainly nobody on TGR has ever forgotten.
You know how it is; people always remember you for your worst accomplishments, never your best. So in order to salvage the company's reputation, and let people know that we can build excellent skis, I took on building them myself, and didn't have too many problems once that happened. It's not a hard thing to do, but some people just don't seem to be able to do that.
And you said you were a utility executive before you started building skis?
Yeah, I worked for what's probably the third largest utility in the nation, Xcel Energy. And I sold energy efficiency to the U.S. government-mostly Army bases and Air Force bases. I made a good living at it.
Well, when they suddenly realized they owed me millions of dollars in commission, they did away with the commission plan, so I sued them, so they fired me! And I ended up settling for a meager amount because it was snowing in Europe [Laughs]. And I was also going through a divorce at the same time and the stress was too much, so I just kind of walked away from that. And I said, "God, I hate these fucking corporations! I'll never work for a corporation again unless it's my own!"
And then how did PM Gear get started?
Powdork of the TGR Forums rages some Sierra pow on a pair of PMs.
It all got started back in the days of Powder Magazine’s forums, actually. What was it-2002 or 2003? We were talking about it online, and I said, "You know, we ought to do this,” and we just wanted to make good gear for the people we ski with and our friends, and originally we were selling a lot of other stuff on the website.
We did ski luggage and ski poles and sleeping bags and stuff for awhile, but this was all before Backcountry.com really got into the market and close out deal sites really went big. We were kind ahead of the ball on that. We made enough money on that to kind of stay alive, but all of a sudden close-out sites became a big deal.
And what was the progression of PM Gear as a ski company?
We started with just a simple fiberglass ski, and as the years went by, we got inspired with some of the new shapes and rocker profiles, and then over the last two or three years really got into the carbon. I'm skiing some pure carbon fiber skis that I absolutely love. They are so lightweight, and so high performing on the snow. And we use some of the most expensive shit in the world; the same carbon fiber they build satellites out of, and I honestly believe it makes a difference both weight-wise and performance-wise. We're always, like everybody else, trying to crank out the next big thing and capitalize on it, right?
Who’s your market for PM’s skis?
I mean, we've only ever marketed it on the TGR Forums. I did a few magazine ads years ago, but I didn't see much of a return, but over the last few years it's just been word of mouth on TGR. But we would like to get it out there, because I believe that people will appreciate it. I know they will. Because all of the time people are going, "Wow, man! I put my skis on the rack and everybody who's come over just tripped out on this, like, ‘Dude-that carbon fiber!!’"
You know, I try to accommodate almost everybody. There's a wide range of tastes and styles. But probably the one thing that we don't build are skis for beaters. Anything else, it's like building skis for skiers by skiers because I like to believe that people are going to have enough skill to apply to the shapes and flexes that we're doing. So we do it for people who know how to ski well-those people are going to appreciate these skis the most.
Were there any funny stories from the early days of PM?
Does this count as fan engagement?
Funny stories, I don't know, man. It's just been a really crazy ride, going all the way back to the Powder Mag days. I spent one winter in northern Quebec making skis at a factory there, and it was an election year. The French Separatists in Quebec didn't get elected. So the hotel I was staying in got a bomb threat. I was eating dinner in the cafe and all of a sudden the cafe was empty. I had no clue what was going on except for my waitress, who was the only one who spoke English.
Finally I went, "How long will my dinner be?" She goes, "Oh, Pat, didn't anybody tell you? There is a bomb." I looked out the window and there were bomb squads, cops, a fire engine, and everything. She said, “We must evacuate.” I'm like, “It's thrity below outside!!” So I figured I would sneak back to my room and hide.
On the way back to my room-I thought this was so funny. They were just opening people's hotel room doors to get them out. As I was walking back, this naked girl ran down the hall and clouds of pot smoke were coming out of all the rooms. It was just like a movie scene. I don't know what those guys were doing, dude, but they were rocking it in that hotel!
What gets you stoked on being one of the smaller outfits in the ski world?
"You know, we kind of take a wild-ass guess, go forward, and change it if it needs to be changed, which it usually does." Pat Keane in the PM Gear factory in Reno, Nevada.
The coolest thing about the evolution of skiing is that it is totally being pushed by little independent guys like me. The reverse camber, the pure carbon skis... all the different aspects, all the different shapes and everything; I just don't think it could ever be overstated how much the little American ski companies have done for skiing. I think primarily it's a drive to be the guy who invented that thing that was awesome, and to be able to ski it, and share it.
I'm not ever going to detract from the advantage and the necessity for good engineering, but some of us are just kind of like Gepetto-Pinocchio's father-who made the shoes in his little shop. We're just knocking that shit out and doing it by feel. And there is a lot to be said for that.
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I'm not ever going to detract from the advantage and the necessity for good engineering, but some of us are just kind of like Gepetto-Pinocchio's father-who made the shoes in his little shop. We're just knocking that shit out and doing it by feel. And there is a lot to be said for that. Yes, we can do it quicker, not necessarily any better, but certainly quicker. You know, we kind of take a wild-ass guess, go forward, and change it if it needs to be changed, which it usually does.
With PM Gear being an up and down struggle, do you have any side businesses to keep you afloat?
Well in the summers I contract with the Bureau of Land Management and I take my Jeep and deliver people and supplies up to the fire line. It’s the best-paid camping trip I’ve ever been on. But I also own the rights to FKNA.com. Do you know about the F-K-N-A shirts?
No! What’s the deal??
A gentleman, scholar, and customer of Pat's side business, FKNA Apparel.
On The PM Gear skis, it says “Made in the U.S. of F-K-N-A” on every one. In 2002, I was in Bern, Switzerland, and I was walking down the street and looked over and saw this graffiti on the wall that said “F-K-N-A.” And I immediately went, "Fucking-A, I'm going to put that on a tee shirt!" That's why you see that on TGR all the time. Because I brought that back from Europe, and it's like a staple on the Internet now.
And I get guys occasionally who’ll be like, 'Can I get some skis without the obscenity on them?' And I’m like, 'What obscenity? You mean F-K-N-A?? Dude, these skis are selling like free hookers, man!'
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So I've got the trademark for "F-K-N-A," too. I'm the only guy who can put it on clothes. I also have FKNA.com. And as a means to keep PM Gear going, I almost had the trademark and the domain sold for a hundred grand a couple of months ago. And I get guys occasionally who’ll be like, “Can I get some skis without the obscenity on them?” And I’m like, “What obscenity? You mean ‘F-K-N-A??’ Man, these skis are selling like free hookers, man!”
But do you think you’ll be able to get PM Gear where you need it to be to keep it running without killing yourself?
Yeah, I mean I’ve been working to partner with these guys in Seattle that build carbon fiber and fiberglass submarines, not for Colombian drug runners, but for guys like Paul Allen. And actually the Gaper Spirit Animal may invest in it as well.
Are you joking?
I'm not joking, dude. Me and that guy became friends.
[For those of you unfamiliar with the GSA, the "Gaper Spirit Animal" was a sensation in the TGR Forums a few years ago, where members began spotting an unknown skier in lift lines across the country-even on a treadmill in downtown Manhattan-sporting multiple POV cameras, a climbing harness, and an overnight backcountry pack, with encounters with this mystical creature revealing that the over-gearing for resort days, and the gym sessions with his ski bag, were for his training for a ski trip to Alaska. The search for the GSA went viral, sparking one of the longest-runing threads ever in the TGR Forums and homemade spoofs like the video below.]
What's his deal?
He's a retired Vice President of Morgan Stanley in New York. The guy retired with a humongous bundle; he was a Yale graduate, smart guy... and the whole Gaper Spirit Animal thing on TGR didn't go over well with him at work.
One of the memes that came out of the Gaper Spirit Animal sensation.
But now he’s been just skiing all the time, which-what the fuck-that’s everybody’s dream! So the guy is living the life and more power to him. Everybody can laugh all they want on TGR, but he's the one out getting the shit in AK and everywhere else all the time. And I’m stoked because he skis my skis, and he thinks they’re the best ones he’s ever bought.
And how did you link up with him in the first place?
You know, the cool thing was, I mean, fuckin’ a! Everybody, including me, was making fun of this guy. But it got to this point where I'm like, "Man, this guy needs somebody to reach out and shake his hand." So I decided to be that guy, and you know, it just seemed like the right thing to do. I mean, everybody on the Forums makes so much fun of each other. But when we get together, that shit all goes away. We ski and have fun and smile.
And that's why I love skiing, because it's the only fucking place I've ever been where so many goddam people are smiling. To me, that says everything about the sport.
If you're interested in PM Gear, Pat is still looking to secure the remaining $15,000 of the total $50,000 needed to outsource his production and continue making skis without decimating his health. If you're interested, e-mail Pat at firstname.lastname@example.org. He claims to offer some very attractive financing, and without a doubt some of the most entertaining phone calls you'll ever have the privilege of partaking in.