U grad startup crafts carbon-fiber skis and snowboards

Employee Kyle Alexander building skis inside Kitten Factory on Nov. 14. in Salt Lake City. Photo by Chris Ayers
Employee Kyle Alexander building skis inside Kitten Factory on Nov. 14. in Salt Lake City. Photo by Chris Ayers/The Daily Utah Chronicle
Three U graduates started a ski and snowboard company last year, hoping to revolutionize the high-end carbon-fiber market.
Kitten Factory is a ski equipment company created by Calvin Hawley, Kyle Alexander and Jeff Scott. They have been in business since 2012 and estimate sales of 250 boards this year.
Hawley and Alexander both earned degrees from the U in mechanical engineering while Scott earned a degree in information systems and communication.
“We’re just trying to come in with a carbon-fiber ski for under $1,000 dollars this year,” Hawley said. Alexander said Kitten Factory’s carbon-fiber boards and skis are less expensive than its competitors, who often sell their carbon-fiber equipment for $1,200 or more.
“We’re considerably less expensive and still have very high standards and do not cut any corners in manufacturing,” Alexander said.
Skis and boards made from carbon-fiber, a snappy and bouncy material, are significantly lighter than traditional fiberglass equipment and using them while boarding or skiing can result in a more responsive ride.
“That’s kind of my favorite thing about them — they are so lively,” Hawley said. “It’s awesome to have a decrease in weight, but I think the way they ski is my favorite part about them.”
Hawley said Kitten Factory is helping to break new ground in ski design by producing full carbon-fiber skis that are twin-tipped with centered bindings.

“We’re kind of pioneers with making the modern rocker profile with the carbon-fiber ski,” he said.
Kitten Factory is different from many major board and ski companies, such as Burton, in that it is actually using 100 percent carbon-fiber.
Hawley said some companies market their products as being carbon- fiber, but actually they are 95 percent fiberglass and five percent carbon.
“Almost every ski and snowboard company uses carbon-fiber stringers which is essentially a way of being able to say they have some carbon-fiber in them,” Hawley said.
Complex.com, a webpage dedicated to lifestyle and entertainment, listed carbon-fiber skis and snowboards as number 15 in the top 20 tech advancements in sports history.
“In the past, lots of carbon-fiber skis were made with foam cores with the main goal being lightweight,” Hawley said. “We are using carbon to lighten it up, but we’re not trying to cut any corners.”
2012 was Kitten Factory’s first year in business, and they spent much of that winter perfecting their equipment and designing skis that could withstand the demanding Utah backcountry.

“We spent pretty much all last winter making skis and abusing them and trying to get as much time on them as we could,” Hawley said. “It started out as a trial-and-error process, really, but we’ve gotten more scientific with it over time.”
Hawley said the skis now stand up to their satisfaction and they’ve already made international sales to places such as Japan.
Alexander, Scott and Hawley all said that as students at the U, they learned how to use computer programs that they use almost daily in designing their skis and boards.
Hawley said during an independent study project he was able to use the U’s tools and machine shop to design a router that has been indispensable to their business.
Kitten Factory hopes to continue increasing its production and get as many people as they can aware of the benefits of carbon skis.
But the most important thing, they agreed, is to make a quality product that has top-notch performance.
“We’re always going to keep downhill performance first and foremost,” Hawley said.
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