Colorado man on quest to build a better sled

Posted: Friday, January 14, 2005

SILVERTON, Colo. - Brice Hoskin is banking on nostalgic memories of winters past to help sell his hand-crafted sleds.

''Everyone has this kind of cool story that goes along with sledding,'' said Hoskin, owner of Mountain Boy Sledworks in Silverton.

Hoskin is in his third winter of business building sleds at his Silverton workshop, a line found from Alaska to New York. Among five models, the Ultimate Flyer is the best seller. The company also makes a high-end sled, the Elegant Flyer, similar to the Ultimate but signed and numbered. Three sizes of kick sleds, which can be used for dog sledding, are also available.

''The idea for the sled began when I was 4 and was frustrated with the old Flexible Flyers that would only work in certain snow conditions,'' said Hoskin, who expects to sell more than 1,200 of the patent-pending Ultimate Flyers this winter. The sled retails for $130.

The company has sold three times as many sleds this season as it did last year, and sales doubled. The company's gross sales are in the $100,000 to $200,000 range, Hoskin said.

While the sleds are not cheap, ''It is a great value for getting something that is handcrafted,'' Hoskin said.

The Ultimate Flyer is made of birch wood and has a single pivot-point that allows the sled to turn. Two adults and at least three children can fit on it, Hoskin said. The Elegant Flyer is the same design but uses expensive woods such as maple and is signed and numbered, retailing for nearly $400.

Instead of using metal on the sled's underside, Hoskin designed his with molded plastic skids and contoured runners. The sled can perform well in powder or on hard-pack snow, he said.

Hoskin has two full-time employees, and four of the five sled models are manufactured in Silverton. The Ultimate is manufactured in China. Hoskin has a college degree in Chinese and speaks the language.

Born and raised in Grand Junction, Hoskin sold a growth-issue newsletter business he started and moved to Silverton with his family three years ago. He financed the company's startup costs with the money from his former business.

Initially, he planned to build sleds for his family. Then he realized there was a market for the handmade sleds. Once he began building them, people started buying them. Not until Nos. 14 and 15 did his family get to have their own, he said.

Amy Gass, executive director of the Silverton Chamber of Commerce, said that having the sleds made locally brings Silverton some distinction.

''It helps put us on the map as far as unique things happening here,'' she said.

Along with Mountain Boy, Silverton is also home to Scotty Bob's Handcrafted Skis.

''We are happy that they are here and that they want to raise their families here,'' Gass said.

Besides making good products, the companies provide jobs to the community - an added benefit, she said. Silverton has about 500 year-round residents.

During the summer months, Hoskin attends trade, outdoor retail and toy shows. Roughly half the company's orders are placed online through its Web site. Other orders come from stores that offer the line, Hoskin said.

As a manufacturer, getting the business off the ground was costly, but this year Hoskin should break even. Being in Silverton hasn't been a problem, he said.

The company's Web site is a nonstop marketing tool, Hoskin said. Starting the business in the small town could have been done 15 years ago without the aid of the Internet, but ''it would have required a little more leg work.''

Hoskin is one business owner taking advantage of the relatively new high-speed Internet service in Silverton. Kiva Net began offering the service earlier this year.

Being in Silverton allows Hoskin and his family to live the lifestyle they want. But, when weather is bad and delivery trucks can't get to town, shipping is delayed. The business could be operated with lower costs in Denver, but Hoskin said that is not where he wants to be.

If business continues to increase, Hoskin said he might consider starting a distribution center in Montrose.

''We definitely want to keep growing,'' he said. ''The question is how fast it all goes.''

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