Nov 10, 2017

A Cool Relationship

By: Adam Walton

Located near a rural intersection north of Madison, Wisconsin, sits a pole barn full of ingenuity and design. Inside, Mike Blau and Jim Mortenson, co-owners of Zero 4 Outdoors, manufacture some of the newest aluminum ice houses to hit the market. Although their operation is comparatively small, Mike and Jim’s unique method of building custom ice houses, along with their attention to detail, has allowed them to succeed in a sometimes tough industry.   

Back Story 

Although these two gentlemen have known each other for fourteen years, Zero 4 Outdoors wasn’t developed until more recently.  Jim is the owner of a transportation business.  At the time they met, Mike worked for a construction/property management company that Jim relocated his business to.  After a few years, Mike decided to start his own remodeling business and around the same time, Jim decided to turn over day to day operations of his business to his daughters.  With newly found time off, Jim joined Mike on remodeling projects and the duo became close friends.  After talking one day, Mike mentioned he had an 1800 square foot shop sitting idle and the two thought it would be fun to start building something there.  That “something” didn’t come to them until Jim and his eldest daughter, Jenny, went on an ice fishing trip to Lake of the Woods.  On the long drive back, Jenny had an idea...build ice shacks.  

After returning from Lake of the Woods, the team went to work and started manufacturing numerous prototype skid units.  The 0.040 thickness aluminum panels used in the construction of their ice houses lead to the name Zero 4 Outdoors, and they officially became a business.  Within a year, prototype skid units were developed into trailer units, which Mike and Jim took to their first venue, the 2015 St Paul Ice Show.  There, an outside trailer manufacture introduced themselves and showed interest in Zero 4 Outdoors design.  Shortly after the ice show, Zero 4 Outdoors sent a prototype of their 5x8 drop-down ice house to the trailer manufacture engineers.  After a few modifications, the outside source began manufacturing and shipping custom trailer frames to Zero 4 Outdoors to help speed up their manufacturing process.  Once the frames arrived, Mike and Jim took over and turned them into an all aluminum masterpiece.  

Once Zero 4 Outdoors started becoming established, they knew it was in their customs best interest to become NATM (National Association of Trailer Manufactures) member and to get safety certified.  This process involved having an inspector fly in from out of state to evaluate Zero 4 Outdoors manufacturing process and verify they met or exceeded national safety standards.  They also are registered trailer manufactures, which allows them to include VIN numbers on all of their ice house units. 

As things quickly grew, Mike and Jim decided to expand once again for the upcoming 2017 season.  This year, a 6x10 model is available and offers even more than their first 5x8 models.  Although there are a few 5x8 models left in stock, the team will be putting all their effort into manufacturing the new and more popular 6x10 units. 

Models 

The first style of ice houses Zero 4 Outdoors put on the market were 5x8 drop-down units, which originally came in white.  With an approximate weight of 800 pounds, these light units can be taken onto the ice sooner and left out longer, compared to heavier ice houses.  They also pull much easier behind a quad or snowmobile.   

The 5x8 drop-down models include either a man door or full rear door, battery hook up for LED lighting, shelving, spear hole, and three to four fishing holes.  The full rear door units open to the side and are wide enough to fit a 4 wheeler inside. This makes it easy to trailer your quad to the landing, unload it, and hook back up to the ice house.  A single cable winch is located near the tongue and lowers both axles of the ice house at the same time.  The lightweight design and ease of lowering make this a perfect one-man operation, however the unit is spacious enough to hold three adults.   

The 6x10 drop-down models weights in at roughly 1,400 pounds and features an added “V” nose for better aerodynamics.  They also incorporated a brake winch on each axle to allow for easier lowering.  The interior is spacious and can comfortably hold numerous anglers or act as a haul trailer in the off season.  The rear is a full door that lowers down into a ramp and a second man door is located on the right side.  An added weather proof plug is a new feature on the 6x10 model, allowing quick hook up to any generator.  This unit also has a tongue mounted jack and plenty of interior LED lighting.  If using this off the ice, a single interior center light is wired along with the trailer light harness, which brightens things up without needing to add an extra power source. Additional options, such as extra lights, shelving, extra fishing holes, custom mounting of equipment, and an electric jack can all be added to the base model if desired.  Another great option for the 6x10 unit is the ability to order them in a taller model.  This is ideal for tall people or for those wanting to transport UTVs.   

Manufacturing Process 

All Zero 4 Outdoors ice houses have an all aluminum exterior, along with stainless steel hinges.  They also construct their units with aluminum interior panels and waterproof extruded closed cell foam insulation.  These are unique features, but the ice house’s drop-down axles are what really set them apart from the rest.  All units have a Timbren axle, which are made for off road use unlike common leaf spring axles.  The smoother ride helps preserve the life of these units and helps keep gear from bouncing around during transit.     

The 5x8 models have marine grade water resistant plywood installed on the floor, however the walls are all aluminum laminated panels filled with foam core insulation.  The new 6x10 base models on the other hand, have ¾ inch water resistant plywood flooring and ⅜ inch water resistant plywood installed on the interior walls.  The use of interior water resistant plywood on the walls of the 6x10 model adds not only strength, but also allows anglers to mount a variety of objects, such as rattle wheels, underwater camera mounts, coat hooks, TV brackets, etc. The walls on the 6x10 base models come uncovered, but interior aluminum paneling or an aluminum splash guard can be added as an option.   

Zero 4 Outdoors uses rubber coin stamped flooring, which is secured down with high quality glue.  Their inventory of 5x8 models come with rubber flooring installed, however the 6x10 base models come with an unfinished floor and rubber coin flooring can be added as an option.  

During normal operation, Zero 4 Outdoors can complete standard base model 6x10 units in about three days.  Custom options may increase the timeline. Certain custom colors can add on a few weeks due to a minimal on site inventory.  The 6x10 base model ice houses retail for $6495 and increase depending on added options. The 5x8 model ice houses retailed for $6500, however their small inventory of 5x8 ice houses left in stock are listed for a sale price of $4200. 

If you would like to get a hold of Mike or Jim, their business phone number is 608-669-4494. You can also find more information about Zero 4 Outdoors through their website www.zero4outdoors.com or find them on Facebook.