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by Elizabeth Carey
Coalition Snow wants to break the women’s ski mold. Sick of what founder and CEO Jen Gurecki calls “shrink it and pink it” skis, this new Lake-Tahoe-based by-women-for-women brand is building skis and snowboards for advanced and expert skiers. (Sorry, beginners.)
The company’s boards debuted at Skiing Magazine’s indie brand test this spring. It was after Coalition’s first season on the slopes, and just as a Kickstarter campaign was fully funded. Before our indie ski testers took the skis for a spin, we spoke with Gurecki about Coalition’s endeavors, the ski industry, and sponsoring pros.
What inspired you to start this company?
There’s this consistent narrative that you hear from so many women that feel like they play second fiddle to men in the industry, that their gear is watered down. There’s not anybody who’s focusing on them, or making them their number one (targeted skier).
Spending all these years riding and having these conversations, whether you’re on the chairlift or having a drink after a pow day, you hear that women have been feeling like they have been kind of ignored by the industry.
I was on a backcountry ski trip on the east side of the Sierra down by Yosemite, and we were having that conversation again. Someone said, “You should just start this company Jen.” I’m the type of person who says, “That sounds like a really good challenge, and it will be really hard—and really shake things up. I’m totally in.”
When I got home, I started calling and emailing other women, asking what they thought about this idea of a ski and snowboard company where women run it, own it, and do everything start to finish. Women were so pumped and so excited. So I thought, well, here’s this opportunity, where we can sit around and talk about it, talk about all the things we’re displeased with, or we could go out there and just do it. So I rounded up as many people as I could who could help make this a reality, because you can’t do this sort of thing alone.
And now with the Kickstarter, we’re about to launch our second line. We’ve done a lot of testing and solicited a lot of feedback. We’re really trying to show up for women in a way that hasn’t been done before, like really be there and listen and respond to what they need.
What is it specifically that women want out of their ski gear that a male-dominated industry isn’t providing at this point?
There are a lot of well-intentioned companies that are trying to make something for women, but either they’re just focused on a specific demographic or maybe they’re not listening to everyone. Most of the women’s-specific gear has been designed around this perspective that women are weaker and lighter than men. And so the resulting design has been a shorter, softer ski that helps women turn more easily and allows them to initiate (turns). That’s great for beginner skiers, whether you’re a man or a woman; it helps to have a ski that allows you to initiate a turn and stay on edge, but not all women are beginners.
That’s the big disconnect in the industry. What about all the women who are rippers?
With men’s skis they don’t make a special ski for, you know, that five-foot, five-inch tall man who weighs 100 pounds soaking wet. He doesn’t get some shrunken down version of a ski because he’s shorter and weighs less than a lot of other men.
And there’s a conversation we need to have with women: If you want to get better, you need to have gear that supports you in your progression. There’s a reason why you’re not going faster. There’s a reason your skis are chattering like crazy on the steeps.
If women knew that, then they would demand higher performance in their gear. We’re not seeing a lot of skis and boards on the market that support women in that transition from intermediate to advanced—or for the women who are already in the advanced category. That’s the niche that Coalition is trying to fill.
We are not trying to duplicate all the women’s-specific gear that is out there. Everyone can keep doing that. If you’re a beginner skier, our gear is not appropriate for you. So I feel like there is enough room for all of us to play, because we’re doing something different than most companies are doing.
Tell me about your skis. What do you think is your strongest model from the first line?
The all-mountain ski, the SOS, seems to be the most popular ski. It is great on the pow, but holds up on the crud, and it’s not too much of a ski on the groomers, too.
We do formal and informal feedback. What we’ve found is that a lot of women said they liked the ski, but even a 173cm intimidated them. “I’m used to skiing on a 160,” they said. So the Kickstarter will help us make a 166cm. The other feedback we’ve heard is that the 173 is too short. So we’ve had people on 180s, for which we had a mold, and which we will introduce as well.
Making new molds is really expensive, and we’re a small company. We are not swimming in hundreds of thousands of investor dollars. We want to respond to women, we know you can’t fit every woman into one box, but the Kickstarter will help us do this.
The beauty of being a smaller company is that we’re nimble. There’s not a lot of bureaucracy. It’s cool having a bunch of women call the shots.
What does it take to start a ski and snowboard company?
It’s both really cool and really difficult at the same time. There are so many companies starting at the same time (as us) in mountain towns, so we can be lumped in and not taken seriously. I support anyone following their passion; I have nothing negative to say about other companies. But I’m Jen Gurecki. I make things happen. We have decades of experience running companies.
“Women’s specific” has such a bad connotation. People think, “Oh, you mean those shitty skis?”. But when I say, “We make skis that don’t suck,” then people get it.
Being a small company, the challenges are not unique to us. It’s really expensive to do demo days; it’s really expensive to do SIA (a snowsports trade show). It’s not that we don’t want to do those things. That’s a challenge to play with the big guys that have a lot of money. We’re not really there yet.
Another challenge is navigating (the ski industry). There are a million moving parts and figuring out how those sync up is challenging. A lot of those pieces are out of your control sometimes. And at the end of the day you have to think, “What am I wiling to suffer through to reach my goals?”. Because you have to realize things are going to be really tough. That’s definitely helped me pushed through the day-to-day stuff.
Where do you want to take this company? How does it look when it’s successful?
We have a pro team and we pay them real money. That to me will signify we have made it because we’ll be generating enough revenue off ski sales to pay our team. A big issue in the industry is that pros are not compensated for their skills. For me, being able to do that would be a big win—paying women to compete, paying women as your team.
Also, having a lot of women working for us full-time. And, looking at how far can we take women-specific design. Plus, the ski industry is a full-on environmental disaster. Getting to that (eco-friendly) point would be super exciting. Being truly ecologically sustainable? That would be a sign we’ve made it.
(Photos from top: courtesy Jen Gurecki, Mason Strehl,Mael Passanessi)