Tag Archives | women leaders

A chat with Meegan Moszynski, first female Executive Director of the National Ski Patrol

Meegan Moszynski Photo Credit: Amy Wright

Meegan Moszynski
Photo Credit: Amy Wright

2017 was quite a year for women in the ski industry. Kelly Pawlak was named first female director of the National Ski Areas Association (you can read my interview with her here), and over the summer, Meegan Moszynski was named first female executive director of the National Ski Patrol. This is huge: Although the NSP has over 30,000 members, only 25% are women. So we’re looking at a fairly substantial crack in the snow ceiling here.

But being a woman isn’t the only thing that’s interesting about Meegan: She’s also never been a member of the Patrol. Her experience working with leaders in the private, public and nonprofit sectors more than make up for it, though. She’s collaborated on clean energy initiatives in China, educational and vocational training programs for women and children in Pakistan, and rural economic development projects in Cambodia. She speaks French, Italian, and Spanish, and has lived and traveled throughout South America, Western and Eastern Europe, southern Africa and northern China. And she’s not afraid to shake things up.

I recently interviewed Meegan to find out what she sees ahead for the NSP:

Ski Diva: Let’s start with the basics. What are the responsibilities of the Executive Director?
Meegan: I’m in charge of running the national office here in Lakewood, Colorado, along with the organization’s general operations. I also work with the national board of directors on larger, more strategic questions, initiatives, ideas, projects, and so on that involve the ethos of our organization, our strategic plan, our identity and ambitions, and more. What all this means is that I’m not the big boss of all NSP ski patrollers; each patroller works for her or his own ski area, not for me. I run the membership organization of which they are a part.

Ski Diva: You’ve never been a member of the Patrol. What’s the benefit of that to the culture of the organization?
Meegan: Hopefully, my outsider perspective will be a great addition to the organization as we think about both our current structure and future. I’ve been a skier my whole life and have lived in mountain towns, so I understand the culture and the outdoor recreation industry. The benefit of not being a patroller, however, is that it allows me to think as a nonprofit leader as opposed to a member. I also did go through the OEC [Outdoor Emergency Care] course in college, so I’m familiar with our curriculum. So I’m not a total stranger to what we do.

Ski Diva: I’m sure you’ve heard this question before, but the NSP has a reputation for being an old boys’ network. What are your thoughts on being the first female Director and on getting more women involved in the Patrol?
Meegan: I get this question a lot, but I think it’s a pretty important one. I’m proud of the organization for putting their faith in my leadership capabilities and trusting that I can run this organization. I think their decision is representative of what we’re starting to see across the industry: Women are becoming more involved in skiing and in outdoor/mountain recreation, and we’re taking more leadership positions in the for-profit and non-profit sectors. The NSP’s history and legacy are very important to us, and by definition that means that our world is more strongly represented by men; however, we have serveral women in leadership positions throughout the organization, and any woman patroller I’ve met can more than hold her own. So while NSP has, in fact, been an old boys’ network, I do think the mentality is starting to expand into recognizing what we need to do to grow and remain sustainable as an organization and as an industry. And I would love to see female participation grow while I’m here, so women, please join us!

Ski Diva: So how do you plan to expand the organization?
Meegan: In the coming year I’d really like to focus on new strategies for marketing the NSP to potential members. What can we do more or better to attract people to patrolling? How can we spread the word on what it means to be a member of NSP and what can we offer a new patroller? The NSP is so much more than a ski pass; it’s the camaraderie, the passion, the friendships, and the opportunity to help other people. Of course, there’s everyone’s favorite, the 4AM wake-up calls. I think that getting out there and working with our stakeholders, joining conversations with our industry partners about the future of the ski industry and how we can all work together – these are the things that will make us even more relevant and exciting.

Ski Diva: In addition to recruitment, what do you see as the major challenges facing the NSP, and what are your goals for the organization?
Meegan: I think we have some great opportunities to really grow. I want to focus on modernizing the NSP, on collaborating with ski areas, other nonprofits, the retail and manufacturing sectors, and other key stakeholders to make sure we’re addressing our common challenges and working together on solutions that benefit all of us. Issues like climate change, the shortening of the winter season, and the consolidation that we’re seeing among ski areas are all important issues for us to address, to be aware of, and be part of. We have an opportunity here to take a stand and assume the lead in creating a sustainable future for our industry, which will allow us and future generations, to continue enjoying what we love.

Ski Diva: What most excites you about working with the National Ski Patrol?
Meegan: Everything! Seriously, it’s been such an incredible experience. The people I’ve met, the passion I see among our members, and the places I get to see are all so much fun. It’s also a lot of work, and that excites me, too, because I’m both an ideas person and a Type-A/very organized person. It’s really a perfect combo for me, and I’m so grateful to be here.

Ski Diva: I read somewhere that you’re looking at expanding the Patrol to include mountain biking. If so, why do you see it heading in this direction?
Meegan: I’m so glad you asked, because we’re no longer just about skiing, and that’s a really important thing to know about NSP these days. Our board of directors approved mountain bike patrols in the spring of 2017, which means that we’ll start rolling out the details about what it means to be an NSP bike patroller in the near future. We’ve been working with some industry partners on how we can best contribute to the growing world of mountain biking, and I’m really excited to see what that looks like for this coming summer. This idea really came about because we work so closely with ski areas, who really are our end customers, and they’re starting to look into year-round operations in reaction to changing seasons, economic needs, and so on. As they start implementing downhill bike courses, high-ropes courses, trampolines, etc., we asked ourselves how can we continue to support these areas when there’s no snow. It made total sense to implement a bike patrol program in answer to that question. Besides, many ski patrollers are bike patrollers in the summer.

Meegan hiking for turns in Chile.

Meegan hiking for turns in Chile.

Ski Diva: So even though you haven’t been a patroller, I know that you’re a skier. Can you fill me in on your ski history? When did you start, where’d you ski, and how involved have you been throughout your life?
Meegan: I started skiing at age three at Snowbird. I remember doing the Cookie Doodle Races; it was so much fun! And I promised myself that when I grew up, I’d live in a ski town. I went to Middlebury College in Vermont, where I planned to try out for the patrol – and where I took my OEC course – but due to a personal tragedy in my first weeks of college, I dropped that plan and joined the swim team instead. I wouldn’t trade that decision for anything in the world, as some of my dearest, lifelong friends were made through that team, but it did mean that my ski days during college were limited. I did a short stint in New York after college, and as soon as I could, I got out of there and headed to Jackson, Wyoming. I lived there for 8 years, where I really got to know the resort and the backcountry and made many more lifelong friends. During my time there, my parents and my brother all trickled out to Colorado and ended up in the Aspen/Snowmass area, so after grad school I moved back in with them for a year. And then Denver. So I’ve always been a skier and have lived in ski towns on and off for the past 14 years. I love it.

Ski Diva: So what skis is the Exec Director of the National Ski Patrol skiing on these days?
Meegan: Icelantics. Nomad Rockers, specifically. 183’s. Wow, these skis are amazing! I was a Volkl skier for a while, and then I switched to Icelantics to support a local company, and I’ll never go back. I love, love, love these skis! They are snappy and responsive and so fun – and isn’t that what it’s all about?

 

 

 



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A chat with Kelly Pawlak, new president of the National Ski Areas Association

Kelly Pawlak

Kelly Pawlak

There’s nothing unusual about female ski instructors. And women in resort human resources, marketing, communications, and sales? Common as dirt.

But women general managers are a somewhat rarer breed. According to statistics from the National Ski Areas Association [NSAA], there are only about 20 to 30 nationwide. It’s more or less a boys’ club.

All this is about to change. Because starting in January, the boys’ club will have a woman in charge. Kelly Pawlak, GM of Mount Snow, VT, will become NSAA’s first female President and CEO. NSAA represents 313 alpine ski resorts that count for more than 90 percent of the skier/snowboard visits nationwide, as well as 414 supplier members who provide equipment, goods, and services to the mountain resort industry.

That’s a pretty big responsibility. According to its website, NSAA’s primary objective is to meet the needs of ski area owners and operators nationwide and to foster, stimulate, and promote growth in the industry. To do this, it analyzes and distributes ski industry statistics; produces annual conferences and tradeshows; produces a bimonthly industry publication; and is active in state and federal government affairs. It also provides educational programs and employee training materials on industry issues including OSHA, ADA and NEPA regulations and compliance; environmental laws and regulations; state regulatory requirements; aerial tramway safety; and resort operations and guest services.

I recently spoke to Kelly about her new position.

SD: You’ve been in the ski industry for a long time. How’d you get started?
KP: Quite honestly, it was sort of by accident. When I graduated from college, I realized that if I wanted to ski, I’d have to pay for it, myself. My dad wouldn’t do it anymore. So I looked for a job, found one at Mount Snow, and never left.

SD: You really came up the ranks, too. I understand you held a variety of positions, correct?
KP: Yes, I’ve been there since 1985, and I’ve worked in marketing, sales, operations, events…pretty much everything.

SD: So how has this has helped prepare you for your position at NSAA?
KP: Well, I think it helps me understand some of the needs of the 300-plus member ski areas. Clearly, my expertise is not very strong in the west and midwest, so I have a lot of learning to do there. Luckily, I’m not alone. There’s an extremely qualified staff of about 12 people behind me, so I’m confident that with their assistance, and talking with the folks at the ski areas, retailers, and suppliers, I’ll be a quick study.

SD: Women GM’s are few and far between, and you’re the first female president of NSAA. What are your thoughts on that? Why aren’t there more female execs in the ski industry?
KP: There are more and more women every year. Certainly there aren’t as many as men. But it’s a demanding schedule and it’s a woman’s choice to decide whether or not she wants that lifestyle. I often joke and say that most of my women friends who work in the industry are too smart to take a position like mine because they know the hours I work. I was lucky – I was able to work it out with my husband so I could do this job. He put his career on the back burner for me, and I’m grateful for that.

SD: There are a number of issues facing ski areas today. Off the top of your head, what do you think are the biggest challenges and which do you think you’ll be addressing right away?
KP: The biggest issues are already being addressed by NSAA, but I have two that interest me the most. The first is getting enough people to fill the jobs at ski areas and ski towns. As you know, the hospitality business requires a lot of people to get the job done; it’s not as automated as some other industries, so finding staff is difficult.

SD: I understand  there have been a lot of issues recently regarding  J-1 Visas. [Ed. Note: there are reports that the President is considering axing the program that allows students from all over the world to work U.S. ski area jobs in the name of cultural exchange.]
KP: Exactly. We’re trying to make our legislators understand that if we could fill all the positions with domestic staff, we would, but it’s just not possible. So we support the international staff members.

The other challenge – and we’ve been working on this for years – is bringing new skiers into the sport and retaining them, once they try it. I think this is an area where we need a lot more discovery. We’re going to have to try some new things. Skiing is an amazing opportunity for people and once you’ve tried it and had an enjoyable experience, you’ll want to do it for life. We have to discover what those hurdles are and break them down and make it easy for folks to ski. There’s more work that needs to be done and we’re going to have to be a bit more innovative.

SD: How do you feel about all the consolidations that have been going on in the ski industry?
KP: There are pros and cons, depending on where you are and who you are. It’s not black and white; it’s gray. At Mount Snow, I’ve been part of three different ownerships and each one brought different benefits to the resort. A lot of times when a ski resort changes hands it really motivates other resorts in that demographic to try new things. I know that for Peak Resorts, which owns Mount Snow, buying Hunter Mountain was a really good move because we were able to connect all of our ski areas, so now our skiers could buy our Peak Pass and ski the Poconos, Hunter, and Mount Snow. So in that case, it was excellent for our portfolio.

SD: Consolidations can also make it difficult for the smaller resorts to compete. What can NSAA do to support them?
KP: Besides working with the larger areas, part of my new job will be visiting some of the smaller ski companies so I can better understand their challenges. It’s important to address their needs just as much as the larger ski areas.

SD: I know climate change is another major challenge. That has to be high on your agenda right now, too.
KP: Yes. Again, NSAA has been working on this for many years. There isn’t a ski resort that isn’t focused on sustainability. NSAA is great about sharing knowledge, so every time we can learn about a resort that’s lowering their kilowatt hours or reducing their dependence on diesel air compressors, we share that throughout the industry. What helps one helps us all.

SD: And it seems that so many of them are working on becoming four season resorts, too.
KP: Absolutely. The ski industry is becoming so versatile. We have resorts that do better in the summer than in the winter.

SD: On a personal note, you’ve been living in Vermont for a long time. I suppose you’ll be moving to Colorado now? You’ll have to trade your ice skis in for powder skis.
KP: Exactly! I’m going to have to take some lessons and learn how to ski powder. I’m looking forward to that. But this position does have quite a bit of travel involved, so I still plan to come back east to ski. This time, however, I’ll be a guest so I can do all the things I couldn’t do when I was focused on providing the guest experience at Mount Snow. I’m looking forward to that.

 

 



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No Limits: 11 Women Who Shattered the Snow Ceiling.

I’m writing this on August 26, Women’s Equality Day. Sure, I know, I’m posting it four days later. But y’know, Women’s Equality shouldn’t be limited to just one day. It’s something we need to think about all the time. Why? Because it’s 2016, not 1916, and a lot of the issues that hold women back should’ve have been resolved a long time ago.

Nonetheless, Women’s Equality Day got me thinking about all the women in the ski world who’ve broken gender barriers and smashed through the snow ceiling. Certainly, there are a lot of amazing women I could include — too many to name, in fact — but I thought I’d point out a  few who have done their part to show that women shouldn’t be limited just because they have female rather than male anatomy.

Andrea Mead Lawrence

Andrea Mead Lawrence

 

 

Andrea Mead Lawrence: Let’s start with a good one. Andrea Mead Lawrence was the first American alpine skier to win two Olympic gold medals. Not first female alpine skier — the first alpine skier. She showed all of us that sure, it could be done. And yeah, it could be done by a woman.

 

 

 

Jeanne Thoren

Jeanne Thoren

Jeanne Thoren: Granted, some of the modifications she proposed for skis and boots are still being debated today. But whether you agree with her or not, you have to give Jeanne Thoren her props. Jeanne was the first person in the ski industry to realize that women were not just miniature men and maybe, just maybe, we needed gear engineered to suit us. A radical concept, in its time (which incidentally, wasn’t all that long ago). In 1986, Jeanne designed what is believed to be the first women’s ski, for the Austrian company Blizzard. She also created awareness of and demand for women-centric ski gear, raising the bar for the entire industry and improving the sport for all women. The Exclusive Carve Ski she designed for Dynastar became Ski magazine’s 2007 Ski of the Year. In 2009, she opened the Jeannie Thoren’s Women’s Ski Center in Vail, Colorado.

 

Suzy Chaffee

Suzy Chaffee

Suzy Chaffee: I had the privilege of interviewing Suzy a couple years ago, and it was pretty mind-blowing to speak to someone I idolized when I first started skiing. Sure, she’s a three-time world freestyle skiing champion, and yeah, she was the first female member of the US Olympic team board of directors. But I think her most far-ranging achievement is her work as a champion of Title IX legislation. Suzy was instrumental in convincing federal lawmakers to enact the statute that guarantees equal opportunities for men and women in federally funded sports and education programs. You can find my interview, along with her long list of achievements, here.

Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn

 

Lindsey Vonn: I hardly need to write anything here. Lindsey isn’t just arguably the best women’s skier of all time, she’s also considered one of the best skiers of all time.  I won’t go into all her accomplishments (you can find them in Wikipedia), but I’ve included her in this list for one important reason: her extremely high profile serves as an inspiration for girls and women everywhere.  She’s also the founder of the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, which empowers young women through scholarships, programs and unique opportunities.

 

 

Lynsey Dyer

Lynsey Dyer

Lynsey Dyer: A phenomenal world-class skier who was named Powder Magazine’s Skier of the Year, Lynsey is also the founder of  SheJumps.org, an organization dedicated to encouraging  women to  participate in outdoor activities. But that’s not all: Fed up with the fact that only 14% of the athletes in major ski films are female when women make up around 40% of the skiing population, Lynsey took it upon herself to produce Pretty Faces, an all-female ski movie, raising the bulk of the money she needed via a Kickstarter campaign. I interviewed her about all this here.

 

 

Lindsey Van

Lindsey Van

Lindsey Van: Yes, another Lindsey/Lynsey (what the heck is with that name, anyway?). But this one is different: she flies. Lindsey is an amazing ski jumper; in 2009, she became the first World Champion in women’s ski jumping after winning the first World Championships to allow women to compete. She also holds the North American women’s record with a jump of 171 meters. Before the Olympic Games in 2010, she held the hill record for both men and women in Vancouver. More importantly, her continued efforts not only helped put women’s ski jumping on the map, but helped put it into the 2014 Olympics. For more information on this, here’s a piece I did about it in 2013.

Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke

 

Sarah Burke: Taken from us way too soon, Sarah was a force to be reckoned with on the Freestyle Skiing circuit. In fact, it’s thanks to her tireless efforts that women’s ski half-pipe was finally included in the X Games, three years after men were competing in this same event. Sarah went on to become a four-time X Game champion. She also coached girls on glaciers in the summer, paving the way for future female competitors in more than one way.

 

 

 

Pam Murphy

Pam Murphy

 

Pam Murphy: There still aren’t a lot of women in the upper echelons of ski area management, but the first to break the snow ceiling was Pam Murphy. Starting in the ticket office at Mammoth Mountain in 1973, Pam rose through the ranks to vice president of marketing and sales and in 1998, became Mammoth’s general manager — the first female GM for a major ski resort in the country. Pam retired from the post in 2014.

 

 

Kim Beekman

Kim Beekman

 

Kim Beekman: One of the major publications of the ski industry, Skiing Magazine never had a female editor-in-chief in its 68-year history until Kim Beekman took the helm. Named to the post in 2015, Kim is an award-winning journalist, an accomplished lifelong skier, and director of SKI’s rigorous Women’s Ski Test. As editor-in-chief, she’s focused on welcoming a wider range of skiers into the fold, no matter what their ability, through compelling story telling and informative articles.

 

 

 

 

Angel Collinson

Angel Collinson

Angel Collinson: Angel is kind of the ‘it’ girl of skiing right now. But not without cause. Angel was the first woman to win the Best Line at the Powder Awards, creating what the Ski Journal called “the burliest—and most entertaining—female film segment of all time.” Her footage ended up earning her the coveted closing segment in Paradise Waits, marking the first time a woman has been selected for a TGR finale. The previous year, she broke barriers with the first female opening segment of a TGR film, in 2014’s Almost Ablaze. In fact, until Collinson showed up on the scene three years ago, the studio hadn’t featured a woman in a film in years.

 

 

Jen Gurnecki

Jen Gurnecki

Jen Gurecki: What do we do when we’re unhappy with the women’s skis out there? Here’s what Jen did: she stepped up and created Coalition Snow, the first ever woman-owned ski company — not an easy task in an industry that’s dominated by men. The company’s tag line says it all: We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. Yep, don’t tell her she can’t; she’ll turn it into a can. I interviewed her here.

 

 

 

There’s no doubt there are a lot of inspiring women in the ski world (some of the others I’ve interviewed include Muffy Davis, Donna Weinbrecht, and Elyse Saugstad). In fact, the Ski Hall of Fame will soon be opening a special exhibit on women hall-of-famers, a well-deserved tribute to a talented, powerful group. Helmets off to them all!

 



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Why aren’t there more women in the US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame?

Little over a week ago, the Class of 2015 was inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. As always, it’s an impressive group with an amazing list of achievements  (for the full list, go here). A big Ski Diva congratulations to all.

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, Class of 2015 Left to right: Lessing Stern, son of honoree Edgar Stern*, Genia Fuller Crews, Henry Kaiser, Chris Klug, Bob Salerno, Jim Martinson, David Ingemie *Edgar Stern passed away October 12, 2008 Photo courtesy of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, Class of 2015
Left to right: Lessing Stern, son of honoree Edgar Stern*, Genia Fuller Crews, Henry Kaiser,
Chris Klug, Bob Salerno, Jim Martinson, David Ingemie
*Edgar Stern passed away October 12, 2008
Photo courtesy of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame

I was especially excited about the inclusion of Genia Fuller, a true pioneer in freestyle skiing and a three-time World Freestyle Skiing Champion. But then I realized something: out of the seven new inductees, she was the only woman to receive this honor. So it made me wonder: how many members of the Hall of Fame are female?

The results may surprise you: out of four hundred and ten inductees, there are only sixty women. Yes, you read that right. Sixty. That’s 15%.

I was surprised, too. I mean, what’s going on here? Why so few?

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

First, some background.

Established in 1956, the Hall of Fame is dedicated to preserving and promoting America’s ski heritage through the permanent recognition of nationally outstanding skiers, snowboarders, and ski sport builders. It’s headquartered in the City of Ishpeming on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where the National Skiing Association was first organized over a century ago, and features a museum with displays on the Hall of Fame honorees, trophies, clothing, and equipment. There’s a gift shop, too, as well as a library and theater. Admission is free, and visitors are welcome 10AM to 5PM, Monday thru Saturday year-round.

So how are Hall of Fame members selected?

First, they need to be nominated. And this can be done by anyone. That’s right — you, me, your mom, your sister, anyone. All you have to do is visit the Hall of Fame website and download the nomination form. Nominees are taken in one of three categories: Athletes, which is pretty self explanatory; Snowsport Builders, who are people who have made significant contributions to skiing or snowboarding and who aren’t athletes; and Heritage, which can be athletes or snowsport builders who have been retired from their qualifying activity for 25 years or have participated in it for at least 25 years. You can find the eligibility requirements here.

Once the nominees are in, they’re vetted by a selection committee, which reviews the candidates and determines the final slate via secret ballot. This is then submitted to a national voting panel made up of members of the selection committee, honored members, members of the USSA Awards Working Group, and directors of the US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and the US Ski and Snowboard Association. The chairman and the board of directors may also appoint a reasonable number of individuals to the national voting panel, including those having distinguished careers in snowsports and holding expert knowledge in snowsports history. Honorees are announced in October, and the induction ceremony held the following April.

Which brings me back to my original question: why so few women?

Is it part of some sinister plot? Is it evidence of blatant sexism? Well, there may be a few things at play here. Consider the following:

First, history. The snowsports industry has long been dominated by men. This is changing (albeit slowly), but years ago, things were very, very different. The individuals involved in building the resorts or developing products or technologies were almost exclusively male. That means there’s a larger pool of men to draw from, which tips the scales in favor of male inductees, particularly in the Heritage and Sport Building categories. The result is more men in the Hall.

Second, the nomination process. As I said earlier, anyone can submit a nomination. So to get more women honorees, more women have to be put up for a vote. And that’s where all of us come in. Nominations for next year are being taken right now through the end of April, so if you like, you can have a hand in selecting the Class of 2016. Please, get involved, and we can change this. It’s up to us.

BTW, the Hall of Fame Museum is working on a Women in Skiing Exhibit, which will focus on the female honorees and their achievements. Spearheaded by honoree Jeannie Thoren, the exhibit is slated to open in September, 2016. Here she is at the entry to the exhibit with her husband, Thomas Haas.

Photo courtesy of Jeannie Thoren.

Photo courtesy of Jeannie Thoren.

Want some inspiration? I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing several female Hall of Fame honorees for this blog: Muffy Davis, Donna WeinbrechtSuzy Chaffee, and Deb Armstrong. Interesting reading, so be sure to check them out!

 

 

 

 



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A Chat with the CEO of Coalition Snow: Skis Made By Women, For Women.

How many of you ski on women’s gear?

[Looking at you through your screen]

I see. A good number.

If I’d asked this question not more than a decade ago, I think very few of you would’ve raised your hands (or nodded. Or at least said to yourself, ‘me.’) But today, many ski gear manufacturers offer dedicated lines of skis just for women.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

But perhaps not long enough. Because even though the Snowsports Industries of America reported that women were responsible for nearly a third of the $3.4 billion spent in retail in 2011-12, some companies still consider women a secondary market.

Not so at Coalition Snow, a new ski and snowboard company that’s not just run by women; it makes skis and snowboards exclusively for women.

Get a load of their tag line:

“We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for,” a Hopi Indian quote that exudes confidence, moxie, and a determination to take charge of one’s own destiny.

Kind of says it all, don’t you think?

Recently I spoke to Jen Gureki, Coalition Snow’s founder and CEO.

Jen Gureki CEO, Coalition Snow

Jen Gureki
CEO, Coalition Snow

Q. So tell, me Jen, what gave you the idea for Coalition Snow? How’d you get started?
A. I was on a backcountry ski trip in 2013 and talking with friends about women’s skiing. This was about the time that Pretty Faces [the Lynsey Dyer all-female ski movie] was getting started and there were a lot of conversations about how women’s gear doesn’t meet the needs of more advanced women skiers and riders and how that can hold women back. We were saying, oh, wouldn’t it be great if someone would make gear that women like us would want to use, because so many of us use men’s gear. As with many things in life, you can’t wait for someone else to come along and do it for you if it’s something  you want; you have to create it yourself. When we got home I started emailing friends and talking to them about what they thought about this idea: a company of women making skis and snowboards for women. We had a terrific response, so we decided to go forward.

Q. So your decision was based on a general dissatisfaction with the women’s gear that was already on the market?
A. Yeah. Most women’s-specific gear is kind of shoddy and soft and built around this idea that women don’t have enough strength to turn skis or boards. That might be the case for some women, but basing equipment on the idea that women aren’t powerful doesn’t do women any favors. I’ve been living in Tahoe for about 12 years, and most of the women I know are on men’s skis because they have the right stiffness and flex and you can find a more aggressive ski. The problem is often it’s not the right length. So we set out to design skis and snowboards that are a more appropriate length for women, though I do think our stuff is a little bit longer than some women might’ve been told they should be skiing on. The flex pattern is also much stiffer than most women’s skis.

Q. What goes into the design of your skis?
A. There’s no peer review study or literature that talks about how women skis are designed differently. It mostly comes down to where the bindings are placed, so we came at our design from what makes a women’s ski so that women would want to ski on it. We did a ton of market research, both formally and informally, to find out what women want and based our design on that. Last year was our year for testing, prototyping, and research and we went into production this summer so we have a limited edition line: a powder ski, an all mountain ski, and all mountain snowboard. All that info is on our website.

Q. Can you tell me about your skis?  What makes them different from other women’s skis out there?
A. One of the things is length. Both our skis are 173. We really believe that 173 is a good length for many female skiers, unless you’re a real expert or really petite. We also designed the ski to have a rockered tip and tail, so the amount of edge that comes in contact with the snow is a lot less than 173. We figured if we make really short skis, we’re perpetuating the idea that that’s what women need. But what we found in our testing was that even women who were used to shorter skis became better skiers once they got on ours. Yeah, there was a short learning curve. But it actually helps them progress.

So both our skis are 173 with a rockered tip and tail, multiple radius side cut, camber underfoot. They’re really good in transitioning from the pow to the crud to the groomers. We went with a full birch core, because that provides a good amount of stiffness, and one of the things we learned last year was that women’s skis were flimsy and that the tips would go down. We went with a stiffer ski because it would hold up better at high speeds and initiate turns better.

C:UsersUserDesktopNew folder (4)skis Model (1)

C:UsersUserDesktopNew folder (4)skis Model (1)

Q. I have to say I love the graphics. One thing that drives me nuts about women’s skis is when they have all the pretty little flowers and butterflies.
A. Our artists are women, too, and no, not everyone wants pink flowers. But a lot of women don’t want the grim reaper or the skulls and crossbones you’ll find on men’s skis, either, so we went somewhere else.

Q. Where are your skis being produced?
A. We’re working with a factory in Japan, and we’re selling them directly from our website as well as through many online retailers.

Q. How’s response been so far?
A. It’s been amazing from both men and women. We’re not about eliminating or excluding men. They’re a part of what we do. And men who get it – who want to see women thrive – really appreciate our skis. There’s been an outpouring of support from women who I think feel like they’ve been ignored or marginalized by the industry. Let’s face it, the industry is predominately male. People don’t change unless they have to; the status quo has been working very well for the industry, but I think energy has grown around women being perceived in a different way. Women have been demanding that.

Women have been incredibly supportive. For the most part, everyone has been excited and that’s what’s kept us going. About once a week I get an email for phone call from some stranger who says, “We’ve needed this for so long, we’ve been waiting for this.”

Q. How can someone go about demoing your skis?
A. We have demos available in a few shops in Truckee. We don’t have any demos outside of the area because this is our first year, but if there were shops that were interested, I’d be happy to talk to them.

Q. It’s amazing no one’s done this before.
A. I think the reason is that we’re told it’s going to fail.  Lynsey Dyer said that about Pretty Faces. She was told over and over that there wasn’t a strong enough market. The data speaks otherwise. If you look at the data about women’s participation,  it’s on the rise in every single category, so I don’t understand why people feel that way. I think running a business is difficult, especially if you’re getting into a business like this. There are so many challenges. I think it’s definitely the right time to be doing this, and I think that being told you’re going to fail makes people not want to do it.

Q. What do you think has been your biggest challenge in getting this off the ground?
A.I think we’re in the middle of our biggest challenge right now. We’re lucky in that we have really good relationships with people who have been in the industry for a really long time, so we’re getting some good advice. But right now, we’re trying to determine if all that support is going to translate into sales. The only way we’re going to be viable is if people buy our skis. It’s sort of like a big social experiment.

Q. So what’s in the future? Do you plan to expand your line?
A. We’re actually working on that right now. We’re looking to add some longer skis, one with a narrower width, like a front-side ski, also a powder board. We’re doing research right now to figure out what we’re going to produce.

Women wonder why they’re not getting better at skiing. Well, it’s because your gear sucks. You need gear that’ll help you progress. There’s a reason you can’t keep up with your husband or your boyfriend. So we aim to change that.

 



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A conversation with Suzy Chaffee

Everyone has their heroes – people who’ve inspired them to take a certain path.

One of mine is Suzy Chaffee. Granted, this goes all the way back to the late 60’s, but Suzy was one of people who inspired me to take up skiing. And that’s had an incredible impact on my life.

Suzy Chaffee

For those of you who need reminding, Suzy was captain of the US Women’s Alpine Team in the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. A miscalculation in ski wax kept her off the podium, but her silver racing suit got the attention of the press and helped launch an astonishing career.  Although Suzy’s endorsement of ChapStick lip balm earned her the name Suzy Chapstick, her accomplishments extend way beyond just being a celebrity endorser. In addition to her participation in the Olympics, consider these:

  • First female member of the US Olympic Team Board of Directors
  • Member of the President’s Council for Physical Fitness, serving through four administrations
  • Three-time world freestyle skiing champion (1971-1973)
  • Co-founder of the Native American Olympic Foundation
  • Inductee in the US Ski Hall of Fame in three categories: Alpine, Freestyle, and Sports Building
  • Inductee in the Vermont Sports Hall of Fame and the Colorado Sportswoman’s Hall of Fame
  • Ski film star
  • Ski ballet pioneer, and helped start the Olympic Women’s Freestyle Division

An impressive list. But perhaps her most far-ranging achievement is her work as a champion of Title IX legislation. Suzy was instrumental in convincing federal lawmakers to enact the statute that guarantees equal opportunities for men and women in federally funded sports and education programs.

I spoke to Suzy recently from her home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Q: Suzy, can you tell us how you got involved as an activist for Title IX?
A: I had a wake up call in 1964, when I was at the University of Denver. I chose Denver because it was the Rocky Mountain ski mecca, and my [future Olympian] brother, Rick, was part of their invincible ski team. His coach, Willy Schaeffler, promised me training as one of the top skiers in America. I enjoyed their dry land training, where I carried guys up the stadium steps, but when it came time for on-snow training an hour away at Evergreen Ski Area, I wasn’t allowed to ride in the team car because I didn’t have NCAA insurance. The reason: I couldn’t biologically pass the male physical. Since there were no sports scholarships for girls back then and my family couldn’t afford a car, I had to hitchhike.

In 1977, I was asked by the president of the PE Teachers of  America to help lead a march in support of Title IX in Washington, DC.  Thousands of people showed up, and it made the national news. I realized that unity brings power, so after the march I called the White House and set up a meeting with Vice President Walter Mondale. I brought in Billy Jean King and the PE teachers, who had their lawyers for Title IX, and we got the ball rolling. It was a hard fight. Around that time I was on an elevator with Walter Buyers, the head of the National Collegiate Athletic establishment, and asked him, “What would be a reasonable percentage of the men’s budget for the women since it was still one percent after five years?” And he replied, “One percent is just fine.” We got a lot of powerful legislators behind us — Ted Kennedy, for example, who worked for Title IX for almost four decades, including restoring it after President Reagan got it overturned by the Supreme Court.

Q: Why is Title IX so important?
A: Studies have proven that investing in girls’ sports improves the health of families, delays pregnancy, reduces population, and transforms communities and countries from poverty to productivity. Title IX has also been a boon for the US sports industries — especially skiing, since moms who fall in love with skiing not only help create Olympians, but help decide where their families go on vacations.  So protecting Title IX and girls’ ski opportunities is priceless to states like Colorado, where 64,000 jobs depend on snow sports tourism.

Q: You co-founded the Native American Olympic Foundation. What is this and what does it do?
A: Just as Title IX legislation gave women a chance, the Native American Olympic Foundation aims to give Native American youth a chance to develop their talents and compete in the Winter Olympics. According to a senate study by Olympian Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Native youth lack opportunities in sports and jobs. This contributes to the highest suicide rate of any race for the last hundred years. One  in three Native girls attempt suicide, and 1 in 4 Native boys. Snow sports build health, self-esteem, leadership skills, and lasting friendships, as well as provide greater accessibility to educational, job, and career opportunities outside the reservation. They’re also a super way to show appreciation to the Native American ancestors, who gave us the roots for eleven of our Olympic sports. Since ski lift tickets are out of reach of most tribal youth, especially girls, our foundation urges ski areas and communities across America to welcome home their nearby children with a free day of skiing and boarding on their ancestral lands.

Q: I know you also champion environmental causes. Can you tell me more about this?
A: It’s a delicate time for our planet, and we have to do what we can to protect it. The mountains are our source of drinking water, agriculture, and food. If we keep going in our present direction, we’re going to run out of snow. And that means water. So it’s crucial that we shift funding from military defense to climate change defense. We women are the protectors of nature. We need to create a sustainable world so we can live better in the future.

Q: Tell me, do you ever get tired of the name Suzy Chapstick?
A: No, not at all. The endorsement opened many doors for me. It was a great opportunity. In fact, when I was on the U.S. Olympic Committee board, I wrote the rule that allowed Madison Avenue to sponsor Olympic teams and individuals, which helped open the international playing field to people from all economic classes.

Q: Puerto Vallerta  seems far removed from skiing. Why are you there?
A: Because I can see whales jumping from my terrace. It’s a slice of paradise — relaxed, friendly, and affordable.  I missed out on 16 years of vacation pouring all my resources into joyfully giving my gift back to humanity.

For more information on the Native American Olympic Foundation, go here.

 

 

 



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