The Women Making Forbes Pay Attention To Snowsports
Coalition Snow Has Built A Brand For Women -- And Now Girls -- Who Love Winter Sports
On a backcountry skiing trip a few years ago, Jen Gurecki and some friends were talking about the lack of skis and snowboards on the market for women like them—avid and experienced skiers. One of the women mused that it would be great if someone with business acumen started a company to fill that gap. “I realized I had that acumen, and I could do this,” says Gurecki.
Though Gurecki jokes that might have been "the most naïve moment"of her life, she and her co-founders have been steadily building since it launched in 2013. The Lake Tahoe company designs and manufactures skis and snowboards for women who are way beyond the bunny hill. And now, with a Kickstarter campaign currently running, it plans to launch a YOUth line for young shredders.
Gurecki says inspiration for the youth line came from customers. Not only those who encouraged them to start one, but the many women who tell Gurecki and her team how spending time in the mountains isn’t just fun, but has boosted their overall confidence, expanded their communities, and given them a deeper appreciation for the environment.
“We all know how important it is to experience these moments early on in life because they help to define who we are today,” says Gurecki. With girls dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys by age 14, the YOUth line is Coalition Snow’s effort to help girls find the confidence and community that can change that statistic.
At the time of the trip that set things in motion, Gurecki was working on a PhD about entrepreneurship in Kenya, where she had founded Zawadisha, a social enterprise that provides small loans to rural Kenyan women to help access renewable energy and water products. But after getting great feedback on the idea for Coalition Snow from a wide range of people, Gurecki took on a more advisory role at Zawadisha. And she left her PhD behind.
While there were skis and boards designed for women on the market, that design typically meant the gear was a bit shorter. Maybe it had a pink graphic. Women’s skis and boards were made for beginners, with a lot of flex. “When you are progressing in the sport or already advanced, soft gear doesn’t hold up,” says Gurecki. Coalition Snow’s designs adjust the flex to make its products stiffer for improved performance for intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders. “We are not doing anything that big existing brands couldn’t do, but women are so ignored that it took a group of women who love the mountains and the sport to create this,” says Gurecki.
“What does it say about our perception of women’s skills if all they can buy is shorter and softer, something with a pink graphic on it. That is insulting.”
Gurecki’s experience at her first company had taught her the importance of getting good advice. One of her first steps with Coalition Snow was to build a network of advisors who knew the industry. Those advisors made the introductions Coalition Snow needed to get its prototypes designed and manufactured. “It is really difficult to start a hard goods company, so we knew from the beginning if we wanted to have a successful company we had to have advisors from inside the industry,” says Gurecki.
To test the prototypes, Gurecki and her friends used them on trip to a glacial summit. The skis and boards performed well, and the trip got some press attention. It seemed the brand was on its way.
The timing couldn’t have been much worse. California, and much of the western United States, was experiencing a severe drought and winter sports were hard hit. Coalition Snow didn’t meet the revenue goals it had set for its first year. To raise they funds they needed to start production for the next season, the co-founders turned to crowdfunding. In spring 2015, they had a Kickstarter campaign, raising $31,000 and surpassing their goal of $25,000. “Crowdfunding isn’t just build it and they will come,” says Gurecki. “It is a hustle.” Key to success in crowdfunding, she says, is having a large personal network, and reaching out to people to support you. “It begins with the personal relationships you have built over the years,” she says. “Some tech products may not need those relationships to succeed, but most do.”
Building a community around women-led businesses, and winter sports, is key to the company’s growth plans. Coaltion Snow has a strong social media presence, they keep their community engaged with an email newsletter called Lady Parts. Gurecki and her team demo the products at ski resorts and attend trade shows. They hit a milestone last season when REI began carrying the line in some of its West Coast and Canadian stores, with more stores expected to pick up the products next year. Outdoor retailer Moosejaw, based in Michigan, has also signed on.
Gurecki says in contrast to the standard model of launching an entire new line each year, and slashing prices as needed, Coalition Snow aims only to add products they feel are missing from the market. “We are introducing new boards and skis every year, and our inventory is selling out, but we don’t want to buy into the traditional idea that we have to produce a new line every year and slash our prices at the end of the season,” she says. “If you think about being a conscious company, it should not be about introducing more and more just to do so.”
When they decided on the youth line, turning again crowdfunding seemed the right choice, as “we know how to make a campaign a success.” They set a goal of $50,000, and as the campaign got under way, Gurecki says she was thrilled to see many of the people who supported their first campaign returning. “It is gratifying to be building a community that wants to support us, and our goals for women and girls,” she says.
Perhaps even more gratifying is reaching women who may not even ski, or have daughters, but who believe in the mission behind the company. “Right now, the voices of women are being amplified in ways I haven’t seen in my lifetime,” says Gurecki. Whether that means women will increasingly align their values with how they spend their money remains to be seen. But supporting women-led companies is part of that. “Even if you don’t have a child who skis, you can support us because you believe in women-owned businesses,” says Gurecki. “And you believe in creating role models, and in building a community that supports women.”