Interview: Coalition Snow Co-Founder and CEO Jen Gurecki on the Need for High Performance Women's Skis

Sierra Sawyer skiing on the Abyss skis in
Crested Butte, CO. Photo by Mason Strehl.
"What I want people to know is that being pro-woman doesn’t mean that we’re anti-men. We are an inclusive company (and group of human beings) that welcome all people who are positive, supportive, and generally awesome in all things they do."

One of the reasons why I started Adventure-Inspired in the first place was to spread inspiration and excitement related to the outdoors. When it comes to inspiration and excitement, Coalition Snow Co-Founder and CEO Jen Gurecki has plenty to share.

Gender-specific gear can be a tricky topic, as can gender itself, but Jen and her team are tackling what they've identified as a serious gap in high-performance skis and snowboards for women. I got goosebumps reading Jen's answers to my interview questions; she's one of the most passionate people I've interacted with, and I'm so excited to share what she has to say about Coalition Snow and the quest to create the kind of skis women should have available to them.

Where did the idea for Coalition Snow originate?

JG: I’ve been snowboarding for 20+ years, and when you spend that much time in the mountains, you meet a lot of amazing people. I'm surrounded by brilliant women (and men), and a consistent narrative always emerged, whether we were on the chairlift, grabbing a drink at the end of an awesome powder day, or just sharing a meal: Why does the ski industry ignore women?

There’s so much data out there about our participation in snow sports (which is on the rise across all activities) AND we’re the ones who make the majority of the financial decisions in the home! But it’s like we’re invisible. We’re lumped into “junior” equipment categories, or the gear made for us is flowery and pink and short and soft. We’re an afterthought. We live on the sidelines. It’s quite insulting.

I was on a backcountry ski trip in the Sierra having just this conversation, and it was suggested that I do something about it. That I be the one to start a ski (and snowboard) company that makes gear that celebrates women, puts them at the center of things, and respects their skills. I’m always up for questioning the things we take for granted — the status quo — and I love working on projects that challenge the status quo and contribute in a positive way to this world.

As soon as I got home, I started texting, calling, e-mailing people about this idea of a ski and snowboard company where women are the ones calling all of the shots and designing the gear they want. The response was overwhelmingly positive. It was then that I knew it was time to transform this idea into a reality. Because so many people have been involved in bringing this company to life, we couldn’t think of a better name that Coalition. As with anything important in life, you can’t do it alone. We wanted to do more than create skis and snowboards; we wanted to be a part of a movement that recognizes and celebrates the strengths of women.

Team rider Sandra Dejin skiing in Sweden. Photo by Victor Engaras. Artwork by Lauren Bello of Folklaur Studio



 

Why is it important to focus Coalition Snow only on women's skis? 

JG: In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be important because gender wouldn’t be an issue. But we don’t live in that world (yet), so it’s important to elevate the people who remain in the shadows. In the ski and snowboard industry, those people are women. And that’s changing to some degree, but there’s also a ton of girl-washing going on too.

The other issue for us is that we wanted gear that wouldn’t hold us back — gear that enhanced our skills rather than sandbagged us.There’s a major deficit in the market when it comes to high performance women’s skis, but not when it comes to men’s skis. It doesn’t make sense to start a business and duplicate what other people are doing well. Often, doing what we're doing requires you to acknowledge a gap, which can be tricky and uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, what we believe in is supporting the mountain communities we call home, recreating with the people we call friends, and sharing our passion with as many people as possible. 

It’s also important to note that there’s enough room in this global economy for all of us to play. We don’t have any animosity toward any other ski companies — we simply see a gap and we’re trying to fill it.

What are some of the issues you see with skis currently available to women?

JG: Women are perceived to be weaker than men, so their gear needs to be designed in a way that “helps” them compensate for this deficit. There’s a reason why you can’t keep up with your boyfriend — your gear is holding you back. [Women's skis] are short and soft, which significantly diminishes their performance. It’s a shame that so many women are on short, soft gear — there’s no way you’ll eprogress if your gear can’t keep up with you. We completely disagree with this perspective and the resulting design, and we aim to shift this paradigm. This type of construction is perfect for beginner skiers, but all women shouldn’t be locked into that category.

And we know how important it is to women to feel confident in what they do — once you progress past a beginner skier, you need gear that will compliment your skills and make you feel good. Women don’t need skis (or snowboards) that are of lesser performance, we just often need something that’s a little shorter. The 180 charging ski that a six-foot man skis on is exactly what a ripping woman is looking for, but she wants it a shorter size. But it’s super hard to find. Even “unisex” skis tend to be much longer than what women are looking for. That’s where Coalition steps in. 

The other issues, which is more esoteric, is that the graphics on women’s skis are sad. We want our stuff to look good. Really good. Not everyone wants to be adorned in flowers, various shades of pink, and rhinestones. For those women who love all that, we support you! But for some of us, that representation feels like you think we’re 13-years-old. We’re not. We’re grown women with mature tastes.

Do you think having better women's specific skis available will affect the adoption of the sport among women?

JG: No one is going to show up to a party that they’re not invited to. If we want women to be more involved in skiing, we need to eliminate the barriers. Feeling included, understood, and respected are all important pieces to engaging women. Women also need to feel comfortable and confident when they are actually skiing. Appropriate gear for fits the level of skier is important to feeling good while on the mountain.

What advice would you give to women interested in getting started skiing? 

JG: For young women, join the ski club at school. See what activities your local parks and recreation department and non-profits are offering — often times they’ll organize everything for you and it will be affordable. Price can be a big barrier so you might need to borrow gear and join a group — that’s okay, it’s how many of us start. Tell your parents that this is important to you and tell them why. Skiing is so much more than recreating — it’s about confidence and skill building, overcoming challenges and fears, deeply connecting with people around shared passions.

For adult women, take lessons from a good friend or a professional ski instructor — but not someone you are related/married to or dating. Join a local ski/outdoor club and look for events/activities in your community that bring together women who ski, like the ones hosted by SheJumps. Realize that skiing is an investment of both your time and your money, buying used, outdated gear might be okay your first year, but know that you’ll need gear that will hold up once you progress. Know what your goals are — if it’s just to be outside and have fun, don’t worry about whether or not you’re charging down double black diamonds. But if that’s something that you aspire to, realize that it’s not going to happen overnight.


Coalition Snow launched a month-long Kickstarter campaign on March 24th, and if Jen's perspective on tackling the gap in the market for high performance women's skis and snowboards, you'll want to get on board. Also, check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and spread the love using the #sisterhoodofshred hashtag!

Comments

Outdoor Jane said…
Hello Katie,


Good reading, thank you, and important to stress the impact we have on trails and how to avoid damage. Nature is vulnerable indeed now, and that counts for flora as well as fauna. Animals will welcome the season of Spring according to their own nature. Depending on where you are hiking, you may encounter bears for instance. They might be a bit grumpy after hibernating through winter's dark months. Birds on the other hand are more often than not thrilled and excited and in some cases: reckless, especially while warming up in the sun.
And I liked the part on the boots and gaiters, a must for hiking in the Nordic Countries as I happen to know, and so often neglected or just forgotten.


Kind regards,
Jane


website: http://outdoor-jane.nl
Katie L said…
Thanks so much for sharing these notes, Jane! You're right about hibernating wildlife for sure. Gotta keep our eyes open! And thanks for sharing your website.
Alexandra Clement said…
Hi Katie,

Lots of great advice for spring hiking here, thank you! Hiking in Bavaria, Germany in spring often means that one minute you're trudging through wet snow and mud and 5 minutes later you're sweating in the sun so wearing layers is definitely important!

My advice is to try and check online before you go out on a trail as it might not be safe because of rain damage left over from the winter :)

Best,

Alex (www.yetirama.com)