THE QUEST FOR GENDER PARITY IS NOT RESTRICTED TO THE CORPORATE WORLD. The ski industry is also full of examples of preferential treatment of men over women. From sponsorship deals to representation in the workforce, women are often treated like Snowblades: occasionally ridiculed, sometimes ignored and always the short stick.
While some companies are making inroads – Elan and K2 stand out – only one brand waves the feminist banner with gusto. Coalition Snow’s simple motto is, “We make women’s skis and boards that don’t suck.”
“I’ve lived in mountain communities my entire adult life and surrounded myself with hard charging female skiers and snowboarders who want nothing more than exceptional equipment,” says Jen Gurecki, CEO of Coalition. “We would routinely discuss how much women’s skis and snowboards sucked, and it never sat well with us that short, soft, pink equipment was supposed to represent who we were as women and as athletes.”
Where most would be content to vent and then shrug Gurecki wasn’t – it’s never been her way. Her start in the ski industry was definitely not girly – at 18 the only women twisting bindings at the resort. A couple years later she started her first company, Pantyline Productions. In the midst of the George W. Bush presidency it made women’s underwear with slogans like “The only Bush I trust is my own.” It was after a masters degree that she got serious about inequality, founding a microfinance company that works with women in Kenya. In 2013, sick of hearing the same complaints about women’s ski and board gear, she co-founded Coalition Snow.
“I had a vision to create a company that not only would expand women’s choices and offer up skis and snowboards that could handle whatever they put it through, but also amplify women’s voices, celebrate their successes, and move them from the margins to the center,” she says. “We’re putting an end to ‘shrink it and pink it.’”
The all woman company only makes women’s skis and boards. Most employees are skiers, while Gurecki is a boarder. That’s one of the reasons they’ve had skis and boards from day one. The other is a continuation of the equality theme.
“The skier/snowboarder rivalry is so 1990s,” she says. “It doesn’t do anything to help us build thriving mountain communities.”
No surprise, the journey has not been a cruise on groomers. “A shit ton of courage, mixed with a good dose of naïveté has been immensely beneficial through this process,” is how she puts it. Though things are changing; 2016 was a good year. They landed distribution with REI, the largest outdoor sport retailer in the America, and signed Canadian freestyle skier Roz Groenewoud. Roz G, as she’s known, designed her own signature ski.
“It’s true a lot of women’s equipment does suck,” says Groenewoud. “I thought I could build a better ski than I could find – the exact ski I wanted to ski on. I approached Coalition about making me a couple pairs and it just progressed from there.”
Gurecki’s background inspired Groenewoud and she believed in the company’s mission, but more important is the message an all woman’s ski company sends.
“I think a lot of parents think twice about encouraging their daughters to become professional skiers because there’s no career opportunities for them if it doesn’t work out,” she says. “Coalition Snow is challenging that idea and opening up doors to the industry.”
Indeed. “Coalition Snow isn’t a charity or a project,” says Gurecki. “We’re serious business women, with a passion for skiing and snowboarding, who are running a thriving company. I’d put our equipment up against anyone’s.”
– By Ryan Stuart, for S-Media