Women’s skis are generally softer, smaller versions of men’s skis. But according to Jen Gurecki, CEO of Tahoe-based startup Coalition Snow, it doesn’t have to be that way. As part of our look this week at female entrepreneurship growing in the region, I met with Gurecki to find out more.
Coalition Snow's tagline sums up everything you need to know about the company:
"We make women's skis and snowboards that don't suck"
That's Jen Gurecki, founder and CEO of the company, which is currently entering into its second ski season. Earlier this year, Gurecki won the Nevada governor's startup pitch competition, thanks in part to her go-big attitude.
"Even before they announced the winner I knew it was me because they said, 'we were afraid to not give it to her.' And I was like ‘Oh yep, that's me.’"
In addition to giving female skiers appropriate sizes and cool graphics, Gurecki says Coalition Snow gives women the functionality that has long been missing from women’s skis and snowboards.
“So, if you take the traditional perception of women it's that they're not as strong as men. Therefore, they can't initiate a turn or push a ski around the way a man can. So we have to take a man's ski and we literally have to shave it down and soften it up so that a woman could use it.”
That approach works for beginner skiers, but it leaves advanced female skiers without the equipment they need to do what they want on the mountain.
“Not all women need soft skis. So one of the things that differentiates us the most is that we just have a much stiffer flex, which is what you want if you're an advanced skier. Because you just can't do what you want to do on a soft ski. Or board.”
According to Gurecki, it’s not just an equipment issue. Women are underrepresented in the ski industry in general.
"We need women's companies. But if you're just a woman making clothing, like that's what women are supposed to do. Stay in your lane, ladies. So if you want to mix up the industry? Get out of your lane.”
Getting out of her lane meant actually designing skis and snowboards, work done predominantly by men. But selling gear is a challenge, irrespective of gender, which is why Coalition has taken a somewhat unorthodox approach: they only sell online and they make use of popular female athletes as ambassadors who help spread brand awareness. The company incorporated in May 2014 and had its first ski season last year.
"I mean, last year was hard. I think it was hard for everyone. The whole ski industry struggled. So, we didn't do as well as we wanted to do. But we did well enough to have a second year.”
Coalition also raised $31,000 in a month-long Kickstarter campaign, which Gurecki ways was great not only for the money but also for the proof that people want to buy what they’re selling.
“It helped to demonstrate, yes you should have a second year."
This season, Gurecki says Coalition needs to make about 200 sales to keep on track.
"But it could be really tough as a small company because there is so much competition, and you never know what the season is gonna be like. And we’re really pretty grassroots in terms of using our ambassadors and social media to get the word out. So that will either prove to be successful or … it won't. "