The night I first heard Jen Gurecki, founder and CEO of Coalition Snow, speak at an event in Boulder, Colorado I knew I needed to know more about her. I needed to hear more about her mission, her passion, her perspective.
Among an inspiring round up of speakers who represented women in the outdoor industry, Jen’s passion, laser focus, and no bullshit attitude made her standout. She rallied the hearts of both women and men in the crowd as she pointed out the inequity in the outdoor sports world. While advertisers use images of women, hashtags about women and gear targeted at women to drive sales (after all, women ARE sort of trending now) are we actually being invited to the table? Is the gear being made really excellent and aimed at our needs? Are women athletes finally being offered sponsorships at the level that men are? Or are we just a convenient marketing tool? Just a hashtag?
Jen sees women in this industry as more than just a hashtag. This was the driving force and greater global mission behind founding Coalition Snow. She wanted first and foremost to finally make women’s skis and snowboards that don’t suck. Boards and planks aimed at performance with women in mind, rather than the standard “shrink it and pink it” routine that neither supports women, nor creates a quality product.
And Jen knows her skis and snowboards. She was first hooked on snowsport in highschool when she joined the ski team at 16 years old. She quickly threw herself into training and skiing full force. She took that love with her when she specifically selected Northern Arizona University (small world...that’s my alma mater too!) for college since it was a school in the shadow of a ski resort. Rather than seeking the typical college jobs waiting tables, babysitting, or working retail, Jen went after work in the Arizona Snowbowl rental shop. There she learned how to tune skis and snowboards from the pros. After college she moved to Tahoe where she continued her love for snowsport as she worked in wilderness therapy and for the California Conservation Corps.
But her mission for Coalition Snow is so much bigger than the quality of women’s gear. It’s about recognizing women as legitimate athletes who deserve sponsorship opportunities. It’s about seeing, cheering, and advancing their accomplishments in the SPORT, rather than focusing on their appearance. (See Lynsey Dyer’s Open Letter to Freeskier HERE) As someone deeply invested in snowsport herself, and a self proclaimed fierce feminist, the frustrations of female athletes were hard to miss.
Jen believes deeply in the power of business as a tool for social change, and that is just what she is hoping to do through Coalition Snow. To offer a real voice, and quality sponsorship opportunities to women athletes, and women in the boardroom. To shift the status quo in the outdoor industry from predominantly white and male, to something more diverse. When booths at Outdoor Retailer, the faces on industry panel discussions, and the distribution of pay in the industry look radically different, she will feel she has accomplished her mission.
Jen is quick to point out that being pro women, doesn’t mean being anti-man. The white males who dominate the industry are mostly pretty nice guys. They have worked hard and become accomplished at their sports to be recognized at the level they are. She just wants to see women and people of color being given the same recognition for their accomplishments too. To be offered better than ⅓ the pay of their male counterparts. She drives home her message by reminding men that feminism isn’t just for women. They can choose to participate in, or help dismantle the patriarchy. She believes that even the baseline idea that women are a “weaker sex” or that we are just not capable of performing at the same level as men needs to be challenged at every level. “The fact is”, she emphatically states, “We have no idea what women can actually do, because we’ve never expected as much out of them. I want to change the expectation and find out what we can really do.”
When it comes to being a woman CEO in the outdoor industry, Jen has found both benefits and roadblocks. On the one hand, women are trending. In many ways, people are paying attention to Coalition Snow because they are by women, for women. If they were men, they would be just another ski and snowboard company. On the other hand, she has found it surprisingly difficult to get investors to take her as seriously as her male counterparts. She repeatedly has potential investors refer to her company as a “project” or treat her like she is a know nothing little girl instead of a 39 year old women with a laundry list of accomplishments under her belt.
But despite the hurdles, Coalition Snow is well on its way to Jen’s ultimate goal of total global domination. They are heavily in recruitment for their ambassador program, are touring ski resorts around the country this year to demo their products, and will be carried in three REI stores this year. They have also launched the Sisterhood of Shred, and online community for women skiers and snowboarders to come together and share events, tips, tricks and skills. She knows not every women snowsport lover will use her gear, and that’s ok. Sisterhood of Shred provides the opportunity to support all women regardless of what they ride.
When asked what advice she would give other women looking to start an outdoor focused business she responded, “Get crystal clear on what you are willing to suffer for. If you aren’t willing to suffer for it, you won’t want to get up everyday and do it.” Going into the launch of her business she had no idea the sheer volume of work it would be or how many moving pieces there are. She advises anyone wanting to start a business to hire experienced business advisors on day 1 and start fundraising immediately.
Once things begin to settle down for Jen, she looks forward to reconnecting with her snowboard. Preferably exploring the mountains of Japan and mainland Asia.
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Check out Coalition Snow’s full line of skis and snowboards: http://coalitionsnow.com
This post is the first in the "Women, Work, Wits" series. Read about the why of this series and find each interview linked HERE.
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