“There are some people who understand and some who just don’t. I think kids these days call it being ‘woke’."
Two months into 2018, just one year shy of the centennial of women gaining the right to vote, I am sat on a stone table outside a bustling cafe, drenched in the high desert sun of Reno, Nevada. Across me sits the woman who is trying to change the future of skiing and snowboarding, Jen Gurecki.
How can one introduce Gurecki without sounding cliché? She possesses the basic qualities any CEO would: purpose, power, and unshakeable belief. She runs her business, Coalition Snow – selling snowboards and skis made for females, by females – with the intention of profit, yet she isn’t driven by greed and Trump-sized narcissism. She is, at heart, an activist.
She started her first company, Pantyline Productions, in George W. Bush-era America. The company specialized in printing anti-war slogans on women’s panties, such as “The Only Bush I Trust is My Own". Now, when she’s not fighting for equality in the snow industry, she’s fighting to help Kenyan women access renewable energy and water products through her non-profit, Zawadisha. Her private life is just as intense: in the next month, she’ll be riding her bike 6500 km across the African continent on a 70-day trek, just because.
"So much women’s equipment is designed around this perception that women are beginners"
Coalition Snow’s slogan is “Shred the Patriarchy". Don’t be mistaken, though: this isn’t a crusade to destroy men. It’s about creating equality – ‘shredding the patriarchy’ not to implement a matriarchy, but to give women a fair chance and gear that works for them.
“You can’t demonize all men. It’s counterproductive," she explains. “But sales and participation are declining because you’re assholes. You’re not inclusive and you’re not welcoming. [The brands] are so stuck on the way it used to be, they don’t realize that they can be indie and edgy while still being welcoming."
Coalition Snow is the only hard-goods company on the market that is aiming to effect change on a large scale and equalize a sport that has been run largely by white men since its inception. It is the first and only all-women ski and snowboard company.
Gurecki started the business in 2014 because she was tired of waiting on “all of these heritage companies to redesign and re-tool their thinking" in order to make a female specific board that could keep up with progression.
What is wrong with the typical women’s board, you ask? Weak design that leads to soft, flexible boards, ultimately restricting riders from advancing their abilities and skill level. At first glance you might wonder if there’s some male conspiracy at work to keep women down. Having looked into it more deeply, Gurecki suggests that it’s simply a lack of money and resources put towards women’s gear – a fact she says is illogical:
“Men get more resources than women at most companies, even though women make up about 44% of the market," she explains. Although verifying exactly how much time and money is spent producing women’s gear relative to men’s is near impossible (without inside knowledge of the companies), you only have to walk into any ski or snowboard shop to find there is way less women’s gear hanging on the wall.
What can be corroborated is that women make up 44.5% of the overall snowsports market.* And, as Gurecki attests, “women can do math. That’s a few percent off from being equal. But we know that none of [the resources are] equal."
It’s obvious this is an argument she’s made many times over many years as she’s strived to get her business off the ground. What’s less rehearsed is the passion, which is as energetic as a first interview.
“The reason why women don’t have as many choices as men, and why those choices suck, is because of the way women are positioned in the industry. So much women’s equipment is designed around this perception that women are beginners. There are a lot of really great beginner boards and skis on the market – a ton. But then you outgrow that so fast, so fast. And having a softer ski or snowboard stops you from getting better, and you actually become more unstable the better you get.
“You know on a [soft] snowboard, it slides out underneath you. Now you get to this point where you’re like ‘oh fuck, now I can’t ride the lines I want to ride, I can’t go to the steeps, I can’t hold an edge’ - that is because your board has not been designed for anything beyond beginner or intermediate. It will not hold you. That’s what happens with a lot of women’s specific equipment."
I explain that my own riding has plateaued after nine years of riding, but suggest the problem could just be me.
"We are saying NO. We are not going to design a weaker product because of the perceived weaknesses or differences between men and women"
“It’s actually your gear," comes the reply. And at this she bangs the side of her hand down on the table. “We are saying no. We are not going to do that. We are not going to design a weaker product because of the perceived weaknesses or differences between men and women. Men are the norm; everything else is compared to that, so you end up with a watered-down product."
In the last four seasons, Coalition has received great praise from the community. “Women talk about how much better their skiing or snowboarding is, that they feel more confident on the mountain or have more fun," says Gurecki. “That happens when you have gear that works."
The reviews so far appear to back her up. Morgan Sweeney, a tester with the ski gear site Blister, described one of Coalition’s skis as “a pretty different feeling for me. With a background in ski racing, I’m always looking for a ski I can charge on, and I’ve yet to find the upper limit of the Abyss."
Gurecki has carefully constructed her business model. She deliberately positioned Coalition as a for-profit business because “money buys everything. Those other companies will change if they’re forced to."
But it’s not just new brands like Coalition that will change the snowboarding environment, she explains. We, the consumers – the hardcore, the enthusiasts and the weekend warriors alike – have just as much power to change the system.
“Women have a ton of power," says Gurecki. “Stop supporting the brands that make you feel like shit. End the toxic relationship. Wake up."
* Source – Snowsports Industries America