EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in the Winter 2017-18 edition of Tahoe Magazine. It was first published on this website in August 2018 and is presented in its original form.
Lake Tahoe still proves to be a launching pad for creative entrepreneurs in ski and snowboard construction, and more companies are on the rise (especially after the incredible 2016-17 snow season).
Here is a peek at three local businesses that are changing the way people enjoy the mountains with quality equipment inspired by Lake Tahoe:
Residing in the mountains for more than 20 years, Coalition Snow Founder Jen Gurecki found herself a few years ago surrounded by outdoorsy women who seemed frustrated with the lack of performance snow equipment available to them.
Women were always stuck buying men’s skis and snowboards, Gurecki says, because that was all that was on the market.
“Women want to feel some purpose and connection to what they’re buying,” she told Tahoe Magazine this summer. “A lot of women in the ski industry started to become more outspoken about it, and I saw a movement happening — a void that needed to be filled.”
After summiting peaks in the Eastern Sierra and as far away as Africa, Gurecki started asking people about the concept of building women-specific equipment and was met with a favorable response. The company launched its first pair of skis in the 2014-15 season — since it was the year of a drought, Coalition Snow was off to a rough start.
“A lot of businesses closed. We raised $30,000 on Kickstarter, but we hadn’t had our chance to shine yet,” she adds.
Fortunately, Coalition Snow was able to secure distribution with REI for the 2016-17 snow season — noted as one of the best Tahoe winters on record in the past 10 years — and the company started steadily growing.
“This coming season, we will be in Moosejaw — the third largest outdoor retailer in the United States — (aside from) Amazon and MEC (which stands for Mountain Equipment Co-op, Canada’s version of REI),” says Gurecki. “That’s pretty amazing for an independent company.”
Since its inception, Coalition Snow has recently expanded to include its “Lady Parts” apparel line.
“We started off making skis and snowboards, but there is so much to do year-round. Plus, we just launched an apparel line in June,” she says. “People who know me know that I like clothing and fashion. Trying to grow a company with just skis and snowboards is limiting people’s ability to engage with Coalition, which we want them to feel a part of year-round.”
Coalition Snow’s apparel line — which includes capris, leggings and hot shorts — is based off of its ski and snowboard graphics.
“What makes Coalition different is we’re really clear on what we want. As feminists, we haven’t seen equal representation for a long time; this essentially gives women a platform, a voice in the outdoors,” Gurecki says. “Although women entrepreneurs and business owners are a trending theme right now, it is here to stay. We want equality and are situated to build an inclusive community where everyone is welcome to be a part of it.”
Busy planning marketing and sales strategies, prepping for ski shows and promoting Lady Parts, Gurecki says Coalition Snow’s team is flying by the seat of its pants heading into the 2017-18 winter season, but is thrilled with all of the good things happening.
“This is an incredibly exciting time for us,” she says. “We just won the Skier’s Choice award in Powder magazine, and for a company of our size, that’s a huge honor. It truly demonstrates that we build award-winning skis.”
Visit coalitionsnow.com to learn more about the company.
Launching Slant Skis in his Truckee garage in 2007, Josh Bennett started collecting tools to build snow skis as soon as he moved to Tahoe.
Spending many years as a carpenter, ski instructor and ski technician, Bennett started testing and refining skis, saying that in his first year he built “three pairs of skis that worked.”
Since its start, Slant has experienced slow, steady growth and even opened a ski and snowboard tuning shop on Highway 89 between Alpine Meadows and Tahoe City called the Tahoe Snow Lab.
Now offering nine different ski models, Slant Skis are unique in their shape, design, graphics and materials used.
“Our skis are made in the Tahoe Basin, and our unique designs have really been refined to excel in the Sierra snow conditions,” Bennett said in an interview with Tahoe Magazine this summer. “We try to put quality first and quantity second … that’s why I’m not concerned with growing that big because I never want to sacrifice the quality for the quantity.”
Trying to use American-made materials whenever possible, Slant offers men’s and women’s models for every type of snow terrain — “from skinny park skis to big fat rocker,” as Bennett says.
“We try to fill each type of niche in skiing,” he adds.
Personally, Bennett’s favorite mountain to shred on his Slants is Alpine Meadows, but he tries to get out in the backcountry as much as possible, too. Slant offers a model called the Ambush, a pair of skis that is designed for backcountry shredding, but it can charge at an alpine resort as well.
“I love that I can play with my favorite things, live in Lake Tahoe, and do what I love to do every single day,” he says.
The shop is located at 1730 River Road, No. 110, in Tahoe City, sharing space with Tahoe Snow Lab. Slant Skis are available to demo in the shop and come with a two-year warranty. When the ski season gets rolling, Tahoe Snow Lab is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit slantskis.com to learn more.
Founding the company in 2013 with longtime friend and boardercross buddy Abe Greenspan, Lee Collins began making splitboards and snowboards with Greenspan when they were unsatisfied with what was on the market at the time.
“We are both big into backcountry splitboarding, which is what inspired us to launch TahoeLab,” Collins told Tahoe Magazine this summer. “I’m 6 foot, 2 (inches) and Abe is 5 foot, 8 (inches) so we needed different boards for riding. We each built our own and found that they had the same shape, so now we have created that to be available in different sizes.”
Greenspan was born and raised in South Lake Tahoe, growing up in the boardercross race scene when he met Collins. Originally from the East Coast, Collins came to Lake Tahoe to ride down some “real mountains” and met Greenspan working in a snowboard shop that sponsored him.
Seven or eight years later, the pair reconnected through Daron Rahlves’ Banzai Tour.
“We started riding together, and neither of us could find the board that we wanted to ride, especially for me since I don’t fit the body type of an average snowboarder,” Collins recalls. “The options were limited — I’m quite a bit bigger than the average boarder, so we made our own.”
Although it’s common for people to make their own splitboards by cutting them in half, they sacrifice durability when converting an old board of their own. Now going into its fifth season, TahoeLab sells six different models, available in various sizes, including a directional board and the PowFish with a directional stance and swallow tail.
Collins and Greenspan work out of a shop in South Lake, making all boards from scratch in-house. New this year, TahoeLab is making skis, splitboards and snowboards that are made of a carbon fiber/fiberglass mix, as well as boards that are made of full carbon sheets for lightness and durability.
Currently, TahoeLab is producing about 100 boards a year in small batch quantities, and every model is available in both a solid board and a splitboard.
In terms of success, Collins said that while launching a business during one of Tahoe’s low snow years wasn’t easy for a lot of companies, it proved to be perfect timing for TahoeLab.
“In the beginning we didn’t have a ton of product in stock because we weren’t sure if we could sell it, but it was perfect because it was kind of a soft opening. We didn’t have a huge demand,” says Collins.
The few years in between allowed them to focus on improving their boards for when the big 2016-17 snow season came.
“We can’t rely on ski resorts to make snow, and last season was great because we depend on the backcountry for our company,” says Collins. “We both got out quite a bit last year.”
Over the last few years, TahoeLab has gained some momentum from straight word of mouth. Collins said, adding that the crew spent this summer working hard to get ready for the 2017-18 snow season.
“We’re looking forward to having another great year. We both enjoy all outdoor aspects of living here and having the ability to test our product,” he says. “We receive instantaneous feedback on how our boards perform living here in Tahoe. It’s probably a lot cheaper to be based in a big city, but we like being in the mountains.”
TahoeLab boards are available to purchase directly through the company’s website at tahoelab.com, or you can schedule an appointment to drop by the shop, which is located between Zephyr Cove and Stateline, on the Nevada side of Tahoe’s South Shore.