Katherine Donnelly | 07.02.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In The Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Jen Gurecki. 

Every time I check in with this Woman In The Wild, she has a new project on her plate - and you can bet she'll kick ass and take names in everything she puts her mind to. We need more people like her, willing to speak their minds and hustle for what they love. And she just rode her bike across Africa, because why not? Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Campbell Mckeogh.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Jen Gurecki is.

Jen Gurecki: I’m an adventurer, entrepreneur, co-host of the podcast Juicy Bits, CEO of the all women’s ski and snowboard company Coalition Snow, founder of the social enterprise Zawadisha, and soon to be editor of the new magazine Sisu.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Jen Gurecki: I realized this much later than I would have liked. It wasn’t until I was 16 years old and went snowboarding for the first time that I fell in love with the mountains. I quickly started making decisions that allowed me to create a life in them — from choosing to attend Northern Arizona University for no other reason than I was 30 minutes away from a ski resort and could take classes only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to moving to Lake Tahoe right out of university, to landing my first “professional” job in the outdoor industry working with underserved youth in wilderness programming with an organization called Adventure Risk Challenge. My time at ARC as the executive director was incredibly formative because it was the first time that I was able to merge outdoor recreation with my education and career, all within the context of diversity and inclusion (which is obviously still a very relevant issue).  Twenty years later, I’m still at it. I might be doing different things and living different places, but this year alone I’ve logged more than 45 nights in a tent.

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry? 

Jen Gurecki: I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by such incredible human beings. There is such a tremendous sense of possibility and camaraderie right now in the industry among women. It’s a special time for us, perhaps even a golden hour. I don’t take this for granted as I have experienced far more time in the industry when this hasn’t been the case. With this newfound power and privilege, we also have a responsibility to pay it forward. There are countless other underrepresented groups in the outdoors, from POC to LGBTQIA+. Just as we are asking men to stand by our side as allies and advocate for us, we can do the same for others who aren’t (yet) trending and receiving the same recognition we are. 

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor enthusiasts should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Jen Gurecki: One piece of the conversation that is often times overshadowed is the concept of access. In our efforts to protect and preserve wild lands, we are quick to judge who should and shouldn’t spend time there. It’s okay if I know the secret spot and post it on Instagram, but no one else should be able to enjoy it. That’s elitism, and it is counter productive to our efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. Part of an evolving conversation would include the fact that the landscape and humans are intertwined, as one ecosystem, as they have always been. I’d like to see us ask more questions like, "How is it that we can inspire and educate people to hold a set of values that are in line with preservation? Who is in charge of preservation’s perspective and accompanying narrative?" We also could benefit by examining and valuing the long-held practices and beliefs of Indigenous and First Nations people. 

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Jen Gurecki: I have to borrow from Georgina Miranda, the founder of She Ventures: Adventure is a way of life. It’s not just what you do — like summiting peaks or shedding steep lines — it’s how you embody your pursuits — what you put into them mentally and physically to craft an exhilarating experience unique to you. 

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Jen Gurecki: A badass is a human being who defies social norms and expectations. 

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Jen Gurecki: I started in my 20s in outdoor eduction. Because the pay is shit and the hours are long, they are always hiring. I worked hard, lined up my certifications, and paid my dues. So start there, at the bottom, and work your way up. It may hurt your ego and your pocketbook for a while, but you’ll gain street cred and experience. Then you’ll be better poised to find your stride professionally. And when I say start at the bottom, this can be anything from working for an established company or organization to starting your own business. It doesn’t matter as long as you understand that no one (and I mean NO ONE) gets into the outdoor industry to make money, that hard work and follow through mean more than a degree on a piece of paper, that there is some level of suffering, and that building a career is a process, takes time, and requires relationships. 

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (size, shape, sexuality, gender identification, etc.), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Jen Gurecki: Gender identity is personal and falls on a spectrum. We can’t say that LGBTQ people are feminine or female just because it’s easier for us to fit them into a binary construct. It’s time to start getting comfortable with myriad definitions and representations. There is opportunity in this complexity. 

For me personally, I equate being a woman with being a human being who has experiences and perspectives that are not considered the norm. What I do is measured against the rules that others have set for me. I have to raise my hand higher, scoot my chair in closer, open my mouth up wider, do my job better. Because of that I am creative, I am gritty, and I preserve. That’s what being a woman means to me.

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Jen Gurecki: Service is the rent you pay for life. 

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without? 

Jen Gurecki: My sanity. 

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Jen Gurecki: Well, obviously I’m a fan of women’s specific gear and think that we’re doing it right at Coalition Snow. This question gets me a little worked up because as soon as women actually started having a broader choice in equipment there was a push for unisex gear, which undoes our progress. And honestly, this question is driven by an industry that wants to cut research and development, production, and marketing costs. Unisex gear means a bigger bottom line, and I don’t see how that benefits women. Start rant: Unisex gear is total bullshit because you can’t unbind bias and enculturation from male-centered design teams. A product would be truly unisex if there was zero gender involved. This would require the same input from start to finish, (inception to marketing) by women and men, and even then it would be skewed because gender bias would still be at play. You can’t go from equipment that was primary designed for men to non-gendered gear because you completely skip over the fact that women have been ignored as active participants in the outdoors. It’s like trying to be color blind — doesn’t work because race matters, just as gender does. I don’t need to defend women’s gear because there should be a million more choices for all of the humans in this world so that every single person can have exactly what they need to feel confident in their outdoor pursuits.

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

Jen Gurecki: Look this woman up NOW: Rayona Sharpnack, founder and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Leadership. When I was wrestling with whether or not I should leave my secure job at UC Berkeley to go out on my own and pursue my passions, she said to me that there was a loooooong way between where I am now an eating out of a dumpster. We so quickly go to the most horrific failure when we take risks, but the chances of enduring those failures are minimal. She’s been right — although I’ve eaten a lot of bowls of beans and Tapatio, I’ve still managed to make it all float. 

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with Coalition Snow, what would it be?

Jen Gurecki: One piece of advice? That’s all I get!?!? I’ve made so many mistakes that it’s hard to identify the one piece of advice. But I suppose if I must choose it would be creating an advisory board (not a board of directors) before I formally launched the company. A good team of seasoned business advisors can help you see the future and identify the questions you don’t even know to ask.

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Jen Gurecki: Long gone are the days when you can build a career without social media. I’ve succumb to the reality of doing business in the 21st century while also holding strict boundaries about it. First, I’m me — what you see is what you get. I don’t try to paint a picture of myself that accords with what I think others want to see. Quite honestly, there’s not enough time in the day to fight that losing battle. Secondly, I share what is important to me because social media is inherently social — if people don’t know who you really are, then what’s the point? We actually have this amazing opportunity to connect with people without being limited by borders or distance, so I want to really connect about what matters. And finally, I don’t participate every day. Whether I’m posting as @coalitionsnow or @yogurecki, you’ll notice that I’m not “on” 100% of the time. 

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Jen Gurecki: In the immediate future I’m going to see if I can pull off launching Scout, a magazine that tells the untold stories of the outdoors. If you’re interested in hearing more about that, visit www.getoutgetscout.com. This summer I’ll be heading back into the studio with Jillian Raymond to record more episodes of Juicy Bits. I’m also working on a book to document my recent cycling trip across Africa, which is more of a long term project that I’m going to have to work through with my therapist. And I plan on seeing how far I can push this remote work thing because I’m really enjoying adventuring around the world.

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Jen Gurecki: All of my dirty little secrets have been revealed to at least one person in this world, which is why I can never run for public office. But what most people don’t know about me is that I’m a very sensitive person who cries frequently. #strongwomenhavefeelingstoo

Learn more about Jen and follow along on her adventures on Instagram. You should also check out Coalition Snow - either online or on social - give a listen to the Juicy Bits podcast, and keep an eye out for Sisu Magazine coming soon!

Photos by Simon Blake of Kenyan RidersCampbell MckeoghNathan HodgeJillian Raymond.


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