Katherine Donnelly | 08.13.2018

I imagine that you and I have a lot in common. One reason why we both are here — why I wrote this piece and why you’re reading it — is because we have a shared passion for playing in the outdoors. We both innately understand how much this passion fuels us. It’s where we turn when we need a restart, it’s where we find and build community, and it’s a means of expression. And for many people, their passion for the outdoors is the genesis of their career. 

We are witnessing a surge of female-founded businesses and nonprofits launching in the outdoor industry, which is spectacular and inspiring. If you’re someone who is ready to trade the desk job for your own hustle, I have some advice (or bad news, depending on how you take it) for you: When it comes to building a business in the outdoor industry, your passion isn’t enough. 

While we’ve had our fair share of success with Coalition Snow, it’s never been easy. And as we begin our next adventure of launching the magazine Sisu, I’m not naive to what’s ahead of us. Seeing a business through the roller coaster of ups and downs can be excruciating. That’s why it must be your calling, what you were put on this Earth to do. What gets me out of bed each morning, no matter how shitty the day before was, isn’t my love of adventure. It’s the core of why I started this company: Challenging the status quo in the name of equity and inclusion.

From inception, Coalition Snow has been a social experiment to see how far we as women could make it in the industry. We opted for hard goods — skis and snowboards — rather than clothing and accessories both because we knew a hell of a lot more about planks of wood than fashion, and we didn’t see many women in the world of designing equipment. I made it my personal mission to see if the outdoor industry could handle women who did not stay in their lane. Beyond being some of the only women in our field, we also use words like patriarchy and share our #MeToo stories and show up to gear tests with children. Let’s just say this isn’t the norm for the outdoor industry.

But this isn’t just about the industry. We wanted to see how the outdoor community would receive us (I’m talking to you again). Would our experiences as skiers and riders and business women, spanning decades, be good enough (as it has been for nearly every single man who has started a ski company), or would a third party in the industry have to label us as experts for us to be taken seriously? (Or, said in a different way, could we overcome gender bias?) Could we inspire people to make purchases based on their values rather than the best sale price? Could we collectively co-opt capitalism and use it as a force for good? Could we look, act, and feel differently than all other ski and snowboard companies and still be successful? I don’t have definitive answers to any of these questions yet, but let’s just say that it's not a clear cut yes or no. 

The reality of starting a business in the outdoor industry is that it’s 90% hard f*cking work with and 10% pow days and aprés, paired with immense financial sacrifices (don’t let Instagram fool you). When we started Coalition Snow, no one cared about women. There was no #ForceOfNature and no #LadyBoss, but there were plenty of “no’s” hurled at us every turn we took. Now, entering into our fifth year, it’s becoming easier to reflect on what I’ve learned in my quest to radically redefine women in the outdoors through a for-profit ski and snowboard company:

  1. Community is everything. Surround yourself with people who share your values and aren’t afraid to be on your side. Take the time to build relationships. Make friends. Show up. Ask what you can do for others. And don’t forget that male allies are key in this fight — the people with power and agency need to be on our side.
  2. Know what it is you’re willing to suffer for. Really think about this because it is the defining piece of how long you can last. Most of us don’t have people writing us checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars straight out the gate, so cash flow is one of those things that will keep you up all night, every night. Get ready for a grind like you’ve never experienced before. Be prepared to say no to all sorts of fun things. Don’t think that you can 9-to-5 this shit. 
  3. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Your love of adventure will serve you well. Continue to be a calculated risk taker and build that emotional muscle required for any business owner. Things are going to be scary a lot of the time, but if you get used to that feeling, you’ll be able to push through. Don’t try to make everything perfect and neat and predictable, as if you can simply follow a checklist and things fall into place. This is a long game. So make sure that you love the best and the worst parts of what it takes to start your own business. 
  4. Laugh, smile, and pat yourself on the back. For how scary and demanding all of this is, it’s also incredibly exhilarating and addicting. One thing that is really special about the outdoor industry is that it’s fun, and it’s comprised of incredible human beings. You’re one of them. You will inspire others. We know that you can’t be what you can’t see, so as each one of us takes the plunge, we are becoming role models and mentors who younger women need. 

A little scared? You should be. But that shouldn’t stop you. Just as we push ourselves to summit peaks, cycle unheard of distances, place that last piece in a climb, and descend into steep couloirs, we should also embrace the pain, suffering, pleasure, and rewards of starting our own businesses. Nothing will be easy, but if you do because it’s your calling, it will be well worth it.  

Jen Gurecki is the CEO of Coalition Snow, a female founded and run company specializing in women’s skis and snowboards that don’t suck. She’s also the Editor of Scout Magazine, a new quarterly publication uncovering the untold stories of the outdoors. Get to know her on Instagram at @yogurecki and following along her entrepreneurial pursuits at @coalitionsnow and @sisumagazine.


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