To celebrate the start of winter we’re teaming up with Gearmunk to bring you 12 things that you can do this holiday season to support the women led and powered outdoor ecosystem. For Day 10, we're looking at a few of the formative experiences that led us to start Coalition Snow.
When I was 17-years-old, the only thing that I wanted to do was ski powder. So, like most responsible teenagers, I picked a university near a ski hill, identified a major that scheduled classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and left the desert for the mountains. My parents didn’t approve, understand, or believe in my lifestyle choices.
In my first year at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ, I starting working at Arizona Snowbowl. I turned screws and fit people into stinky, ill-fitting rental boots. I was kind to my boss, worked hard, and I made a solid $8 an hour. I pestered the guys in the shop so much that they let me join them in tuning skis and snowboards (in the early 1990s, there weren’t a ton of women begging to learn how to master a Wintersteiger). Eventually I got paid to tune skis. It was a dream come true.
I cut my teeth in the snowsports industry over those formative seven years at Arizona Snowbowl. When I moved to Lake Tahoe, I took a job at a local ski shop, hoping for the same sort of work. I was told, “Girls don’t tune skis, they sell clothing.” When I explained that I knew nothing about apparel, it fell on deaf ears. To top it off, a naked photo of a woman hung in the repair shop, and I was told if I was a feminist, I would embrace the nude bodies of women.
I became disengaged with snowsports, just as other women who refused to play by rules that reinforced misogyny and toxic masculinity did. I still bought my season passes and ticked off every powder day, but I did it for me. I had no interest in being a part of an industry that didn’t welcome people who didn’t look like them.
From there, I worked in wilderness therapy, pursued a master’s degree heavily bound in feminist and critical race theory, taught everything from social justice to backpacking at community college, landed a job at UC Berkeley, developed programs with Yosemite National Park and UC Merced to engage Latino and Hmong youth in the outdoors, started a social enterprise in Kenya providing small loans to women, and owned a whitewater rafting company (and scared the shit out of myself daily). Then I somehow found myself right back where I started: snowsports.
My love affair with skiing powder never waned, and I saw an incredible opportunity begin to unfold. Women athletes were becoming more outspoken about their representation media like Instagram, where you had the ability to tell your own story. And I knew a thing or two about business. Nearly 20 years after I first started tuning skis in that tiny shop at Arizona Snowbowl, I took a leap of faith and launched Coalition Snow, a woman-founded ski and snowboard company. I saw Coalition Snow as a tool to radically deconstruct the status quo in an industry that I just couldn’t quit. Coalition was never meant to just be about planks of wood and white stuff and gravity; we’re more than that. We’re a product as a platform—a platform to make our own rules, control our narratives, claim our power, and do it all unapologetically.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen this industry change, and while change has been far from radical, it’s a step in right direction. My hope for the next 20 years is that the individuals who still hold the reins can find ways to listen and act, without fear and ego impeding their ability to do the right thing. Because now the right thing isn’t only about values. It’s about being successful in businesses and building an industry that’s relevant to all human beings.
This article was originally published in The Daily, the official publication of Outdoor Retailer. PC: Lauren McMillin