As Co-Founder of Coalition Snow, Danielle Rees has been involved since the beginning to get the company up and running. She’s also the Executive Director of a nonprofit called Girls on the Run that empowers girls in the 3rd through 8th grades to support each other and achieve their limitless potential. (It’s a national org and very inspiring to volunteer for,you should check it out!).
Danielle knows first hand what is it like to be the only woman surrounded by men in the world of outdoor adventure, and is passionate about sharing the beauty of women supporting each other and taking it to the next level. “When I was a kid, there weren’t a ton of women role models that I could look to and say, ‘that's the life I want to live.’ I didn’t see women supporting each other in all aspects of life.”
Danielle and the rest of the rad women at Coalition are out to change the fucking world and make it one that supports women to achieve their dreams. Her work at Coalition previously involved the finances , but this season she is managing the team of athletes and ambassadors that spread the stoke and they want you to be a part of the #sisterhoodofshred.
If you’ve ever felt like Coalition Snow has your back it’s because of people like Danielle who are behind the scenes making shit happen for women and girls.
Danielle shares view on the power of women. The importance of inspiring each other as individuals, and the key role companies can play in supporting women in the world of adventure sports.
What inspired you to co-found Coalition?
I have focused my career on empowering women and girls. When I studied psychology and human biology in college I was most interested in women’s physical and mental health. The focus of my masters in public health was on adolescent girls. When I worked at Planned Parenthood, I worked with girls in juvie and teen moms. I strive to empower girls and women within the framework of their relationships, community and families.
I’m also a big proponent of including men in this conversation, the concept is not about being anti men it’s about being pro woman and about girl power. We’re all in this together and need support from our male partners to help make this happen. I wouldn’t be able to spend so much time investing in a startup if I didn’t have the full support of my husband, and we want men to be part of this conversation.
How have you seen the pressures faced by women come to a head in the world of outdoor recreation?
My parents met skiing at Squaw Valley, but my first experiences on the slopes were on this little rope tow on a muddy hill near where I grew up in Georgia. I loved it. My favorite memories growing up were family ski vacations, and going to the mountains and being outdoors is a huge part of who I am. When I graduated college, my parents sent me to a weeklong a whitewater rafting guide school. After that, I was hooked and did the whole outdoor seasonal thing for a bit. I also worked for Outward Bound and in the winters, I started working at the ski resorts in Tahoe.
I really discovered my niche as a snowboard instructor was in working in private lessons with women, whether it was a 12-year-old whose brother dragged her down something she didn’t want to do, or the 21-year-old whose boyfriend took her to the top of a black diamond and yelled at her to turn but didn’t teach her skills, or the 45-year-old woman who was nervous and scared because she broke her wrist last year.
I really liked the connection that comes with teaching and building that confidence in steps. Having studied psychology, particularly through a gendered lens, I really understood that men and women are motivated differently. Having a supportive, encouraging environment and allowing these women and girls to learn at their pace, versus taking them somewhere that scares them, was a much more successful tactic in letting them fully see what they were capable of. This was something that I could see in a variety of arenas, in outdoor recreation and beyond.
I went on to get my masters in public health with a focus on maternal, child, and adolescent health at Berkeley. I kept coming back to Tahoe on the weekends. I moved back up here and worked at Planned Parenthood for 7 years before becoming the Executive Director for Girls on the Run for the Reno-Tahoe Region.
Besides lacking a supportive culture that many women crave, what other problems have you witnessed with the outdoor industry?
The first time I experienced blatant sexism was when I left the Bay Area bubble to work as a raft guide. There was a really common assumption that because I was a woman, I wasn’t as strong or as capable. I would watch as female guides were only given the responsibilities of a trip leader when it was a bachelor party. We were a commodity, not professionals in the outdoor industry.
There were several times when I felt uncomfortable around my fellow guides, and on one occasion I remember being the only female guiding a trip back east. We were in the van on the way to the river and one of the male guides starts telling a really raunchy story It was all about intimidation. (Ed note: Danielle isn’t the first women to notice this. Check out this feature in Outside Magazine).
We were about to guide a class 5 river and I was doubting myself. There was another guy from the West Coast there, and he was like, “I don’t know why you’ve waited so long to guide this section of the river, You're technically one of the most qualified guides here.” And I realized that the weird male energy that made me feel excluded and like I didn’t belong had made me doubt my own abilities.
You know, if a female is reading a job posting and she only has 9 out of the 10 qualifications it asks for, she won’t apply. Whereas a man will look at it and has 7 out of the 10 and he’ll think he’s a perfect fit. There’s this confidence disparity in the different ways women and men tackle the world.
It pisses me off the idea that women aren’t as capable as men and need a shorter softer ski because they aren’t strong enough to ski high-performance gear. It’s been super fun to have my skiing improve and confidence build with Coalition’s gear. We actually had snow in Tahoe last year and I was really able to step into the abyss and charge hard off-piste. We would go out of bounds skiing on the ridge and my husband would be surprised and ecstatic when I kept up with him. He would say, “Not only are you right behind me and keeping up, but you are killing it and having fun. That’s awesome.”
Why has the hashtag #sisterhoodofshred taken off and what does the team of Ambassadors bring to Coalition?
I think our ambassadors are one of our greatest assets. Our local ambassadors like Jillian Raymond on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, are just so enthusiastic about sharing the stoke. Last year she helped us design a ski specifically for the backcountry. When one of our volunteers tells you how passionate she is about what the organization does, it’s authentic and genuine.
Our ambassadors are spreading the stoke and telling their friends and networks about why they love Coalition Gear. When we hear something through this network that our products could be better, we take that feedback and listen because our company is designed specifically around what women want.
The sisterhood of shred builds community, which is what I am all about. It’s all about encouragement and positivity. We cheer each other on when we see each other out there.
Sure, there are a lot of supportive guys out there and there are plenty of women who prefer to roll with a posse of guys. When I was a snowboard instructor I had a bunch of dudes that I would always ride with. But there’s something really cool about how women push each other in a way that’s supportive and connected as opposed to an individual challenge. And I think having #sisterhoodofshred oriented events that are all about having fun together and looking out for each other is what it’s all about.
What kind of Coalition product would you be and why?
I think I would be the Abyss because optimistically thinking, I want to prepare for every day to be a powder day. But I also need to be strong and stable to be able to handle whatever life throws at me. I know that there will be challenges every day running a start-up ski company but my approach is to weather the storm, hold my edge, and make it through ideally with a shit eating grin on my face.
As told to Jill Sanford