My mother owned a ski shop. Sadly, that sounds as odd today as it did back in the 1980s, when she converted her secondhand sporting goods store into a full-service ski retailer. At the time, she was the only woman ski shop owner in New England that I knew about. Thirty years later, there are maybe a handful of women shop owners in the U.S. (The trade organization doesn’t keep track.) As for women product managers, designers, athlete managers, and marketers, they exist, but in such small numbers you might never know it. Approximately 15 percent of retail buyers are women, but most of them are buying soft goods. The hard goods side of the ski industry remains a 1980s dude-fest.
But at least they’re almost all open-minded dudes, now. Back when my mother was selling skis in Western Massachusetts, her competitors would tell customers and sales reps that the shop was a pet project funded by my father. That was a complete fabrication, but the implication was clear: Because she was a woman, she wasn’t a real skier—or even a real businesswoman.
Here at Mountain, two-thirds (that’s two people out of three in total) of our edit staff, half of our contributors, and a third of our ski testers are women. And on the hill, ski patrols, ski schools, customer service, marketing departments, and even mountain ops are finally equalizing after decades of the status quo. Meaning, the employees better match up with the customers, half of whom are women, and all of whom, like my late grandmother, mother, wife, and daughter, are real skiers. Clearly, the ski, bike, and outdoor industries have a lot of work to do before they achieve parity. But if any women are passionate enough to choose to work in these low-paying but high-living fields, I, and most of the industry guys I know, would love to have them in the business.
As for my mother not being a real businessperson? Tell that to the career criminal who grabbed a rack full of North Face jackets and dashed out the front door of her shop. There goes my five-foot-two-inch Boston-Irish mother in hot pursuit. In hindsight, it was an ill-advised move. The thug managed to toss the jackets in his idling getaway car and peel out. I arrived on the scene in time to pull her back from the fishtailing rear end. And then I looked down on the pavement and picked up the thief’s wallet. He got away, but not before she managed to dislodge his wallet in a flying tackle. Slack-jawed, I marveled at this woman who, throughout her business career, didn’t just rival the men around her, but bettered them. And then I opened the wallet and found the idiot’s driver’s license and we went inside to call the cops.
Editorial Director, Mountain
From the Early Winter 2016 issue.