Making Skis for Women
Leslie Baker-Brown has been working at the Tecnica Group, owner of brands such as Blizzard and Tecnica, for more than 30 years.“When I started there were practically no women in the ski industry,” said Baker-Brown, a Middlebury College grad and former World Pro Tour ski racer who lives in Norwich, Vt.
“I often faced a scenario that women in every industry still face: I’d bring up an idea at a meeting and no one would say anything. A guy says the same thing a few minutes later and everyone agrees,” she said.
As director of marketing for the Tecnica USA group, Baker-Brown has made it her mission to grow the
women’s market. In 2016, she launched the Women to Women program, what Sporting Goods Business has called “arguably the most progressive women’s program in outdoor sports.” She began by hosting focus groups and getting input from top skiers, bootfitters and retailers. “Many ski companies still just change out the graphics on a ski and call it a ‘women’s ski’” Baker-Brown noted.
Not Blizzard. The result was a shift in flex patterns, a wider range of lengths, rocker and widths and variations in construction designed to address women’s sizes and weights. For Tecnica boots, it led to wider cuffs and thermo-moldable shells.
Baker-Brown also launched W2W on-snow events, and when pro-skier Jackie Paaso admitted she was intimidated walking into a ski shop, Baker-Brown stepped up the retailer and educational programs. At wine-and-cheese “Powder to Prosecco” shop nights, women can learn about choosing skis and boots and hear from guest speakers.
The W2W program is now worldwide. Baker-Brown oversees it and has seen good results. “Blizzard’s Black Pearl 88 women’s skis have been the best-selling skis on the market for the past three years and one of only three or four skis to sell over 10,000 units,” Baker-Brown noted.
For a little humor about the politics of buying and selling women’s skis and snowboards, head here.
Now when Baker-Brown brings up an idea, “the guys listen.”
Getting more women on snow has been a goal of the ski industry for years, the subject of countless talks and the impetus behind women’s ski and snowboard weeks, camps and instructional sessions at all levels. Yet, as National Ski Areas Association President Kelly Pawlak will tell you, “For the past 10 years, the numbers have stayed about the same.”
According to NSAA data, nationally 41 percent skier/riders visits are from women—though the Northeast has the highest female representation, with 44 percent being women.
During more than three decades at Mount Snow, Pawlak, who started there at age 21, rose to the position of general manager. She did so in her own words, “by volunteering for every position that I thought would help give me the experience I needed.” Under her watch, the resort began a $52 million expansion, which included a $30 million upgrade to its snowmaking and the new Carinthia base lodge, which opened last year.
“It’s great that we now have more than 50 women among our membership who are running mountains across the country,’” noted Pawlak. “But the thing we are looking for at NSAA is growing and diversifying skiing as a whole,” she said.“I see one opportunity in lapsed skiers. So many women cut back on skiing when they have kids. Women are the ones who make so many of the travel decisions. We need to find a way to keep them skiing.”
Keeping it fun for the kids (because if the kids have fun, moms have fun and everyone has fun) has been a large part of Smugglers’ Notch Resort’s brand for many years. The resort is privately owned by Bill Stritzler and his daughter, Lisa Howe—a management consultant who had worked with Price Waterhouse in both Japan and England—has served as the resort’s president since 2017. In the past two years, Smuggs has doubled down on what it does for kids with a new Fun Zone 2.0, complete with laser tag, a game arcade and more. The resort also offers “Kids Night Out” at the Fun Zone and can arrange for babysitters.
“We have daycare here for our employees, for our guests and something for every member of the family to enjoy,” says Howe. “My dad always believed a vacation should be for everyone—kids, moms and dads.”
In August 2019, Bolton Valley Resort’s president Lindsay DesLauriers also opened a year-round full-time child care program at the resort. “It’s something that’s helped us with both guests and employees,” DesLauriers said. “I’ve had women who could only work part time and now that we have childcare, they can be there full-time.”
Add to that a new indoor skate and BMX park and Bolton Valley became a far more kid-friendly ski resort.
Ralph DesLauriers founded Bolton Valley in 1966 and in 2017, he bought it back with the idea his kids would take it over. Unlike her brothers, extreme skiers Eric and Rob DesLauriers (both live out West), and Adam who traveled the world filming them, Lindsay came in as president in July, 2019 with little experience in the ski world.
“I didn’t know anything about operations, but I wasn’t afraid to ask questions,” she said. DesLauriers, now 40, had worked in early childhood advocacy and was the founding director of the Main Street Alliance, which works with Vermont’s small businesses on public policy issues.
I asked DesLauriers if the childcare program was what she was most proud of. She looked at me and in the pause before she answered I realized my question was loaded with bias. “I worked in childcare advocacy, not childcare,” she said. “As a lobbyist, I learned how to get things done.” She then patiently ticked off the other things she has accomplished: acquiring the Bolton Valley Community Water and Sewer and reducing the resort’s dependence on trucked water from 2 million gallons to zero this year, raising half of the $6 million capital campaign and improving revenues by 20 percent.
Set high in the mountains, with both year-round homeowners and guests reliant on the resort for everything from the health club to their water system, Bolton Valley Resort, like Smuggler’s Notch, is a village unto itself. “Running this ski resort is really like running any community—you just need good leadership,” she said.
Continued on the next page: What Role Does Media Play?