No business like snow business
Alpin Mountain Company
Skiing and snowboarding are gear-intensive sports. And the enthusiasts really love their gear. They spent more than $4.6 billion on it in 2015, according to the non-profit trade association SnowSports Industries America.
While the big, established brands earn the bulk of the market share, there are plenty of craft brands too. A new one, based out of Truckee, is Alpin Mountain Company. Gabe Young runs this one-man operation—producing technical ski backpacks, chest rig packs and handlebar packs for bicycles.
Young is a supervisor at Northstar California Resort’s ski school. Upon first introduction, he has a quiet, contemplative disposition. Utility and necessity are common themes in the way he speaks about his brand and what led him to create it.
“The sports and activities that I’ve participated in always necessitated some gear,” Young said. “And at a certain point, I just thought I’d try building my own, and I enjoyed the whole creative process and the sort of self-sufficiency of being able to make your own stuff and not being constrained by what’s available on the market or what you have in your wallet.”
Young didn’t initially intend to build a brand around his handcrafted gear. But he wasn’t just making it for kicks either.
“It started as a portfolio,” he explained. “I don’t have a background in design or product or anything related to the industry, so I was trying … to showcase my work to try and get someone’s attention at a prominent outdoor company.”
This was about two years ago. Young was working on an undergraduate degree—a task that had taken him away from the mountain resorts, but one that he viewed as a necessary step toward the goal of “tracking upward into [resort] management.”
The portfolio didn’t attract the attention of its intended target, but it wasn’t long before Young’s friends and acquaintances suggested he start selling his gear.
Alpin Mountain Company launched over the summer.
The photos and product descriptions on the website speak to Young’s utilitarian, function-first ethos. And a crash course on the various gear from its creator drives the point home.
“The chest rig itself is traditionally a utility piece that’s used by military,” Young explained. “It’s used by EMTs, ski patrol. You don’t see it as really a civilian thing. And that’s because it’s just pure function.”
According to Young, the chest rig is meant for backcountry skiing but is also useful for acroskiing enthusiasts who can’t perform while wearing bulkier gear. So, the rig serves a purpose for skiers both in and out of the park.
The ski backpack has similar dual functions. The myriad straps it comes equipped with for mounting skis or snowboards are removable. When it’s stripped down, it looks like something you’d see on city streets.
“But the best part about the backpack is the way it carries,” Young said. “All of these features are there for function, but ultimately if the backpack is not comfortable—if it fatigues you, if you get hot spots—it’s worthless. So the biggest focus was creating this back panel that would really be comfortable to be carry.”
The back panel is made of high density polyethylene plastic. It slips into a pocket in the back of the pack and is equipped with padding for lumbar support.
“It’s kept in place with Velcro, but you can slide it up and down to fit the lumbar padding to people with different torso lengths,” Young explained. “A big company would produce two different packs. The first pack is small-medium. The second pack is like medium-large. But I’d rather come up with a system.”
Each backpack takes approximately 15 hours to make, and Young is still operating Alpin Mountain Company solo—at least for the time being. But he’s already thinking about the workability of an expansion.
“I want to keep manufacturing the product,” he said. “I’d love to eventually have a small facility that I have multiple [sewing] machines on and I can hire other people to sew and just teach other people like myself to make the product.”
Young thinks the work schedule could be accommodating to the ski schedule, allowing him to hire other skiers to help build Alpin Mountain Company gear—a possibility that’s agreeable to his meticulous maker’s mind.