I asked Jason how he made a hobby into his career.
Alec Ross: Tell me about Line Skis’ mission. What are you trying to accomplish?
Jason Levinthal:“Make skiing more fun than the day before.” In 95, skiis were holding athletes back. Everyone had to deal with skis that weren’t made for them. Not easy, fun, playful, or intuitive — the current styles were limiting and one dimensional. When I snowboarded growing up, I saw bikes go to BMX, skateboards got symmetric, and mountain bikes sprung from cycling. All these sports were limited by the product. I thought, “How can I take this to the next level?” I loved skiing. I asked myself. “What can I do to these skis to be able to do what I wanted to with them?” So I made my own. [laughs]
But I got lucky. Doing it by myself, I had trouble getting people on board. The game changer was when I got an order from a Japanese distributor. In the third year, Salomon, took it up. They had the voice. We were a core, authentic, athlete-driven brand. What kept us growing and growing was our dedication to our mission: “Make skiing more fun than the day before.” We won’t lose sight of that. That’s the key. Our identity.
AR: When did you decide that action sports was going to be a life-long pursuit?
JL: When we didn’t go out of business. We almost went out of business twice. It was difficult getting things rolling. There were no holidays, no weekends. But when I had gotten that far, I knew it was something that I was going to do for a living. It was a business investment. All about taking the product to the business level. When I sold to K2, we had just hit the glass ceiling. For us, it was about cost-effective manufacturing. But I wanted to do that without betraying our original mission. No matter what’s behind the curtain, we don’t blend in with anyone else. That’s who we are. No one can recreate it.
AR: Were you always interested in the business side of skiing?
JL: From the first day my parents took my family to the mountain at age twelve, I knew that my life needed to be based on this sport. Later, when I made my first pair of skis as a college project, I was at a point where needed to determine what I was going to do for a job. A job of any kind is a business, whether you run it or work for it. Anything you get paid to do is business. I figured if I have to work, it might as well be doing something I enjoy. I still tell people today when they ask what they should go to school for: go for whatever you enjoy. Then your work will be a passion and not feel as much like a job, and you’ll likely succeed much more at it. So my interest was always in skiing. When it was time to get a job, I was destined to get one in skiing. I just happened to have made my own instead of applying for one.
AR: What inadequacies in the then-current design did you note when designing your first pair of skis?
JL: The skis at the time — no one really remembers it, were perfectly straight. You couldn’t carve at all. There was no life in it. They were based on the racing model skis, with square tails and tiny tips. They were skinny and very long. Just doing a 360 was an achievement. They weren’t nimble. Everything today is the opposite.
AR: From your experience, does it require extensive ski experience and knowledge of ski culture to prosper in the ski equipment market?
JL: Yeah, absolutely. If you don’t play golf, how are you going to know what a good golf club is? You can learn accounting, but you can’t learn the skiing culture. The best employees I have are those that are skiers. I can teach Excel and everything else. But it takes certain experience to make a good ski product employee.
AR: What characteristics of your products at Line Skis make them unique in the freeski equipment market? JL: Technology. Definitely. We go to great lengths to keep our skis state of the art. But it’s a subtlety about them that make them unique. They’re not of a racing or traditional ski background. Our heritage is not limited in one category. We are not adapting old technologies; everything’s new. Even our expectations. Unlike the traditional ski, ours are nimble and light. They’re intuitive. We use wood tips that run the length of the ski. We design not from what a traditional ski is, but we analyze the limitations of the current products and innovate.
AR: What would you tell to any young person aspiring to be innovative and introduce new products into the ski industry?
JL: Think differently. Don’t do what someone else is doing; do whatever’s going to make the best product today. Don’t worry, think, or even look at what other people are doing. We need fresh ideas. I look outside the ski industry for ideas and bring them in. Do what’s best for your sport. Do it all in the name of the sport.
Check out the latest with Jason and the rest at Line Skis here.
Written by Alec Ross