The Winter Divas

By: Jackson Hogen

Published: March 11, 2019

This is a story about community and the unique role that specialty ski shops play in helping to knit the family of skiers together. It is also a tale of individual will power and its ability to engage hundreds of enthusiasts in a common cause.

Our tale has a heroine, Kjerstin Klein, who, along with husband Greg, owns and operates Willi’s Ski and Snowboard Shops, the dominant presence in Pittsburgh and its environs. As a hands-on owner, Kjerstin is both in touch with her customers and the movers and shakers on the supplier side who can influence the direction of product design and marketing.

The Winter Divas were created to give recreational women skiers a voice in product development.

From her insider’s perspective, Klein observed condescension in action, as “made-for-women” skis were nothing more than “pink it and shrink it” iterations of unisex models. Klein was confident that everyday women skiers had a lot to contribute to the design process if only the powers that be would listen to them.

One evening during the 2009/10 season, Kjerstin was venting her frustrations to Greg, who was duly inserting “Yes, Dear,” at just the right moments to indicate his bottomless empathy. As she continued to complain that women weren’t being taken seriously, Greg – a one-person vortex of creative energy in his own right – looked up and interjected, “Then why don’t you do something about it?”

Despite weather that can be inhospitable, Winter Divas congregate to socialize and contribute their feedback.

And so began theWinter Divas, a coalition of 300+ women skiers who provide feedback on the products they evaluate during the course of a six- to eight-week season. Willi’s had worked on a women’s program with Head for the previous five seasons and every year had to turn people away, so Klein knew there was a keen interest among women skiers to get together and share their experiences.

“We started with the philosophy that it is our relationships that are the foundation of our success,” says Klein. “When we connect with customers we are able to serve them better. Customers feel comfortable speaking up when they feel they are listened to.”

The Winter Divas program provides the platform that allows its participants to log their impressions, whether by interview, social media or survey. Both the range and detail of the survey questions are impressive. Skiers are asked specific questions about cost, cosmetics and performance and provide a focused self-assessment. Included in the questionnaire are all the Realskiers.com performance criteria, backed up by a similar series of question in layman’s terms.

The twin motivations fueling the Divas are product input and building relationships with core customers. That’s Kjerstin Klein, third from the left, rocking the pigtails.  

All the Winter Diva feedback is imbued with the perspective of people who actually buy their equipment, and their answers directly reflect what they are willing to pay for. Considering that women control most of the household spending in America and hold veto power of all recreational expense, this is data worth noting. Klein offers all Winter Diva data free to any supplier and can organize a specialized focus group on request. Realskiers.com incorporates their scores and comments into our database, and manufacturers can order tailored reports from Klein.

Klein explains the solid business reasons for focusing on the female customer: “Nothing is spent without the wife buying in. For return on investment, if you could only reach one person, women are the key demographic. Besides, we already have enough feedback from men, while women – who control 40% of all ski dollars spent – are being underserved.”

Klein notes the growing participation rate of women in snowsports. “Recent years have seen a decline in sales of men’s snowsports equipment but a rise in sales of women-specific snowsports equipment. Right now, 27% of all snowboarders and nearly 50% of all skiers are female.”

A genuine camaraderie infuses every Winter Diva event.

Feedback from the Winter Divas directly informs Willi’s buying decisions. “We’ve picked up brands and particular models or expanded our involvement with a supplier based on their feedback. Invariably, they’ve been spot on.”

But the Winter Divas aren’t just about product, or even about the intrinsic value in being heard. “It’s about camaraderie,” opines Klein, “about getting more from the sport than just outdoor exercise. It’s a way for us to connect to our core customer base, provide a service to help our industry and create the ability to be heard for women who really care.”

As the photos that decorate this piece attest, the Winter Divas provide a unique outlet for a desire that burns inside all real skiers, to share their passion with others.

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