In the winter of 2015-16, Josh Malczyk, global brand director for Line Skis, was on a company ski trip in Japan testing new product with a few lucky customers. A particular powder day stands out in Malczyk’s memory, or rather a pow day reaction. A 45-year-old “doctor-lawyer type” tested a new deep-snow destroyer. Three runs into the day, he approached Malczyk, frosty smile touching behind his ears, and said, “Thank you. I just had a spiritual experience on these skis. I’ve never skied like this before in my life.” For Malczyk and Line Skis, unlocking new skiing experiences is what it’s all about.
How and why did Line start?
Jason Levinthal started Line Skis in his parent’s garage in 1995. Really, he was a bump skier and snowboarder, and wanted to improve the skiing experience. He made ski boards for his college senior project, basically little skis with snowboard dimensions cut in half, twin tips, deep sidecut, bi-directional…pretty revolutionary stuff in the ’90s. Things got bigger and our skis got better and better. It went from one person in a garage, to a few friends in a garage, to being purchased by Trak Sports USA in Burlington, and then K2 brought us in house in Seattle.
In 1995, the product on the market was straight, stiff, single directional, dumbed-down race skis. You couldn’t really express yourself on the mountain on skis as much as you could on a snowboard. Anyone who wanted to do freestyle was a snowboarder. The product just wasn’t there for skiers. It was limiting. Skiing was ripe for a revolution. It was the dorkiest thing to do. And then Line Skis brought the flavor. Line was born out of a need for more fun and better equipment to get there.
What do you do that’s different or better than the competition?
We want to breathe new life into skiing, all the time. Line strives to innovate skiing though product, creative athletes, and creative marketing. We like to be the first. Crazy ideas are easy to push through because that’s part of our history and what we should be doing. It’s who we are. It’s pretty simple, really. We have a streamlined development process. We look at where the consumers are at and what we want to get out of a ski. We have an engineer work with our athletes directly so we can bring product to market quicker. In the skiing world, we have a relatively young history. But this helps us, it’s a competitive edge. We are not locked into race traditions and European lifestyles. We are able to pivot and move quicker than others, I think. We are more connected to the consumer. And we are focused—we don’t make inline skates and ice skates and cross-country skis. We are solely focused on freeride and freestyle.
In 1995, no one would think skiing backwards in powder was possible. There wasn’t product that could facilitate that and there wasn’t an athlete that wanted to figure out how to, so there wasn’t a brand making the equipment. Now, it’s commonplace. It takes a brand ethos to get behind crazy ideas. And really smart engineers. When you’ve got a guy like Eric Pollard who says “I want my ski to look like it’s broken” and you figure out early rise from his design, it opens up a whole new opportunity in skiing.
What’s the point?
Everyone has a lot of choices today, from skiing or snowboarding to playing video games rather than going to the mountain. We want to make skiing as accessible as possible and make it as fun as possible. We want to give options to an otherwise stale world of choice. Line is the secret handshake in skiing. It’s not your dad’s brand.
Skiing is inherently the weirdest thing ever. If aliens were looking down on earth they’d see people strapping sticks on their feet, sliding down the hill, hooting and hollering, and chasing down powder all over the world. It’s a really funny little sport that brings out a feeling of euphoria. We just want to keep it as current and cool as possible so you can get that feeling as quickly and often as possible.
Who do you serve?
Skiers, the consumer, our consumer. When someone is asked “Who are you, what do you do,” and they answer “I am a skier,” that’s who we serve. There are two sides of the story for people who go to the mountain. There’s the guy who says, “I’m an accountant and I go on a ski vacation every year. I love it. It’s awesome.” And then there’s the guy who says, “I am a skier. I work as an accountant.” We obviously don’t want to deter anyone from our brand but we want to represent who someone is, his or her identity. We represent skiers.
What’s the flagship product and what’s new?
Our core is the Eric Pollard series and our freestyle skis. Pollard epitomizes our ethos of going down the mountain in a different way, of looking at the hill with a new perspective. There’s a lot of hype around the Pescado this year. It’s a 125mm waisted directional powder ski that’s shaped like a fish. It’s obviously not our volume driver ski but people are freaking out about it. Surfing inspired it and it feels amazing.
What are the hardest challenges?
The last thing we want to do is be a “me too” brand, to do what everyone else is doing, which is not easy. Getting over the wall of what people think is the right thing can be hard. Changing people’s minds is the hardest challenge, getting someone to try your brand, something different, is hard. If you can inspire people with your brand, your imagery, your athletes, and get them on your product to see the light you can accomplish anything.
What are the biggest rewards?
The reward is in the little things, like the sticker requests we get in the mail, some kid drawing Andy Parry in the Traveling Circus van, or comments on videos from snowboarders who say they want to ride on our skis because they look so fun. People want to be a part of what we are producing, from the videos to the way people act on our skis. People want to get on the fun train. The hardest challenge is changing someone’s mind and the biggest reward is when someone changes their mind.
Where do you see Line in 5 years?
It’s really surprising how many people are narrow-minded when it comes to ski development and innovation. We don’t want just one turn, one type of feel when it comes to our skis. Hopefully, in 5 years we’ll be telling our story to new people, opening more minds, and growing with the people who already get us. We’ll be waving our flag and pushing our limits.