20 Questions: Jason Levinthal, J Skis — Part 2

Jason Levinthal, Blister Gear Review.Yesterday, we published part one of our interview with Jason Levinthal, founder of LINE Skis. Today, we bring you the rest of our conversation about his new company, J Skis.

JE: You’ve said that what you don’t do is more important than what you do do, and I completely agree. Set those parameters, then figure it out.

When I first started thinking about Blister, I knew we weren’t going to take money from manufacturers, because that’s one of the primary reasons why the review world is so screwed up. That principle then became a parameter, an obstacle to work around. And it provided a structure for the whole operation.

Jason: You’re going to get further that way. Because now that you’ve eliminated that piece, it’s going to open doors to new things that you otherwise never would have had the opportunity to enter. And that’s what I’ll be doing. I can’t wait for a year from now to look back and say, “That was the secret formula I needed. I knew there had to be something out there.” I’m looking forward to discovering that.

JE: On a related note, for me, the first couple of years at Blister have been defined by 100-120 hour work weeks. So one of the things I loved most about the Q&A session you did on Newschoolers was listening to you bluntly detail the realities and challenges of startup life.

You’ve already been through it once. So my question is, “How much energy do you really have to go all-in again on this new venture?” Of course, you know a lot more now than you did when you started LINE. You have a lot more connections. So are you hoping that it’s not going to be as brutal as the first go around?

Jason: I hope not. My goal is to find out how simple and transparent I can make a ski company. if I went by the traditional operation and distribution model, I would be working around the clock—that’s why I’m not doing it that way.

I want to see how simple and streamlined I can actually make a ski company. I’m hoping to cut all the fat, the waste of time.

This winter, the entire 10-14 days I’d spend (a) setting up for the SIA trade show, (b) tearing down after the trade show, (c ) going to ISPO in Europe for the next trade show … I want to spend those days skiing at my local mountain. I’m going to be skiing, I’m going to be testing skis, and I’m going to be doing the things I’d rather do and that are more productive for the end goal of developing and selling skis to people. Standing at a trade show for weeks on end — yeah, it moves product, but it’s not necessary for a ski company. But only if you change the entire operation.

So we’ll see. Right now, I am working a lot. But I’m also trying to compress six months of company creation into about six weeks and I want this to be really simple. I’ve been working from home for seven years, you know, running a ski and boot company that’s selling thousands of products—of course I had a huge team in Seattle—but I’ve been doing that online. I think it’s possible to not work around the clock and have more fun, ski more. That’s my goal. But everything has to change to do that.

JE: You’ve said your goal is to make the best pow ski, the best park ski, the best East Coast ski, the best West Coast ski. And that all sounds nice. But what I’m wondering is whether there will still be a strong family resemblance among your skis?

We’re reviewing skis from everybody, and it seems like what we’re seeing in so many cases is a lot of consistency or uniformity. For example, Rossignol’s new Series-7 line—there is a huge family resemblance. And Armada—most Armada skis have a distinctive “Armada” feel. And it seems like we’re seeing that from a lot of different companies.

I’m curious whether you think the stuff you’ll be producing will have a strong family resemblance, or whether one ski will be like a tall blond girl, the next ski be like a fat, short dude—more different than similar?

Jason: You’re talking about a family of skis that’s intended to have a similar ride, with various widths and various degrees of performance, but in general, you only have to sell one—if you like this type of skiing, you’ll like this family. So pick which one of the four you want.

But then there’s the fact that each brand has a different feel, and that comes from different engineering and different materials, and it becomes sort of a belief that the best sidecut is X-Y-Z, and the best core is made from this material and that material. That’s the consistency you feel across an entire brand.

So LINE skis are very intuitive, because of the sidecut. And my skis will have a consistency to them, because I’ve decided that this is the general construction and these are the materials I want to use because I believe they’re the best, and that is going to result in a certain feel for sure.

But I want to develop smaller batches, like a craft brewery. Budweiser isn’t going to experiment with a blackberry wheat beer or whatever, because they’re Budweiser—they want to make millions of barrels. But I’m looking to make 50-100 pairs at a time, and over time I might sell thousands, but I don’t need to sell a thousand this year. I don’t need to sell a thousand in the next two years. But a big company does have to—they need to offset all their expenses.

Jason levinthal, Blister Gear Review.
Designing skis in CAD.

Mostly, I hope to just make some cool stuff. If someone said, “You need to hit a minimum of 500-1000 pairs,” right there I’d be dead in the water. And that happens all the time in the board room or in the meetings when you’re developing a new product line. You’ll hear, “Ok, we really can only do four new models, so what’s going to get us the biggest return on our investment?” But as a smaller company, I just don’t have to reach that high.

Plus, no one needs the same old stuff with a different name. So I have to make something different in the first place. I just left LINE with a Sick Day on the cover of Ski Magazine, Ski of the Year. That’s the kind of stuff I’m capable of developing. It’s just a matter of what I want to develop.

As far as a category goes, it’s going to grow organically, where we go with this. I’m starting now with two models since I can design and build those models in my sleep—a 98 or 99mm-waisted all-terrain freestyle ski. Ride park all day if you want, or never go in the park—for me that’s the ski of the future for the everyday, all-around skier with a freestyle mentality.

But when winter hits, there will be snow, and I can develop some really cool powder skis. And I’m going to be developing product with really anyone and everyone. Maybe I’ll call up the Jackson Hole Air Force and say, “Hey, do you want to develop a ski with me?” When was the last time that happened?

Or I can call a crew at Alta or a patroller and say, “Lets make something here.” I’m not looking to build a team in the traditional sense, where I write a check and I’ve got these five skiers and I just tell them what to ride. I’m looking to collaborate with people. I don’t know whether you’d do it, but I’d love to call you guys and say, “Lets make a ski together.”

JE: At the end of the day, we just want to see really good skis on the market. So if you want our input, we’ll give it.

Jason: Well, I’ll take you up on that. That’s what I want to break away from—the traditional, “You’re a sponsored athlete, blah blah blah.” Think of me not as a company, I’m a skier who designs skis. I might be the only ski designer that the mainstream public knows. So I want to leverage that, and call people up on the fly and say, “Yo, let’s do a project together.” And that’ll be my “team.” We’ll do a project, we’ll make 50 pairs, then we’ll move on to the next thing.

JE: So it sounds like you’re plan is to do some crowd-sourced design, but you are also keeping open the option to say “For this design, I don’t want anyone’s input,” and you’ll just do your own thing.

Jason: I want to be flexible to do anything I want, anytime I want. Sell it anywhere, at any price. I want complete flexibility, no parameters set. Come up with a good idea, put it into action.

JE: This all sounds pretty fast and flexible and furious. I’m curious from a ski-designer point of view, the notion of getting something dialed. The idea of perfection, of striving to create a perfect product that becomes a staple in the lineup—that’s one paradigm for ski building. It sounds like you’re less into the notion of perfection and completion, and more into experimentation and innovation—i.e., “Let’s execute this idea, then get on to the next.”

Jason: I am a perfectionist, man. I drive the people I work with nuts. I’m meticulous as hell. I’m just moving fast because I can—I can move a lot faster when I have smaller gears. Some people think building and designing skis is as hard as inventing a time machine — they think it’s a magical process.

I want to show you everything that goes into it, the whole process. You’re going to see how we develop it. Instead of it being an imaginary, mystical thing, you’re going to see that it’s people with their hands and brains just making shit. It’s good, amazing stuff, and what I’m doing is really hard, and most people think it’s not something you can do quickly. But when you get enough experience, you can. I can, and the guys that I work with can. We can do it that fast, that easily, that efficiently and still make mind-blowing products. It’s an illusion that it’s more than that. And it would be more than that if I wasn’t as experienced, but this is all I’ve done for two decades.

4 comments on “20 Questions: Jason Levinthal, J Skis — Part 2”

  1. You guys should definitely collaborate with J on a ski!

    A few reasons include:
    1. You have a loyal following of readers who would definitely be interested in a ski you guys worked on.
    2. Great publicity for your site.
    3. Designing and collaborating on the ski would make great posts for your site.
    4. I’d imagine working on a ski would be a very educational process and provide you with some new perspectives and improve your already great reviews.
    5. But who would review your own ski? I trust you guys to give an honest review of your own ski, but I just might have a fun idea. You could hold a contest and the winner gets their own Blister/JSki and they get to post a blister style review of it on your site. Either that, or just let me review them ;)

    Either way, great interview, and I hope you guys get a chance to review a pair of J skis.

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