By Amber Clontz
Winter survival and the forces of hunger drive humans to do what they never imagined. We all read Alive. Not all mountains are the Andes, but hunger in the Tetons drove Kate Schade to adapt and do the unexpected. Her ski bum lifestyle became secondary to her new purpose, her unpredicted decision to start a business.
Refusing to stop for lunch, she waited for the Jackson Hole tram and ate an everything-in-the-cupboard energy bar she made the night before. Its slow evolution from hodgepodge slope-side snack to an all-natural, packaged bar sold in ski shops and grocery stores, was a transformation that changed the baker as much as the bar.
A passion for skiing drove Kate to a life she didn’t know existed, but found tucked away in the Teton Valley. The 38 year-old skier, biker, and Tram Bar maker, lives in Victor, Idaho. While in college at the University of New Hampshire, she visited her bother in Wyoming. Kate says, “I had no idea what a ski bum was, and didn’t know what “powder snow” even was!” That was in 1992, and the summer after graduation, she moved to Wyoming for good. Soon enough, Kate embodied the lifestyle she never knew existed.
Learning to ski in New York on 200 ft. vertical, clenching rope tows explains why Kate couldn’t justify ditching powder runs for a bowl of chili. It wasn’t a lack of cash or disgust at other power bar options that drove Kate to kitchen experiments, “I just didn’t want to stop to eat”. Standing in line for the tram Kate munched her homemade Tram Bar- originally containing any nut, berry, seed, or spice plus peanut butter combination. “The recipe evolved over a few years, and every one was pretty darn good, but they just kept getting better!” Soon, she let friends take bites, share halves, and eventually order their own,
By 1995, friends kept pushing her to sell Tram Bars, but Kate saw time in Jackson Hole better spent playing hard everyday rather than starting a business. As an English major, Kate dreamed of doing more with her hobbies art, photography and writing. But with a contagious energy like hers, close friends knew the potential she had to share that energy – via. 3 oz. Tram Bar. Kate says “I was selling them at the farmer’s market at the Cosmic Apple booth for a start”. Beginning slowly and growing slowly, she wasn’t in any hurry to live in an office rather than ramble through the backcountry.
Spending a decade in the Teton Valley could lure any skier off the corporate course. Powder winters and endless summer bike trails cause many to forgo rent checks and other real world “necessities”. Kate laughs about being the first girl to live in the TM Shack, the once-without-plumbing concrete building behind Teton Mountaineering. Feeling lucky to have a place to sleep at the “typical ski-bum/fraternal pad”, she transitioned between crashing couches to having a bed again thanks to friends.
Kate believes “New passions bring new people, new experiences, and new perspectives into your life”- a fitting philosophy for her. Jackson Hole friend, Scotty Button, pushed her hard enough think big with Tram Bars. The partnership was a starting block, but the most influential jump came from working on certified organic farm, Cosmic Apple Gardens in Victor, Idaho. On the farm, a friend drew the original red, black, and white Tram Bar label. Inspired by Cosmic Apple Gardens, she began to see the importance of organic food. By 2004, Tram Bars began as an official business with Kate as sole proprietor, introducing her evolved cupboard creations as organic, more nutritious Tram Bars. But becoming the next frilly diet bar isn’t part of her healthy vision.
Marketing organic bars is a packed market, so Tram Bars are only sold in a handful of states in the West or ordered online. “It’s funny. I’ve had some people who have asked for diet, or soy, this, or that. To me, diet is discipline… eat half”. She doesn’t believe in the benefits of soy, and figures if customers want soy, they can get in almost any other bar. This is the voices of a changed Kate, because now she looks at food through new lenses.
“Working at the Cosmic Apple Gardens opened my eyes to the importance of organic foods, not only for our bodies, but also for the environment”. Just as organic ingredients improved the old Tram Bar, her new financial savvy business partner has helped the business. Together they hope to create a company culture that helps promote organic foods, farms, and the need for good play in everyone’s life.
Kate admits the life now is much different, “Things change”. Supporting Natural Good Energy has replaced a few powder days here and there. Following a passion for skiing, the venture from Finger Lakes, New York to New Hampshire to Wyoming introduced Kate to the new places, influential people, and an unexpected perspective on food. She’s traded the ski bum existence to share her message and bar, while getting into mountain biking, too.
A new bar with a cool bike theme is in-progress to accompany the Grizzly Bar, Caz Bar, and original Tram Bar. Maybe the Handle Bar will be Kate’s next organic creation out of Victor, Idaho and our new addiction.