After 18 years at the helm of one of the most progressive ski companies in history, Jason Levinthal is starting over. He left the top spot at Line Skis and handed the reigns over to former intern Josh Malczyk, so he can return to what he started off to do in the first place—build skis, self sufficiently and creatively.
Except the rules have changed since 1995, when Levinthal started tinkering in his parents' garage with a homemade ski press. Now, all Levinthal needs to start a new ski company is a kitchen table and a laptop. He plans to outsource the rest—construction design to former Line engineer Francois Sylvain, graphics to any designer he fancies that day, production to a factory in Quebec that can do tiny orders. By selling directly to consumers and scaling things down to focus on limited runs as small as 20 pairs of skis, Levinthal plans to cut down the development timeframe from two years to a few months. He also wants to tear down the walls that separate the consumer from the manufacturer by opening up the creative process to be as democratic as possible, allowing anyone become as involved as they want with the design and construction of their skis.
Nearly two decades ago, Levinthal pioneered the way for niche ski brands to arrive and compete in the ski industry. Today, after 10 years of deliberate daydreaming, he's come up with an entirely new business model that may change the ski industry all over again. It all starts tomorrow, when Levinthal officially launches J Skis on his new website, Jskis.com. Below, Levinthal responds to a grip of questions in an exclusive interview.
People want you to believe everything is made by futuristic robots and secret formulas, but, at the end of the day, it's just skiers like you making something to put on your feet and slip around on the snow. With my new company, you're going to see the dude building your ski, cutting your core, me designing it.
I want to cut through the bullshit and show you the reality of what it takes to start a ski company and what goes into making a ski. This isn't some kind of contrived magic. It's hard work, creativity, and persistence. And the end result is a better product.
Figure me as, like, the surfboard shaper of skiing.
It's going to be a secret handshake. I'm not going to be speaking to everyone. I don't want everyone to like everything I'm doing. It's just for those people who want to stand out from the rest.
The most dedicated. That's who I want to build for. So I'm going to build the best park ski. I'm going to build the best powder ski. I'm going to build the best East Coast ski, the best West Coast ski. There's no limit."
Every ski is going to be one of a kind. They will be numbered one out of however many we make, signed and dated by me. So everyone who buys them has in their hands and on their feet a unique product with a deep story, designed and built by hand by people you will meet and know. It will feel like you're doing more than just buying another mass-produced widget.
I'm just going right to the end. I'm just going right to that end consumer and saying, 'I know who you are. I know where you are. I know what you want, and I've got it here to sell to you.’
And there it is, done. We tweak an existing shape I have or we could spend a few more months and develop a new shape. I want to move really fast, with tons of change, tons of flexibility, and do everything that you can't as a big company. Expect the unexpected.
It's going to be a better product sold at a competitive price because I'm not giving it up to the middleman. I'm going to sell it at any day, any time, any place, for any price I want, because it's all real time.
I want to work with athletes far beyond just their skiing, I want to work with those who have the ability to influence others to get deeper into the sport and have more fun and who are already incredible self promoters able to inspire and influence others.
I'm starting this company in record-breaking time. I mean, no one has ever started a ski company as fast as I'm going to do it, and I want this to be completely transparent.
I'm going to basically start a ski company in the next eight weeks.
I'm not going to be in a trade show slinging skis. I don't need to. I'll sell direct. I can go to the parking lot and swipe credit cards through my phone tomorrow and sell all the skis I want to.
If no one wants it, don't buy it. There's only going to be 20 of them. If there's 20 people in the world that want those skis, there'll only be 20 skis made.
I want to give back to the sport, and in order to do that, I need some flexibility to do whatever I want, any day I want, regardless of whether it makes money or not. Regardless of whether a dealer or a shop likes it or thinks they can sell it. And I'm going to make stuff that I think is cool, creative, different, and wakes people up—you know—brings some fresh air into the sport.
As much as I love Line and fun as it is to continue to drive it and push the boundaries for what it can do for the sport, I'm an entrepreneur, and I've got too much built-up creativity that has been brewing in my head for too many years to be constrained to applying my skills and creativity to only one brand. Line is one of the most successful modern day start-up ski brands and it's well on its way to continuing to lead the industry to what's next in skiing, even without me.
I just kind of have this vision in my head that I put together from snippets of daydreaming over the last 10 years, literally. Like, I do a lot of daydreaming, man. My wife and kid make fun of me for daydreaming. I literally zone out all the time and I'm just daydreaming my ass off and coming up with stuff, and that's the best thing you can do.
This isn't about spending a million dollars to buy the best team of athletes. This isn't about inventing a new product. This is about doing things different, making change happen and letting the creativity drive the plan. Not letting the plan drive creativity.