Almost two months ago, I called up J Skis founder Jason Levinthal. The first thing he asked me was where I lived, because we had to go thru his publicist and I had to fly out to VT to continue with this interview. I wish I could say I wasn't surprised, or that I thought this was a bizarre. It's taken me a long time to get this up, and I'm sorry about that, but I've been busy falling off chairlifts and practically living in California.
Let’s start with who are you, and what is J Skis?
I am a human, and J Skis is a ski company.
What inspired you to go back to your small business roots?
I am super passionate about sport, and couldn’t do what I wanted to under a previous company. It’s really difficult to flip and entire brand around and go in a new direction. That was something I wanted to do, so starting J Skis was the best way to go about it.
You take an unique approach to social media by updating everyone on your progress. What made you decide to be so open?
So many reasons, you need to do things different if you want to stand put, and people want what’s real right now in society. They want to know it straight from the source what’s going on. And the more personable you can make your company, the more relatable you can make your products, because people relate to people, they don’t want to relate to on a business side. I wanted it to be really open and really, you wanna know what’s going on I’ll show you. There’s no other company doing it so I’m gonna stand out doing it as well. And why not? It’s a social media world, so let’s just use it like you do, tell people, hey guess what, I’m stoked. I’m doing the same thing, I’m just doing it on a business level.
Community input is obviously something you value. We really saw this happen when someone called you out, and asked for the ‘MERICA ski. With the new edition of JXYou, input is being taken to a new level. Why involve the consumers so much?
I’m building a product for you, so why not ask you want you want, instead of trying to push on you something that I think you want. Like when you order coffee at a store, they ask what kind you want. Or you order a pizza, and they ask what you want on it. Well, previously you couldn’t do that because it would be too difficult to ask thousands of people, today you can, and why not do it? Give people what they want, with my flavor with my perspective. I’m not doing it exactly, but I’m taking their ideas, creations, and building on that. So it’s no different than you going to a local ice cream store back in the day and be like, “Do you guys make a flavor with peanut butter and chocolate chips in it?” And they would say, “No, but that’s a good idea, if a lot of people like it we will.” In one hour I can find that out, so why not. I can better my product selection.
You just launched a new ski, any plans for a powder ski?
It takes time and money. I’m going to make a powder ski, I have a prototype that people seem to like. I’m actually probably going to do a kickstarter campaign to kick off that powder ski production. Just one thing at time, not everything you think of can be put into action that minute.
Is this just a problem with smaller businesses?
Even with big ski companies there’s only eight different moldings. There’s probably only eight new molds a year. You keep reusing your other molds, just changing graphics. I can only do a new product every so often.
Do you consider this to be a North American company, or global because of your reach?
I sell globally, but- that’s a good question. I think of myself as a North American brand. That’s where I’m based, that’s where most of the people who want the product are. But I’m selling globally, and I’m working on being more global and building up in Europe. So my company should be global, it’s just not yet. It will become much more global as it grows. I think of myself as a North American based brand.
Any advice for aspiring ski makers?
My advice is if you want to do it as a hobby or a passion, just go for it. But if you want to turn it into a business, actually making money, like profit, that’s a whole other animal. It’s really two totally separate things, and sometimes people confuse one or the other. People will say, “Hey, I can make a ski in my garage. I know how to do it and I’m confident.” You really have a hobby, and that’s fine. To make a profit you have to seek so many. People spend so much money to get it right, to differentiate yourself from the competition, it’s not easy. It’s really hard. From my experience and credibility, it’s really hard to sell skis, like it’s hard to sell anything. There’s always someone else who has something. I’d think twice about building your own for business and I’d think about all the other opportunities- like jobs. There’s working at ski resorts, working at ski shops, online media companies, magazines, film companies. There’s a lot of jobs that still relate to skiing that are probably more likely to find or get you what you need, while still satisfying your passion for the sport and being involved in it.
How did the Steve Stepp “Snowboarding Is Cool” ski come about?
Where did that come from? Jeeze, I think I was pushing that pretty hard. I think I might of had the idea for putting a snowboard on the base of a ski, and we both thought… I don’t know. It feels like a hundred years ago. We just, we like to do things that make people laugh I think. (leading up to that conclusion, Jason was laughing, I guess it’s true.) There’s nothing better than to put snowboarding on the base of skis. Skiing came from snowboarding, for this style of skiing. Its always kinda been like the battle between skiing and snowb- no, wait. Remember he had that video? He had one of those episodes about how he was gonna turn into a snowboarder. That’s where it came from. So it launched form there. Where “Snowboarding Is Cool” came up with, it was something from his “They See Me Trollin” videos where he turns into a snowboarder, that’s it.
Steve is definitely the perfect guy to have on skis like that, especially with “Trollin.”
Absolutely. It’s a fun ski, and he’s a fun guy.
Seeing how owning a pair of J’s gets you on the team, is Steve still an amateur even with his own model?
Of course. Steve actually has his model because he’s a pro. I’m not kidding, he really does want to show how good he is, because he doesn’t feel like a pro, but he still is one. I don’t know how much experience he has with competition, but he’s honestly like, “I gotta show more skiing man.” He’s one of those people who are really good at skiing, that’s what’s up.
After spending some time talking to Jason, I not only feel like I can support the brand, but the person behind it. J skis is trying to become something more than just a ski company, they're the communities ski. Big ups to Jason for talking to me and answering my questions. You can get a pair of skis here.