Willi’s Ski and Snowboard Shop is one of the country’s oldest family-owned specialty retailers. Based in the Pittsburgh, PA, area and with an on-mountain shop at Seven Springs resort, Willi’s has served western Pennsylvania for over 40 years. One of the great ways that Willi’s has served their customer base recently is with their women’s ski and snowboard club, Winter Divas.
Started by Willi’s co-owner Kjerstin Klein in 2010, the club began as a way for women of all ages to get out on the mountain mid-week and enjoy the snow. Winter Divas started out with about 40 members, but has quickly grown to over 250. Now Klein uses her tremendous energy and enthusiasm to plan weekly activities and testing opportunities for the group, which has turned the women into one of the most well-respected consumer groups in the country, relied upon by reps for their gear testing insights, and by fellow consumers for their knowledge of the industry.
“Divas is such a special group. When we started it five years ago, of course we hoped it would become even half of what it has, but we feel so lucky that it’s really turned out to be such an incredible group of women,” Klein said. “Every week we do something different, from skiing with the instructors or patrollers, or getting a tour from the mountain manager, or trying our hand at racing. And of course we have our big work day when we demo next year’s skis.”
Klein said the demo day is one of the most popular, and one of most exhausting, of the Divas’ season. And she said the reps who provide the equipment have really come to rely upon the Divas’ opinions. “As far as I know we are the only consumer group in the country that’s able to demo skis. I think the industry realizes that the women’s perspective is really important, and here in western Pennsylvania we have a really nice microcosm of people. I’ve taught the girls how to demo as effectively as any retailer or any ski tester out there, and the reps have really come to respect the Winter Divas. When we started it, the reps did it because they like us, we’re always behind them 100%, and when we came and asked them to do it they said ‘oh sure,’ but once they got the feeling for it and saw the input they were getting and the feedback, they were blown away. When they leave the mountain, a lot of the reps will say, ‘What did the Divas think of us? Did they like our graphics?’ It’s become a little popularity contest- it’s great.”
The women from SIA headquarters decided we needed to learn more, so we joined the Divas at Seven Springs on their annual race day, appropriately dubbed “Ski Your Tiara Off.” Not only did we have a blast racing with the Divas, but we learned how special their camaraderie is on the mountain. At the après-race get-together and awards ceremony, many Divas spoke with gratitude about their experience in the group.
Alma Worthington, a former ski instructor and an original member of the Divas group, said, “I’ve been a Winter Diva since we started, five years now. It’s been wonderful because we’ve been able to find other women who ski in the same way we do, and I’ve met so many people with my same interests. We have a different focus every week, looking at hardgoods, softgoods, or going around the ski area with one of the managers; it’s a very unique program. To have a chance to learn something every week, and to get to try things from different manufacturers is amazing. They like it when we have good reports – there are so many more women’s skis these days and new things to try, so it’s really fun.”
“As soon as the kids went off to college I joined,” said first-year member Jolene Lowry. “I tell you what, it’s been the greatest thing. The access to people who understand the industry, the manufacturers reps, the demo day – it’s amazing to have access to that. We are a large group of consumers, and the intelligence of the women in this group is incredible. The places they’ve been and the things they know, it’s a very valuable group of opinions. It’s been so fabulous to be a part of it – my husband is extremely jealous!”
Our SIA group came away from our honorary Divas experience completely inspired. We saw women of all ages, from 30-somethings to 80-somethings, gaining new skills, making new friends and enjoying being out on the mountain together. We thought, if that isn’t what it’s all about, then we don’t know what is! We’re proud to be honorary Divas, and we’ll be back for more next year. Thanks Kjerstin, for an incredible time!!