Food Matters: Ski Bum Startup |

Food Matters: Ski Bum Startup

Amanda Rae

The ski bum lifestyle is largely unknown outside the confines of a mountain town, and some might say it doesn’t play well with the grueling demands of entrepreneurship.

“Ski bums, we don’t have the normal focus: career, family, kids,” explains Nathaniel Deans, a personal trainer of more than 20 years and founder of Aspen Adventure Fitness. “When you’re starting a business, being a ski bum at the same time is hard to do. Some days you can be incredibly focused … other days, you go skiing!”

Yet in 2017 the Aspen native launched a second business, Ski Bum Spices. And its first product, The Healthy Hot Sauce, is tailored to the ski and golf community here — actually, anyone who enjoys recreation and living well.

“We’re meant to be active, not just exercise,” Deans says, with one caveat: all that exertion can take a toll on the body over time. “Bodies start to fail (like mine). The American diet is lacking. The reality is it’s not what you eat, it’s what you absorb.”

Having focused on nutrition with his gym clients, Deans set out to craft an anti-inflammatory supplement, settling on three top spices: Ceylon cinnamon, turmeric and ginger, plus black pepper, which enhances bioavailability of certain drugs, curcumin in turmeric especially. After much research and experimentation, he developed the hot sauce. Each teaspoon serving provides a daily dose of 1,000 milligrams of anti-inflammatory compounds, shown to reduce oxidative stress in the body, ease muscular and arthritic pain, promote healthy joints and possibly prevent disease.

“We’re on the forefront of how important it is to keep inflammation down,” Deans says. “It’s about what we absorb through the walls of the stomach. The fascinating thing to me is how mental illness could be related to our diet. Depression, anxiety, ADD — all start from inflammation in the gut. If you put ginger, turmeric and Ceylon cinnamon in your life, you’ll feel better.”

Deans, who years ago suddenly became unable to digest eggs, is his product’s OG customer. “Being a cancer survivor, I get my blood tested often,” he says. After a while of consuming the Healthy Hot Sauce, “My C-reactive protein — indicators of slowing in body — was not even readable it was so low.” (He’s back to eating eggs, by the way.)

Serendipitously, concussions before last winter, hailed as the worst season since 1976-77, sidelined him from the hill, freeing up time to make key changes to the Healthy Hot Sauce after its initial run.

One biggie: Image is everything. Though available at Roxy’s Market and Carl’s Pharmacy, the Healthy Hot Sauce isn’t stocked currently at the largest supermarkets in town, despite shelves carrying other Colorado brands from Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Littleton and elsewhere.

“At least three places have said that they found our label offensive,” Deans explains, referencing his original logo depicting a simple illustration of a female torso. “I wanted people to understand this was about digestion. I put a stomach on the label — it wasn’t ripped abs or super skinny, but it was confusing to people. They didn’t understand … (it’s not about) trying to get into a bikini. I laugh — I could have put a colon on there!”

The new logo is simply bold text on a black label, out in December, hopefully. Deans also reduced production from three flavors to two (RIP, “Sriracha”), renaming the “Cajun” flavor as “Spicy” and “Taco” as “Mild.”

While both flavors boast similar nuances — slightly sweet thanks to Ceylon cinnamon, earthy from turmeric, zesty from ginger — Spicy delivers full-mouth heat, as it clocks much higher on the Scoville scale (the measure of chile pepper pungency).

“I think there are 80 new hot sauces a week in the United States,” Deans says. Indeed, market research firm IBISWorld predicts that hot sauce will grow to a $1.65 billion market in the U.S. in the next five years, as it’s already up 4.5 percent from 2016 to 2017.

“I could not make it if it wasn’t both a food and a supplement. It’s just too crowded,” he continues. “We’ve been on Amazon for over a year and we’re already the top second or third healthy hot sauce. Right now, it’s about trying to find consistency — and getting people using this.”

Made from just a few ingredients, the low-salt condiment fits most dietary styles, including gluten-free, vegan and paleo. “A lot of people on the gluten-free diet, what they really want to be on is the anti-inflammatory diet,” notes Deans, who doesn’t use additives or fillers such as xanthan gum. “Our biggest problem is that people don’t shake it! We don’t use any gum or binding products, so it looks like salad dressing, where the spices fall to the bottom.”

Since some consumers complained that his hot sauce tasted of straight vinegar, Deans added a tagline to the bottle: “Shake well 2 digest well.”

Now Deans is brainstorming new products, including anti-inflammatory mustard, spice-coated walnuts and sauerkraut. As with any food supplement, though, Deans knows that people gotta try it to buy it. Served at the Aspen Mountain Sundeck and the Aspen Golf Course, as well as various restaurants (see below), the Healthy Hot Sauce hits Deans’ target audience, at built-in testing grounds.

“I find that older athletes, if they try using this for a while, they can stop (using Advil),” says Deans, himself approaching age 50. “It’s made for golfers and skiers and bikers. I’m still a ski bum. I need to have a way to keep my failing body going.”