Aspen’s Bleiler eyes her next challenge off the slopes | AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s Bleiler eyes her next challenge off the slopes

Gretchen Bleiler and her husband, Chris Hotell, pause during a hike in the Aspen area this fall. Gretchen is holding an ALEX Bottle, made by a company launched by the couple.

Professional snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler aims to navigate the business world as well as she does the halfpipe.

Bleiler and her husband, Chris Hotell, have relaunched their water bottle company via the crowdsourcing website Kickstarter. Their company — called ALEX Bottle — makes a unique water bottle that unscrews in the middle, making it easy to clean and, thus, capable of carrying just about any liquid or solid food. Bleiler said the bottle even works well as a dry container on raft trips. The 26-ounce bottle fits into itself — compacting to half of its size — to make it convenient for storage or backpacking. Colors for the top and bottom halves can be mixed and matched for a custom look. (Her current favorite is white on top and orange on bottom.)

Bleiler and Hotell, also a former professional snowboarder, ended up with "a million water bottles" during competitions, Bleiler said. As environmentalists, it bugged them that so many bottles went to waste so quickly after use because they were impossible to keep clean.

Hotell's mom encouraged him to invent a better bottle. He took a hacksaw to a stainless-steel water bottle and eventually came up with the Clean Seam Technology to make a watertight seal where the bottle unscrews. They named the bottle ALEX, which stands for Always Live Extraordinarily, and initially launched their company in 2009. Bleiler said they received "amazing media attention." Her good looks and success as a silver medalist in the halfpipe in the 2006 Olympics and as a four-time gold medal winner at the Winter X Games in her hometown of Aspen guaranteed the company would capture attention. But that didn't assure success.

"The problem was, we were new to it and ran into manufacturing issues," she said. "It's actually a pretty complicated bottle to make."

Like snowboarding competitions, she said, the bottle business taught her to learn from mistakes and get back up. They worked with a friend who sources international manufacturers and finds matches for people with a product to make and sell. Bleiler said they have a contract with a manufacturer in China they feel comfortable with because of aligned views on sustainability.

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The original ALEX Bottle was sold in Aspen-area stores, such as Four Mountain Sports and Ute Mountaineer, but it disappeared from shelves years ago.

"We call this ALEX 2.0," Bleiler said.

They decided to turn to crowd funding for the rebirth of their company. Interested buyers can go to http://www.kickstarter.com and type "ALEX Bottle" in the search bar. Pledges start at $1, but anything greater than $25 earns one water bottle. The more expensive pledges come with various additional perks.

Bleiler and Hotell aimed for $50,000 in pledges. They have far exceeded that with $128,913 from 2,522supporters as of Saturday afternoon. Pledges will be accepted until 12:58 p.m. on Wednesday.

The number of bottles purchased through the pledges will determine the size of the first manufacturing run. After that, Bleiler and Hotell plan to hit various trade shows to get their ALEX Bottle picked up by retailers. They dream of going big, just like they did on the slopes. Until then, the company is a family affair.

"Odds are, if you call into ALEX, you're going to get Chris' mom," Bleiler said.

The website for ALEX Bottle is http://www.alexbottle.com.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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