Jeannie Thoren, leader of women’s ski equipment revolution, heads to Colorado Snowsports Museum’s Hall of Fame
Women are not small men.
That has been Jeannie Thoren’s revolutionary theory about ski equipment design for over 40 years. It solidified through experience and trial and error on her own equipment, and it eventually got her into the factories where she was able to apply her vast base of knowledge and share it with women to help them perform better on their skis and enjoy the sport more.
“I’d just watch women ski from the lift and think, ‘Oh, if only I could get a hold of her skis and move her bindings forward and put a heel lift and foot bed in her boots, she’d do so much better on the slopes,” Thoren said.
This “Yooper” from Upper Michigan grew up ski racing and eventually made the Junior National Ski Team. Her coaches would tell her to get forward on her skis, stop bending at the waist and lose her knock-kneed stance.
Thoren’s inquisitive mind was influenced by her father, who taught at Northern Michigan University for 43 years. Thoren got a degree in biology and chemistry from Northern Michigan. That background propelled her to figure out just what was going on with her skiing.
Thoren was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, when she learned more about canting and had the ski shop put them under her bindings. She picked them up the next day and skied nonstop from the top to the bottom.
“I skied into the woods and threw the skis and sat and cried for an hour. I couldn’t believe that after all the coaching and the training and trying to fix my way of skiing was finally remedied by these cants. I realized that I needed mechanical help more than anything and that was a pivotal point in my life,” Thoren said.
After that, Thoren started tackling the mechanics of skiing one problem at a time. From recognizing that women have a lower center of gravity than men, to designing better fitting boots, including footbeds, heel lifts and moving the bindings forward, her Thoren Theory started to develop and she knew she needed to share this knowledge.
In 1981, she held her first women’s gear clinic at Buck Hill, Minnesota. The theory caught on, and soon she and her husband, Tom, were setting up 70 clinics per season all over the country from 1988 to 2006.
She got the attention of the Canadian distributor of Blizzard skis and Raichle ski boots in Montreal.
“In 1985 they hired an ergonomics firm to research the question: Is a women built so much differently that she needs different ski equipment? The research came back and they thought, ‘Why hasn’t anybody done this before?’” Thoren said. They realized there was already a woman in the United States that knew all this. Thoren’s findings were making waves with columns in Ski Magazine, and throughout the nation, she was creating a buzz with her women’s clinics.
“The next thing I know I’m in Montreal and then the next thing I know I’m in Austria!” Thoren said. “When I got to the Blizzard factory in Austria, I thought they wanted me there and they didn’t, but the Canadian distributor sold so many skis that they had to do what he wanted,” Thoren said.
At first, the factory higher-ups made a ruling that Thoren couldn’t be in the factory until she learned to speak German. Little did they know that she had learned German while ski race training in Switzerland, so they had to let her in. The head of the factory still didn’t like it, and she wasn’t allowed to be there if he was there, so the workers, who grew to like Thoren and helped her learn how to run all the pieces of machinery involved in making skis, would give her a heads up if the head honcho was on the premises. If he was, Thoren would retreat to the dark room and work on graphics for the skis and not be discovered.
Other manufacturers eventually started following suit, and Thoren kept on pounding the pavement to keep this top of mind for ski manufacturers.
“I had to keep working really hard because I knew that if I disappeared, this whole formula would disappear and we’d have to wait another 10 or 20 years until somebody else was willing to take this up with the industry powers that be,” Thoren said.
Thoren credits the ski shops with helping her push things forward.
“They were willing to work with me and moved the bindings forward and helped me host the women’s clinics and it was the shops who were telling the manufacturers that they wanted to buy their skis for women, but they weren’t going to buy them with the current placement of the bindings. They wanted the binding mounts moved forward because they had seen and heard the feedback from the women who had their bindings in that spot and that it made them ski better,” Thoren said.
The big national ski shop retailers put pressure on the manufacturers and they eventually obliged.
After decades of hard work and passion, Thoren is recognized nationally and internationally for revolutionizing the way women’s ski equipment is made. In addition to being inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame, Thoren has many other honors.
She was named one of the 100 Most Influential Skiers of the Century by Ski Magazine, she is a member of the first Skiing for Women Hall of Fame Class of 1995, as well as being named one of the 25 Most Influential People in Skiing in 1999 by Skiing magazine. She was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2014. The exclusive carve ski that she designed for Dynastar became Ski Magazine’s “Ski of the Year” in 2007.
In 2009, Thoren and her husband opened Jeannie Thoren’s Women’s Ski Center in Lionshead. It is the first women’s ski shop in the country to focus on women’s-specific equipment.
“I’d always have women go out and try the skis, try the boots, and go ski on the slopes just steps away from our shop at the base of Lionshead. I was not going to sell a pair of skis without you trying them first,” Thoren said.
When asked what she thinks about being part of the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame, Thoren felt humbled and honored.
“For a Yooper like me growing up on a small hill in Michigan, to be able to be a part of the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame is a miracle, it’s unbelievable, hallelujah!”
At 76, Thoren is not slowing down. She is currently partnering with the Steadman Philippon Research Institute’s BioMotion Lab in Vail, to study the effects of ski boots in relation to ACL injury risk in women.
“I brought my ski boots and I’m going to put them on and get wired up in their lab and stand on their pressure plates because I want to understand more and figure out how I can help. It’s exciting because this is the future. This needs to be studied and it has to be proven and we have to figure out the ACL injury and why women are more prone to that injury,” Thoren said.
Thoren will be inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame on Sunday at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater along with four other movers and shakers in the industry: John Dakin, Ron LaMasters, Peter Rietz and Chester R. “Chet” Upham, Jr. Gretchen Bleiler, from the inductee class of 2019, will be there as well since she wasn’t able to attend her original inductee event a few years ago.
This is the Colorado Snowsports Museum’s largest fundraiser of the year. Anyone is invited who loves the sport of skiing and snowboarding to learn more about those who have paved the way for the industry as we know it today. You leave with an appreciation for their efforts and are inspired for the season to start.
Tickets run from VIP packages to free lawn seats for those 18 years old and younger. The museum wants this event to be as accessible as possible, so that this news and inspiration can be shared with many. For more information, go to SnowsportsMuseum.org.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard on Tuesday announced the final U.S. World Cup schedule, a lineup that includes the Aspen World Cup from March 3 to 5 on Aspen Mountain. Those races will include a men’s super-G and two men’s downhills.