Interview: Cold Smoke Gear – Inspired by Heli-Skiing, Tested by Heli-Ski Guides
Cold Smoke Apparel takes its name from the ultimate heli-skiing powder – cold smoke. Cold Smoke is the latest in our continuing series of interviews with heli-skiing gear manufacturers. HELISKI.com skyped with Randall Breitenbach and Imani Lanier of Coldsmoke apparel. Enjoy.
Tom: So I read the description of the origin of the Cold Smoke brand, which I think is pretty cool. And so I’m curious about the connection with Powder Mountain Heli-Skiing / Catskiing [one of 3 Whistler heli-skiing operators we represent at HELISKI.com. You’re an owner there and here. Which came first?
Randy: Powder Mountain Heli-Skiing came quite a few years ago. I got involved when it was a small cat skiing operation and it was…I think I got involved like four or five years before the Olympics came in to the Vancouver area. I bought it with a friend of mine actually from Stanford, and he raced and we did a lot of heli-skiing and stuff after college. I lived in Alaska for a few years and we’d been out and about, and he in fact was the one that kind of stumbled across it. We looked at doing something…we actually worked with Joe at Ruby Mountains and had thought about buying in with them, owning a part of his operation or building him a lodge and doing some things like that, and we never could really could get off center, so we stumbled across this place up in Whistler which had this fantastic tenure for cat skiing, and at the time though it was really kind of rundown and had a couple of old cats.
I’ve lived in Alaska for two years back in the early eighties it was a pretty exciting time and certainly a lot of fun.
In any event, back to Powder Mountain, my friend Doug Ballinger stumbled across this place and so we bought in and recapitalized it, put in some new cats, etc. And we had no advertising budget because it really didn’t make money, and so we stumbled across some kind of funny ideas of how to expand it. In fact, we had this pretty ridiculous but ended up being hilarious idea of having a beauty contest, and we had what we called Miss Powder Mountain and it went off in Whistler!
It started as kind of a small deal, but what we hadn’t realized is we hit on something really big and it was before Whistler opened; it was early season. If you get the 40 hottest girls in town into a bar, the entire town comes.
Tom: Yeah, I know. I’ve been a bum four different times and, you know, if you don’t have a girlfriend by Thanksgiving you’re pretty much out of luck, right?
Randy: Right, exactly. Exactly. Well, actually I should have said it differently – the only 40 girls in town. All 40 girls were there!
Tom: And I thought you stumbled across something brilliant, which is sex sells.
Randy: Oh no, honestly, we laughingly use that a lot. And it did, it went off, and we got a lot of sponsors, we got a lot of notoriety and we started filling the place. Like I said, we were able to get some new cats – we put in four new cats. And coming in to the Olympics, we really picked up some steam and things were going great, and with the Olympic right on the horizon we figured…we decided we wanted to get into the heli business as well and really step it up, and we worked to expand our tenure and we cut a deal with a local heli operation out at Squamish and picked up over 250,000 acres of tenure, which pretty much covers everything from Vancouver all the way into Whistler, so that whole inlet area there which is just spectacular skiing when the conditions are right because you’re looking down on the water and it is truly epic for heli-skiing.
Tom: I used to have an office in Vancouver that overlooked the seaplane landing and takeoff spot looking up toward Whistler. Just beautiful.
Randy: Yeah, it’s beautiful countryside. And the other thing that I really liked about where we were in Powder Mountain, and this was just from years of spending a lot of time up in the mountains heli-skiing and stuff where you get shut out, and you know, not talking anything bad about Wiegele’s, but one time I had a week-long Wiegele’s trip where I was shut out for four-and-a-half days …
Tom: It’s brutal.
Randy: Oh, it’s brutal. You’re in the middle of no-where and you’re playing foosball with a bunch of Swedish guys and it’s just not fun.
Tom: I’ll tell you, I’ve been in that movie more times than I want to remember.
Tom: Once I was in…yeah, I was in Valdez once and skied one out of seven days.
Randy: Same deal. And the thing that always got me going about Powder Mountain was its location and that we didn’t even try to compete with the lodging because you’ve got Whistler right there and you’ve got like…and you know, a world-class facility which is a much younger kind of cross-section, much more adventurous than some of this…you know, places like Aspen and Vail and that sort of thing but still have the size and restaurants and everything else. And what’s nice is, and we allow this, is that you sign up for heli-skiing and if helis aren’t flying you can cat ski, and if you don’t want to cat ski we don’t charge you – you can go ski in Whistler Blackcomb…..or go to bars.
Tom: Let me ask you about that because my experience is they always wait to call it off. So you’re hanging around at 9 o’clock, they say, “Oh, we’re going to make another call at 10,” or “We’re going to do an early lunch and try to get out in the afternoon,” and pretty soon the day has been pissed away. Are you able to call it early enough for people to really get on the mountain and do some skiing?
Randy: Not all the time. I wouldn’t say that, but there’s obvious, more obvious ones of course, and it’s more you know you’re socked in for the next four days. I’m not…I’m skiing Whistler Blackcomb or I’m spending time at the spa.
And the other thing that we liked is, you know, Vancouver, and I’m not a big urban guy but at the same time Vancouver’s a pretty incredible city…and we run…you know, that not many people have used because it’s pretty expensive, but we run a package where you can ski at the Four Seasons in Vancouver and we’ll come pick you up and take you up in the hills and you can heli-ski for the afternoon. It’s pretty outrageous but it’s incredible, I mean with the scenery there!
Tom: You know, this interview goes on a blog and then it goes on The Ski Channel and other places and I’ve done it with Powder Mountain and we’re promoting that idea. I think it’s extremely cool.
Randy: Yeah, no, and I’ve been very fortunate that, you know, the operation’s only as good as the people that are up there running it, and Gordon Calder, he’s our lead manager up there…
Tom: Yeah, I know Gordon. Check out our inteview with Gordon ‘The Mayor of Whistler.’
Randy: He’s spectacular. He’s so hands-on and makes things happen and he understands that this isn’t, you know, people aren’t up there…the heli-ski guides don’t have to be assholes, you know?
Randy: It’s a service. We have our guides lined up out in front of the place as the people come in, shake their hands, introduce everybody. You know, as you’re getting off the heli at the bottom, we’ve been fortunate, because of those Miss Powder Mountain parties a beer, a beer was named named after our mountain … they named a lager, called Powder Mountain Lager, so everybody gets a beer as they’re getting off the heli and, I mean it’s just a neat operation in that regard. Yeah, I mean, and they pride themselves on that, yeah. And our lead guy is a guy named Don Schwartz and he actually used to work at Mike Wiegele’s Helicopter Skiing,and he’s kind of a…he’s a pretty special guy. He has a pretty unfortunate accent where he saved some people, and he’s a pretty amazing guy. Now he’s doing all those death races and shit. The guy’s like Hercules. But he’s a really conservative good guy obviously given his past. Makes sure everyone’s safe. We’re not a Valdez. We’re not trying to rock people’s world, you know, and put the hair on their back, you know, on edge.
I want my people to make it back alive and happy.
Tom: And is one of the guides, Ken Achenbach?
Randy: Yup, Ken Achenbach who’s quite a celebrity as well, obviously, one of the first snowboarders up Calgary. He, you know, those little posters where people used to jump off cliffs that when I was in high school I thought was crazy? That was him. Before snowboarding was cool. It was Ken. And he’s got Camp of Champions as well, so he’s continuing to push the whole winter culture.
Tom: I was a bum in Vail one year when the country went from 90% of the resorts didn’t allow snowboards to the following year 90% did. That was just amazing.
Randy: Vail snob. I was a skier.
Tom: Yeah, they started it at Beaver Creek first, so we would spend the whole day in the Beaver Creek trees on our boards, and then the following year you could snowboard anywhere.
Randy: I used to refer to them as knuckle drivers but now I’m now a boarder, so I probably board more than I ski. I switched to boarding when I moved to LA.
Tom: Oh, that makes sense… So you know how a snowboarder introduces himself?
Imani: How’s that?
Tom: “Oh, sorry dude.”
Randy: That’s good.
Tom: Alright, so anyway, the Powder Mountain Heli-Skiing / Cat Skiing guys give you feedback into the product. Maybe we should talk about that a little bit.
Randy: Yeah, years ago actually when I bought Powder Mountain Heli-Skiing, I wanted to have a company in between me and the heli skiing operation. And that company needed a name and I used the name Cold Smoke.
Randy: Now, honestly, at the time, didn’t think it would be available. I was kind of surprised when it was available.
Randy: Because I’d seen it in a number of places before. And the story, that’s pretty, you know we talk about it on the website, but it was actually at another heli ski operation, you probably know Peter Mattssen [aka Swede] out at Bella Coola Heli-Sports (read Heli-Skiing.)
Randy: I mean, he was actually the guide that said, “When the snow’s perfect it’s Cold Smoke”
Randy: It was hilarious, because that’s why I remember it so much, because it was the night before we were sitting at the fire. Another old saying he loved to say was, like we would be sitting there and he’d start passing around a bottle of, what was it, Crown Royal, like it was nasty, and he would say, “Drink it blue! We’re going to drink it blue!” and jump across the fire. I mean, it wasn’t really funny…
He’s quite a character. But that’s where the name came from, and when I realized I had the name and then I realized…I checked and I realized it hadn’t been trademarked, I obviously got really curious. I loved the name. I had always had a passion about the ski business and Winter culture and that sort of thing, and so I thought it was an opportunity at least to lock it up. And to do that and to cover things, I became very knowledgeable about trademark law and stuff actually over the long haul because you actually have to make this shit to protect it.
Tom: I know, and you got to show publicly… I’ve had too much exposure to that myself. I have a naming company called Nameboy that does domain names, but also I’ve had a lot of startups with a lot of trademark issues. It’s a gauntlet.
Randy: Well, that’s what kind of got me started making clothes, because I wanted to protect the name. I started making slacks or maybe T-shirts and pants and stuff…
Tom: Oh sure, yeah, you got to have some product to show.
Randy: And then I put up a website a number of years ago, and started making jackets for my guides, nothing special, honestly. I would find a very well-made kind of off-brand jacket, personalize it a little bit and give it to my guides, basically, and used it for the cat skiing and for the heli guides and that sort of stuff. And they used them once in a while, but they’ve been sponsored…we have a lot of sponsors up here now. We have topnotch equipment. And so the guides in the cats would wear them but not really the guides on the hill for the most part. Roll forward a number of years and I, just kind of serendipity, met Imani. It was actually, I don’t know if you want to go in that in detail…
Randy: I was living in the penthouse of the Standard downtown, and there was a pre-Coachella party going on in the roof deck, and Imani at the time was the founder and director behind an online magazine called Western Civ Mag, and he was on the roof deck taking photos of all these pretty hot girls running around and we started talking.
And so we hit it off over a number of beers, and then he was in a situation where he had to make a decision, it was just totally coincidental that he happened to be an apparel guy and had quite an obviously pretty spectacular history and so on and so forth, and coincidentally was looking at a job that he needed to talk about with Burton back East……and honestly didn’t want to go to Vermont, so…
Tom: I have a story like that for you. In the late eighties Steve Case said to me, “You want to work at AOL? Come on back to Virginia.” I said, “Nah.”
Randy: San Francisco is pretty damn nice…
Randy: Yeah. So now it’s same thing…
Tom: So Imani, what other clothing stuff have you designed? Anything that I might have heard of?
Imani: Nike, Levis
Tom: So, smaller brands mostly?
Imani: Yeah, mostly smaller brands.
Imani: I was with Nike for four-and-a-half years in the Asia-Pacific region. I’m doing their sportswear collections for all of Asia and Australia and New Zealand. I did premium denim for Levi’s. And then before that I was part of the like street culture, street wear, the renaissance of it, like the beginnings of it with a lot of the LA brands, a couple of New York brands like Supreme and Extra Large and what have you, the Cool Kids stuff. So one of those guys that…
Tom: Yeah. I think I saw you on Entourage….
Imani: Is that what it was? [Laughs] And so yeah, I’ve been doing it for about 23 years, and when Randy and I met, you know, it’s funny because I just…he was telling me about what he was doing as far as building jackets for the guides and what have you and, you know, basically my approach with Randy was, you know, I didn’t want to be at Burton, [laughs] I really didn’t. I had just gotten back from Vermont and wasn’t happy with what I saw at all. I mean, the offices are awesome, but the neighborhood and the…you know, just it’s…there’s not a lot going on.
Tom: My first ever snowboard experience, they only had a couple of boards to rent. One of them was called The Burton Cruiser. We dubbed it The Burton Bruiser.
Tom: Three out of the six people ended up with broken bones. [Laughs]
Imani: Exactly. Exactly. But I basically, you know, when Randy and I were talking it was just like, “If you ever need any help with what you’re doing with Cold Smoke, then just let me know.” And a few weeks later he got an itch and gave me a call and we met, and fortunately Randy’s a really good guy and so as opposed to just hiring me to create his vision he actually asked me to partner up with him, which was very cool.
Imani: And so we did and we started, and that was like in April 2012. Yeah, April 2012.
Randy: Not long.
Tom: And, oh yeah, especially given the lead times, I was just talking to the guys who started Trew [Gear, see our recent interview] up in Hood River and they’re like almost two years out, the design production cycle…
Randy: Yeah, it’s a total pain in the ass.
Tom: I also…you might know Chip Wilson, he started Lululemon…
Tom: And has…manufacturing’s always been a huge challenge.
Randy: I mean, we’re trying to buck that a little bit.
Tom: Trying to speed it up?
Randy: There’s a different direction, honestly, for all of those exact reasons, you know, the whole…I’m far from an expert in this, but it seems to me directionally that like a lot of businesses, whether it’s music business, entertainment business, the whole retail, I mean we’ve already seen it change so many different areas, it’s just, …we think the retail model’s kind of broken and it has forced us. A couple of different things that really pisses us off—pisses me off—not taking anything from the retail business and not… The interesting thing is I jumped into this not understanding what the norm is…
Tom: Which is often a good way to innovate.
Randy: Which I think was probably a much better way to look at it. I’m like, “Why do we have to do this?”
Tom: Like why does everybody have reps?
Randy: Everybody up to be ready 12 months before the season just because the buyers come in – and they hose you, regularly for the next six months…
Tom: And you need a whole fleet of stoner reps who occasionally stop by the store.
Randy: It’s crazy. There is just so much idiocy, and then obviously I’ve, through some friends and stuff, I’ve seen enough businesses and businesses fail because of big orders, because of success, honestly, and unfortunately the way that it’s geared with big companies like Nordstrom’s and stuff, they’re not set up and they’re not incented to be selective in what they order. They’ll just order whatever they want even if it never gets up on the rack. And because then they send it right back at you at the end of the season.
Tom: I think when a brand ends up in those stores it’s kind of done one way or another.
Randy: Right, right, exactly. So we’re…to try to mitigate some of that exposure and some of that risk and also to try to shorten the amount of period that we need between us deciding what we want to make and getting it up and out the door, we’re going almost exclusively on the web.
Tom: That’s cool.
Randy: We’re doing a couple stores just to be able to say that we’re in the store, but we’re really pushing the whole web model. And the biggest point was, I mean there was all those hassles, but there was the biggest issue for us became the cost. And for us, because of the quality that…I mean, one thing that we wanted to do that was kind of my directive…I just kind of put guide rails up there and let Imani run with it, but the guide rails that I wanted in place were the highest possible quality. If my guides are going to be wearing this, this has to be the best stuff on the mountain. So I want the best new materials, I want the best zippers, I want the best seals, I want…and I want the pockets where the guides want them and I want, you know… And so we spend over a season doing that stuff, and I think putting together some equipment that’s pretty outstanding and goes toe-to-toe with anybody honestly. So we’re pretty excited about that. But then the problem was, as to getting to the retail, was a thousand-dollar jacket. [Laughs]
Tom: I know.
Randy: I mean, it was a thousand dollars.
Tom: I started Intel’s wireless business, and if you remember, the wireless model was really broken that the retail store got a big bounty for selling the phone, then they got a piece of the action ongoing. So I went to the equivalent manufacturer and said, “Why don’t you give us the money? We’ll lower the price of our hardware at wholesale, so a lower priced product gets marketed up, so we could get it into the market cheaper.” Everybody wins……. except the retail guy.
Randy: Yeah. No, I mean, they screw themselves by setting up this way, they’re continuing to push the wrong buttons and then you’re pushing new producers out of the market, and I think it’s just an antiquated model. But anyway, for us, that thousand-dollar jacket, now we can sell it for under 600 bucks.
Tom: That’s cool.
Randy: And that’s huge. That means we can go toe-to-toe with Burton. That means I’m undercutting Arc’Teryx and we have every bit as good a jacket.
Tom: Sweet. That’s my favorite so far.
Randy: Yeah, so that’s kind of been our angle and we’re hoping that word-of-mouth that it gets out.
Tom: So, for heli-skiers, what do you think are going to be the most popular items that you’re selling?
Randy: See, it depends on if you’re a daily skier or a weekend warrior. The Tantalus Jacket far and away is our best jacket for that sort of experience. We have a lined Tantalus Jacket, which is more the weekend warrior because it’s a little bit warmer, it’s a little bit more comfortable, it feels fuller. But for guides, they don’t like the lining because they’re in it every day and it’s wet.
Tom: Yeah, and also for me it’s just not as flexible. I like to wear a base layer and then something long-sleeved and a vest. Take out the vest if you get cold.
Randy: What I would say though is that the lined jacket that I’m talking about is still really thin.
Randy: It’s not a down…I mean, it’s not an insulated jacket.
Randy: It’s just got some soft tricot lining.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah.
Randy: It’s softer. It’s a little more comfortable.
Tom: I just prefer a shell. Seems to be more flexible.
Randy: I mean, that’s what our guides do.
Randy: And then we’ve got the Panel Jacket, which is of the same material, not quite as expensive in terms of pockets and that sort of stuff but similar quality.
Imani: And we’ve got the Asymmetric Anorak, which is a little bit more of a stylish take on it but at the same time still works in the backcountry or what have you. It’s pretty much the same thing as a panel but a little bit more fashion-oriented, but still has a power skirt and still has the back tail so you don’t get powder in your pants and what have you. So those are the three top jackets, but then also we have our Down Jacket. We have a Down Vest and Down Jacket as well that I would say competes with the best of them and super-stylish.
Nasak Down Vest (looks like it might be too warm…)
Randy: Yeah, we’ve got like three or four pieces that are just for high-end backcountry access, and then we’ve got some upper ski pieces and more general Everywhere-type stuff.
Imani: We break it down into categories. We call it ECG and DCG. So ECG is our extreme conditions gear and DCG is our daily conditions gear. But in everything that we do we want to have a performance point of view, and so is it something that’s going to work more in the city or is it something that’s going to work on the mountain? What we try and do and one of our mottos is that it’s from the mountains to the city.
Tom: Oh, that’s cool.
Imani: So with everything, we do you can come off the mountain and go into the bar. If it’s raining or if it’s cold in the city, we’ve got something for you. All the materials that we use are the best from the best manufacturers.
Randy: Oh yeah, we’re producing in Vancouver.
Tom: Oh cool.
Imani: We’re doing it locally and…but…and that’s only because you can now and it’s because the technology’s actually come to the States. I mean, we’re basically in the same shop Arc’Teryx is, and there’s a couple of companies that can now do the seaming technology well.
Imani: But it’s now kind of imported into Vancouver, with a lot of immigrants honestly, and so it’s great. It’s great for us because now it’s a two-hour flight and we’re sitting on our stuff and watching it being made. And I have an office in Whistler that my guys can drive down. So, I mean, it’s super-super-nice.
And it…going back to this whole turnaround, what we’re hoping is to really shorten that part of the model, and there are certain things that we need in all of our pieces, and that’s the highest end fabric. So those things that have really long lead times will overstock, and then what we’ve done is we’re more selective in how quick we can get it all in town. It’s in Vancouver, and we can do smaller orders and quicker turnaround and different colors, and we take that from six months to a couple of months, and hopefully even shorter.
Tom: That’s cool, and you probably don’t have the crazy litigious environment up there that we have down here, right? As far as Worker’s Comp. and all that jazz.
Randy: Oh yeah. That’s part of it.
Imani: But the factory is really…it’s a clean factory.
Randy: It’s more expensive, don’t get me wrong. And that’s another reason why we have to go on the web? So we can price competitively.
Tom: That’s cool. So I like “from the mountain to the city.” The one I was having a hard time with is “mixing technical performance with the true look and feel inspired by classic military and workwear influences.”
Randy: Well, why are you having a hard time with that?
Tom: I don’t know. Well, what’s a military and work wear influence?
Randy: Well, basically what we’ve done, like if you look at some of the other brands, I don’t want to name brands for an interview, but if you look at kind of the other brands that are popular in the market, it’s the same old thing every year. They just rework it in some kind of way, add a new colorway or whatever, you know, the neon color blocking, etc.
And we’ve actually really worked really hard to actually bring what the inspiration for the line is like actually to fruition in the product. So one of the things that we did with the early mountaineering and military influence, we actually went to a guy in Japan called…his name was Mr. Sakurai and the company’s called Rtec Lab, and they do a lot of stuff for a company in Italy called Stone Island.
And Stone Island is an authentic like military outerwear company out of Italy, and they do a lot of finishing and what have you to bring that look and feel. So we actually found him and went out there and we actually were able to take our eVent fabrics like three-layer and two-layer, seam-sealed, waterproof breathable product and actually put a technique of finishing on it that made it look like one of the jackets that they first used climbing Mt. Everest. But at the same time, we have the technology and the quality of the jacket today. So no one’s been able to do that and we’re doing that.
Tom: That’s cool.
Randy: That’s pretty cool. It’s like your jeans. Each piece is done separately so it’s personalized. So each one is definitely a little different. So it’s unique in that way. I don’t know how big it’ll be on the mountain. We also make that jacket without doing that so it’s not as expensive, but if someone wants to like me fashionable, we let them be.
Randy: The other piece that actually is my favorite, and we try to bring in a little history or the surroundings in some way – in this last line there was a real influence from the local Indian and Eskimo tribes.
There was a little push through all of our products and our T-shirts that have that sort of thing, and in particular the whole…our high-end jacket, the Tantalus Jacket. The Tantalus name is a glacier that’s on our property up there and when I first brought Imani up to Whistler, before we started designing clothes, he flew and he took pictures of…to try to get an idea, you know, for exactly this reason, trying to get some inspiration, and the Camo is basically right off of those…the coloring of the glacier. So it’s all for a reason.
Imani: And another point, another product to point out, so as Randy said, this trip that we took up to Whistler and in and around Powder Mountain when we went up when we were first starting this, so we got the Tantalus Jacket, which is named on the glacier, but then the other thing that I think that you’d be really interested, since you heli-ski, the helicopter took us on the tour, and it’s Black Tusk. We actually made a jacket that was inspired by Vietnam helicopter pilots for Black Tusk.
So we did a collaboration with them. So we took the Inuit inspiration of the tribes up there and the Black Tusk being peaked up there in the heli-ski operation. We made a jacket specifically with that in mind.
Tom: So what’s a workwear influence? How does that figure in?
Imani: Just from a detail point of view, the type of pockets and, you know…
Tom: Like functional?
Randy: Yeah, and durability.
Imani: Durability. And we do have the DCG, which is the daily conditions skier, so with that, we’ll use like some wax canvases and what have you and kind of go back to some of the old style. There’s a jacket that Randy really loves, which is our fur-lined jacket and it definitely has like a mountaineering, or mountain man I should say mountain…working man’s like a mountain-man-type jacket, you know?
Imani: So that’s where the workwear influence comes from. It’s an aesthetic, you know? And you know, my background coming from what it is. I think what we really wanted to do is, you know, Randy is really passionate, obviously, a big part of the ski and snow industry, and for me, I grew up snowboarding and skiing as well but not as intense as Randy.
So we grew up together, my design aesthetic with his passions
Tom: And how about the Cold Smoke Film Awards? Was that another idea like getting the hottest chicks in Whistler?
Randy: Honestly, you’re going to laugh. It was…I mean, it was truly serendipity, dumb luck. It’s truly serendipity here as well. I was, as I said, is I have trademarking everywhere, we were contacted by an attorney out of Bozeman that was concerned about Cold Smoke name being trademarked, and it was actually a number of places in Bozeman, Bridger Bowl which goes on the front…shoot…as you enter the front signs say Land of Cold Smoke or whatever…
Tom: Oh yeah.
Randy: And so the Cold Smoke, but there was in Bozeman some kids out of college started a film festival, more of a labor of love, and they called it the Cold Smoke Awards, and they started this like 10 or 12 years ago. It’s been around for a while. It started as a really small deal and it’s gotten big. And they were…I came across it on the web and them not knowing really who we were, because we didn’t really have our website then and…But they did have a website up and it was impressive, honestly. It was…they, over the course of 10 years, you know, these three guys, and they’re the real deal. I mean, Anjan is filming with TGR or the Sherpas up in the Himalayas at least two or three times a year.
I mean, he’s the real deal. He’s actually the director. It brings in all the films. They’ve been doing this kind of back-of-the-envelope film festival that they got big also. And they have this…their academy awards in Bozeman – they call it Cold Smoke Awards, and it’s great. And they have this huge party. It’s really a reason for a bunch of ski geeks to get together and watch movies and drink beer and enjoy each other’s company. And over time what it’s become to them is not just their passion but something that they want to give back to the community because they want to try to continue to inspire people to make these movies and stuff, and the only way to do that is to get money to them somehow.
How do you do that? And that’s really their conundrum that they’re working on right now, is how do we build up, how do we get them more resources, more exposure? So that’s been their mantra. I just happened to fall upon these guys and went, “Oh my God, this is perfect!”
Tom: Yeah, it is perfect.
Randy: This is all over…I mean, this is…you know, I’m not going to find…I already had trademarked the name, so I’m like I didn’t fly there to say you can’t use my name, I flew there to go, “Will you become a part of our community?” And I was able to strike a deal with them. They’re my partners. They’re their separate company. But they live, you know, they do have standalone company budget. They’re under the umbrella, but they have their own mantra. Cold Smoke Apparel is a sponsor.
Tom: Yeah, makes sense.
Randy: And so they want to keep some separation because they don’t want…they’re still going to be able to take in North Face or they could bring in other apparel lines that they want to use as sponsors. They really are a standalone entity in that regard. That said, they want to give back and they get a lot of help from the Cold Smoke mothership. And given that their…we kind of feed off each other I guess is a good way to say it. Everything apparel does to go out to market, the parties we promote, the magazine articles, da da da da, all pull people to our website, which has Cold Smoke Awards on it.
Randy: So everything we can do to pull more people to them is a good thing. The more people they pull in that happen to come across to apparel is also good.
Tom: Yeah, that’s cool.
Randy: It’s perfect. It basically splits my marketing budget.
Tom: And what a cool way to solve a potential trademark issue, is to say, “Let’s work together.”
Randy: Yeah, that’s the genius of this.
Tom: Yeah, because usually, the typical first response is to send them a nastygram…
Tom: Yeah, from my lawyer and let’s both spend some money we don’t need to.
Imani: Well, for me the really cool thing about all of this, you know, Randy uses the word serendipitous, is that this was…what they do as a kind of…we didn’t talk about building a film awards, you know, between Randy and I, but we talk a lot about content on the website and about interviewing people and creating our own videos and this, that and the other, and it was really cool because now it’s like…now it’s already done.
Randy: Come to us. We don’t need to go out and get it.
Imani: And not only do we not go out and get it, but we also get the new guys.
Imani: Because we’re the small shop. They’re the small like under-the-radar guys.
Randy: You know, we still get TGR, we still get the bigger companies, but we also get a couple of guys with GoPro’s that climb some ridiculous ice faces and they’re panting the whole way. And it’s pretty amazing.
Tom: Yeah, that’s cool.
Imani: Yeah, tearjerkers.
Randy: The stories and yeah, and there’s more of a push, I mean the guys up there they call it to ski porn. They go, “Okay, so we got to throw in some ski porn so we get those guys to whoop and to holler at the bar.
Tom: Gotcha. And so then what about the Cold Smoke Magazine? Is that…?
Imani: Cold Smoke Magazine was kind of…you know, one of the things that Randy really liked, in the beginning, was the Western Civ Magazine that I was doing, and we wanted to bring that over and transition that concept over to Cold Smoke Apparel, and it’s kind of morphed itself into something all-encompassing. We’re not really going to move forward with the Cold Smoke Magazine at this point, but we are creating our own media, which we’ll have interviews. Like we had Rip Zinger, who’s a snowboarder/surfer-skateboarder. We had a big art show and we did an interview and what have you, which becomes part of our news and our media.
Imani: So we’re continuing with that but it’s…
Tom: But mostly online?
Randy: Well, I mean, our whole marketing, because we are a startup, I mean we don’t have a ton of money, and just like we did with Powder Mountain we used that whole guerilla marketing, you know, we used “sex sells.”
Randy: And so we threw parties and we’d get some hot models to show up and we get into other blogs and stuff because we have people show up. I mean, we started throwing these little parties and it was…it’s such a great…because we had fun doing it too, on top of it all, it’s like it’s the best of both worlds.
Tom: Year before last I had an opportunity to do a shoot with Playboy Bunnies going to a heli-ski place, and I was just jumping out of my clothes. Yeah, I talked to maybe a dozen different heli operators and they all said, “Oh yeah, yeah, we can do that!” [Laughs]
Imani: “Oh yeah, yeah, please, please!”
Randy: What I think Tom is like brilliant about this whole thing is, number one, Imani coming from being a very successful businessman in general and then coming to do this as his passion, he’s been able to bring together some great talent including myself, um, [laughs]…
Imani: Um, you know from the apparel side, you know, from Powder Mountain Heli-Skiing and the Cold Smoke guys, and what I feel like is happening here, we call it the Cold Smoke collective, but we’re creating a lifestyle that a lot of brands like in the surf and the skate industries have done for years and they’ve been very successful at it. But I don’t think to develop a snowboard culture in my style. And I think…but I think what we’re doing is taking you to the next level, you know, all the different arms that Randy has and bringing all of those together to create a real lifestyle, I mean like I mentioned the art shows and, you know, we’re bringing people into the culture that it’s not just about—what does Danny Kass do when he’s not snowboarding? You know, we’re talking about that. we’re creating apparel for that guy who’s…he’s a snowboarder, he’s a skier, he’s ride or die, but at the same time he’s got life off the mountain, and we’re creating a lifestyle around all of that.
Tom: So that’s cool. Something in there reminded me of a funny story. I knew a guy who invested in Nixon. He went to visit them and after the tour of the shop and everything he said, “Hey, how about a little swag? You got a shirt or a hat or something?” Now the investor was in his 30s, windsurfer, heliskier, snowboarder – yeah, he’s not a Barney. But the Nixon guys looked at him and said, “Hmm, sorry dude, you’re really not the right demographic.” [Laughs]
Tom: He said, “We can’t have you wearing our brand around if you’re not hip, you know.”
Imani: Wow. [Laughs]
Tom: And he was an owner of the company. That’s some serious brand management there. [Laughs]
Tom: Hey, we didn’t talk about pants. I wanted to make sure to talk about pants. Do you do bibs or pants or both?
Imani: Not now. You know, we wanted to focus on being the best at something and doing it the right way.
Randy: Yeah, I want to be the best at a few things rather than good at a lot of things.
Tom: I think that’s fantastic. I salute that. And it’s funny, the guys I mentioned before, Trew Gear, their thing is bibs. They say, “Well, we make the best bibs and we make jackets too, but that’s kind of what we want to be known for.”
Randy: Yeah, we’re venturing out with a piece here and a piece there…
Tom: Well, also, I might wear my jacket out to the city but I’m not [laughs] going to wear my bibs. It’s a much narrower market, right?
Imani: But moving into fall 2014-15, so next fall, not this one, we’re going to have women’s.
Imani: Well, we’re going to have women’s for spring, but snowboard pants, ski pants for 2014-15.
Randy: Something probably a little more stylish. I mean, you see some of the more European…and we won’t go…we won’t be North Face or whatever and just be a really high technical piece. I’m sure we’ll add some flair to it for the women.
Tom: You know, I just checked out the Marmot shell and I liked it very much.
Randy: Yeah, they’re a high-quality piece too.
Tom: Yeah, vis–à–vis North Face, for example.
Randy: They first came out, if you remember, they were the Arc’teryx. I mean, they were the new shit and… and they were like pushing that technical button, and they hadn’t stayed on it very well, I don’t think, from a marketing perspective but…
Tom: Yeah, I thought this jacket looked pretty good but yeah, I agree, they’re kind of a second-tier player it seems like. You got to look pretty hard to find them.
Randy: I think they are. I mean, I haven’t really gone through their stuff, but they were always considered a super-nice piece.
Tom: Yeah. So I was in San Francisco last weekend and had some time to kill, so those two shops were right next to each other and I went and checked them out.
Randy: North Face and Marmot?
Tom: Yeah. And I didn’t care for the North Face. I thought the Marmot was pretty cool.
Randy: Yeah. I mean, back in my day, back in Alaska back in the early eighties, I mean North Face was the shit.
Randy: They built the best-quality stuff. I mean, there was Bogner.
Tom: I windsurf with that dude near Aspen.
Randy: I think it was…had Spider come out yet? Maybe.
Tom: It’s funny how they go through cycles.
Randy: Yeah. No, I mean, North Face, I still have pieces that I bought back then that it fit me, you know, I could wear. I mean, they probably smell a little bit but I mean they’re amazing. That stuff lasts forever.
Tom: Are you guys going to make any layers or anything other than outerwear?
Imani: We are. We’ve got mid layer, base layer, outerwear. We currently have that. We’ve got a removable lining inside, soft shell.
Tom: Oh, cool.
Imani: So we’ve got…we’re running the gamut. Like Randy said, as we move into spring, into next fall, we are expanding on the product line and we’re figuring out how we could be, um, you know, we can outfit like the guides and our customer completely when they’re on the mountain or when they’re just out in the elements. So another one, another tagline I’ll give you is “become one with your environment.” That’s another one that we use.
Tom: Oh. That’s like everybody’s long-term goal, too. You’ll end up in the ground, becoming one with the environment, literally. [Laughs]
Tom: That’s a goal I’m sure I can achieve! [Laughs]
Imani: But yes, we have a base layer, mid layer, and outer layer.
Tom: Cool, because I wear my ski base layers out on my bike when it’s cold.
Tom: They serve a lot of purposes.
Imani: And we’re working with Polartec on a lot of our base layer stuff. So we’re making sure that we’re working with the best materials and we’re working with the best factories like Randy said. One of the things that he said that I’ll never forget is, “Burton gives Powder Mountain a product for the guides to wear.” And I was like, “Well, what are we going to do? They’re wearing Burton. We want them to Cold Smoke.” And he said, “Well if it’s good, they’ll wear it.”
Tom: That’s exactly right. That’s like…I’m trying to remember the…now they can’t rent videos anymore, was Hollywood and Blockbuster. And the guy who started Blockbuster, he put his stores across from every Hollywood he could find, and the idea was, “If we can’t kick their ass, we’re straight across the street, then we’re going to lose long-term.” So I thought that was a cool approach.
Tom: So anything else you want to promote, anything else you want to feature, products you want to talk about?
Randy: No, that’s about it.
Tom: Alright, cool. Well, guys, I appreciate your time. It’s great to get to know you.
Imani: Definitely. [00:54:57] You should send us your information, we can send you over so gear.
Tom: Yeah, your PR person has promised me gear, so I am looking forward to that.
Tom: And I’ll reciprocate with some great HELISKI.com hats.
Imani: Cool. Thank you. So when you do your next Skype meeting with Burton you can wear the Cold Smoke hat.
Tom: Great idea. I have some dude transcribe these and then I’ll put them up on the web in text. Do you want to look at it before I post it?
Randy: It doesn’t matter.
Tom: Okay. Well, if it says anything too scary incriminating I’ll x it out, but if you think of something else that you wanted to mention just fire me an email.
Randy: Thank you, Tom. Alright.
Tom: Cool. Alright. Nice talking to you guys.
Randy: Have a good day.
Tom: Alright, see you.