A 7-year-old skier sits with his father on a chairlift during a cold, windy winter day at a local mountain in the Tahoe area.
The two have only taken a couple of runs when the shivering youngster looks up and gives his father a look all too familiar to parents.
“I’m cold, I’m wet, and I want to go home,” he says.
An early morning of loading the car with ski gear, packing lunches, and racing to the mountain to beat lift lines has been cut short.
Marc Dietz experienced the scenario many times over the years while taking his then 3-year-old son to Squaw Valley. Dietz taught his son, who is now 9, to ski at the resort, but over the years he became frustrated with the price and performance of the snow gear he was purchasing.
“One of my favorite things in my life is being a dad, and what goes along with that is doing things outside with my son — biking, kayaking, camping, you name it, but skiing and snowboarding (is) No. 1,” said Dietz.
“I was experiencing super expensive gear that, A) often isn’t that good, and, B) the kid outgrows it every single year.”
From those experiences, Dietz, who’d made a career working in the tech industry in Silicon Valley, began bouncing around the idea of starting his own brand of winter gear designed specifically for children.
Then, in the spring of 2017 he ran into Dallas Moore, who had been working the past six years for the high-performance hunting gear company, KUIU. With Moore’s expertise in working with different performance materials, the two launched SHRED DOG, a brand that takes inspiration from the Squaw Kids program, the mountain itself, and nearby Red Dog Chairlift.
“We took inspiration from Squaw Valley and the Red Dog lift, and basically the patterns the lift lines make on the mountain. Some of the seam lines and personality of the initial jackets literally was inspired by Squaw,” said Dietz, who sold his home in Tahoe to help get the business off the ground.
‘out all day’
“Our goal from day one is we want to build a very premium, high-performance product,” said Dietz. “We don’t want to skimp on construction or quality. We were telling people last year, ‘Hey we’re a first-year brand, but don’t get the idea we have sewing machines in our garage.’ This stuff is made by the best in the business, and we wanted nothing less.”
The company aims to keep youngsters on the mountain comfortably when conditions are at their worst.
“There’s that old adage: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear,” said Dietz. “Kids that are cold and wet want to quit at lunchtime and go to the lodge and have a hot chocolate. SHRED DOG kids, what we enable, is they’re out all day no matter the conditions.”
The products are designed based on Dietz’s own experiences, and also from customers, who are be able to offer input through SHRED DOG’S Co-Design Program.
The company also works with a design team that has more than 30 years experience in the industry, according Dietz, while the products are constructed overseas at the same factory used by other leading performance gear producers such as Arc’teryx, Saloman, Spyder, and Adidas.
“Made in the USA wasn’t really an option for us right now,” said Dietz. “Some of that stuff is coming back. Some of our future products we anticipate will be made here.”
CutTING out the middlemen
SHRED DOG is able to offer quality gear at more affordable prices by using a direct-to-consumer approach, cutting out middlemen and retailers. The company’s products range from around $160 for ski jackets and $150 for bibs.
“We’re not inexpensive. We’re not cheap. We don’t compete with Columbia Sports or let alone shopping at Target. We wanted to start at the top to prove this is the best stuff out there, and then we can go down to a midgrade model that costs less as opposed to starting there, and then trying to convince people we can also do something premium,” said Dietz.
“We’re positioning ourselves as a premium outdoor brand, not a ski brand or a snowboard brand. Some of our products today are at least three-season, if not year round, like our puffy insulator jacket. Camping in Tahoe in the summer, a puffy jacket by the campfire is perfect.”
Recently the company brought on Joe Commendatore, a Truckee local, as vice president of global alliances and business development.
Commendatore, a lifelong skier, has been involved in the community throughout the years with Hula Networks and the High Fives Foundation.
“I met Dallas (Moore) on a ski lift last winter,” said Commendatore. “It was just a half-chance thing. We were riding up the chair and he was talking to his brother in-law, and they were talking about the ski equipment. I was listening on the chair and said, ‘Hey, tell me a little bit about this.’ As soon as Dallas started talking about the gear, I lit up.”
Commendatore, who has children ages 7 and 9, said he’d experienced similar problems with gear for youngsters, and was eager to become involved in the company.
“In the ski world, especially with children, gear is so expensive,” he said. “(Parents) are not looking to spend a couple hundred bucks on a jacket, because it’s going to be gone in a season. The nice thing that we do is, we’re able to offer quality products that will last five years. Yeah the kid does grow, but it’s a high quality product for about half the price of what somebody spends now.”
The rapid rate in which children outgrow their ski gear is a constant headache for many parents. Over the years other companies have innovated by adding seams that rip out of pant legs to get another inch or so of length. Once the seams are ripped though, the gear is no longer waterproof and can’t be shortened again to pass down to younger siblings.
“We innovated on that and came up with a system that we’re calling an industry-first, Adjust-a-Fit system,” said Dietz. “We ship the pant legs and sleeves a little bit long, and inside there’s a little elastic and button system like in the waistband of every kid’s pants these days. You can cinch it up for the first year, and as they grow you let it out. But then you can also bring it back in for a hand me down.”
Another issue Dietz faced was that as his son got older he no longer wanted to wear bibs like a “little kid.”
Normally that would mean shopping for more snow gear, but SHRED DOG offers a convertible bib system where the bib portion can be removed, allowing young skiers to move to pants like their older peers, while also having the ability to be reattached for powder days on the backside.
“It’s just little things like that from my experience when (my son) was 4 or 5,” said Dietz. “It all just kind of snowballed into ideas.”
‘the memories we make being outside’
SHRED DOG is set for its first full season on the market in 2019-20. The company’s products won’t be found in retail stores in order to keep prices down, and orders must be purchased through its website or at a pop-up event during the season.
While eliminating retailers allows SHRED DOG to keep prices lower than its high-performance competitors, it raises other challenges, as customers aren’t able to touch and see the products in person.
“When we’ve done pop-up shops or events or people are in person looking at it, they get it right away,” said Dietz. “It’s just getting people to take that chance.”
In order to help facilitate sales through its online store, SHRED DOG offers free shipping on orders more than $50, free returns, free exchanges for wrong sizes, and a lifetime limited warranty.
“We’re trying to eliminate as many points of friction as possible to get people to try it, because once they do, they’re hooked,” said Dietz.
Moving forward, Dietz said the goal is to raise awareness of the brand. Eventually SHRED DOG plans on branching out to include lower-cost gear for children and a line for adults as well.
“We want to be a national, if not global brand, as soon as possible. But our heritage is Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe and being a part of that community and giving back,” said Dietz.
“One of our core tenants with the brand and something we’re going to invest more and more in is getting more kids outside. These days as a parent, I — just like everyone else — struggle with managing screen time. My son loves his iPad and his Xbox, and that’s fine, I like those things too, but it doesn’t compare to the memories we make being outside.”
SHRED DOG is offering Sierra Sun readers a preseason promo. For a limited time, customers can use discount code SIERRASUN25 for 25% off any purchase at ShredDog.com. Offer expires at midnight on Oct. 31.
For more information on SHRED DOG or to check out the company’s lineup of gear, visit ShredDog.com.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.