Kristin and Eric Mehiel of Los Osos believe they have created a product that can have a potentially significant impact on the skiing industry. Like many innovative ideas, it originated from a place of frustration.
In December 2012, the Mehiels took their two young daughters, Madeline and Jackson, skiing for the first time. They were introduced to the notoriously unpleasant task of getting around in rigid, stiff ski boots.
“We’re walking back to the car — doing that death march back to the car — and they’re complaining about their boots and I’m complaining about my boots,” Kristin Mehiel remembers. “And at the time I had a really nice pair of Tecnica boots. I kind of threw all the gear down and I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ ”
Soon after, Eric Mehiel, who works as an aerospace engineer professor at Cal Poly, began developing a patent pending adaption system to allow snowboard boots to be used in standard ski bindings.
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The simple concept is rooted in making skiing more comfortable and pain-free.
“It really started as a product to solve my problem,” Kristin Mehiel said.
By December 2013, the family was testing their bindings on the slopes, and other skiers took notice. Three years later, they co-founded Mad Jack Snowsports with family friend Bill Demarest, a Los Osos resident and founder of Crescent Moon Snowshoes, and recently landed a $120,000 investment to continue expanding the company.
The Mehiels also have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise money as the ski season begins to ramp up.
MadJacks are available for pre-order today through the company’s website for $199. Kristin Mehiel said they have received 150 pre-orders for the upcoming season, totaling nearly $30,000. Their goal was about 200 orders.
Family and friends helped with an initial $20,000 investment to begin production, and a private investor from San Diego and other seed investors contributed $105,000.
For manufacturing, the Mehiels are sourcing most parts from companies within the United States, while the straps and buckles are shipped from Taiwan.
“All the assembly is going to happen in our garage for this go-around,” Eric Mehiel said.
Kristin Mehiel said several types of customers are interested in MadJacks, particularly given the comfort and relative affordability of their product.
There’s the “hard to fit” demographic, the crossover market of people who ski and snowboard, and youth skiers who can use the adjustable foot plate from ages 3 to 10.
Moving forward, the Mehiels plan to continue direct-to-consumer sales through their website, and will source representatives and distributors for the U.S. and international markets. Perhaps the biggest target will be getting into rental fleets at ski resorts.
Kristen Mehiel said their product can fill a key void, given that only 24 percent of first-time skiers convert to lifelong skiers, according to the National Ski Areas Association. The other 76 percent likely won’t return.
“We truly believe that’s because they have discomfort,” Kristen Mehiel said. “They don’t have a good experience that first time on the hill. So why come back and do that again?”
Kristen Mehiel praised the Small Business Development Center in San Luis Obispo for being “incredibly helpful and informative” in the continued growth of Mad Jacks Snowsports.
“We want everyone to be on the hill and happy on the hill,” Kristen Mehiel said. “That’s what we’re about and that’s what drives us to do this crazy endeavor.”