Ski gear pioneer Jeannie Thoren inducted into U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame
Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series that profiles the Vail Valley locals who were inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame on Saturday.
VAIL — After three decades of circling the globe helping women skiers, Jeannie Thoren has grabbed the brass ring and the gold medal.
Thoren was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. She joins Vail Valley locals John McMurtry and Kristina Koznick in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.
“I’ve wanted this medal since I was a child,” Thoren said.
She said she wanted to thank everyone “from the bottom of my ski bum heart.”
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Thoren revolutionized women’s ski equipment and instruction, directly an indirectly helping millions of female skiers along the way.
She is the Johnny Appleseed of women’s skiing, pioneering the development of women’s specific ski equipment. Women ski better if they’re using equipment better suited to their physiques.
Beginning in 1988, she has conducted more than 70 women’s ski equipment seminars around the country each year.
“I became a crusader and the Ralph Nader of women’s ski equipment,” she said during her acceptance speech at last weekend’s induction ceremonies in Steamboat Springs.
“I could not have withstood the obstacles against me without the staunch support of my family and my friends and mostly my husband, Tom Haas. Without him I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish a fraction of what I got accomplished. This medal is as much his as it is mine.”
Hard work, good people
Her grandmother was born outside of Ishpeming, Michigan, home of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, birthplace of organized skiing in America and the site of the founding of the National Ski Association of America (now the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association) in 1905.
That’s where Thoren first skied. She was about 6 years old.
“I was lucky to be born one of nine children to Betty and Rolly Thoren, who taught us a strong Scandinavian ethic — to work hard, respect other people, do good and help others,” Thoren said.
Skiing was in her blood, so she left Upper Michigan in search of vertical. That took her from Switzerland, to Jackson Hole, to Alaska and finally to Sun Valley.
‘I’m not a boy!’
“When I started skiing seriously, I found out I’m not a boy. Imagine my surprise! Especially since the ski industry seemed to think I was just one of the guys,” she said.
She spent most of the 1970s figuring out how to physically alter her ski equipment to fit her female physique and to ultimately become a better skier.
“More coaching didn’t rid me of my A-frame stance, 3 degree cants did,” Thoren said. “More lessons didn’t teach me how to carve my turns, orthotics in my ski boots did.”
“More time on the hill didn’t rid me of my sitting back stance, half inch heel lifts did. And finally, moving my bindings 1 inch forward on my skis finally put me in the correct balance point on my skis,” Thoren said.
Along the way she realized she wasn’t the only woman skier with those problems.
“I started to experiment with other women skiers and their equipment. I worked with beginners to racers who all had one goal … to ski better,” Thoren said.
The Thoren Theory
She developed the Thoren Theory, that women are not small men and need their own specialized ski equipment.
With all that information and knowledge, she went to the 1978 Las Vegas Ski Show. The mission was to get manufacturers to make equipment better suited to women’s unique physical attributes.
“I was greeted with total disbelief,” Thoren said. “Talk about the glass ceiling? Mine was an arctic ice ceiling.”
But they were dealing with the kid from Ishpeming.
They didn’t have a chance.
Six years ago, she opened Jeannie Thoren’s Women’s Ski Center in Vail’s Lionshead.
“Everyone said I’d fail with this ski shop. They should never have made that bet,” Thoren said.
She first skied Vail in 1965 and says she has been “haunting this place” ever since.
Thoren and her husband split their time between Vail and their native Minnesota.
They’re retiring at the end of the ski season.
“We are not going out of business. We’re retiring!” Thoren said.
They sold the shop to Outdoor Divas, a women’s shop based in Boulder.
“The shop is doing great,” Thoren said. “The only thing that will change is the name on the door. We’re very, very successful.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.