After lifting the Colorado ski company out of financial turmoil, the Icelantic CEO is focusing on building community, getting people outside and empowering women.
It’s 8 p.m. in New York by the time I get Annelise Loevlie on the phone. We’d planned to talk hours ago, but I wasn’t able to get hold of her. Then I got this text message:
“Hey, Leslie! I am sooo sorry. I just got down from a mini-epic hike where I hauled out a 60-pound piece of rose quartz [the stone of love] for a friend’s wedding gift. (Shhhhh.) I just got back to the car and will be home in about 30 min. Can you do it then?”
I couldn’t blame her. The 34-year-old CEO of Icelantic Skis was literally just emulating her company’s motto, “Return to Nature.” And when I did get to talk to her, she was fired up because she had spent the day outside doing what she loves—huffing her way up a 12,000-foot peak. “I love exercise,” Annelise says laughing. “And the summit of Chief Mountain has 360-degree views of the Continental Divide. I basically grew up on that mountain, so it’s this little respite if I just need to get away. My heart is instantly reset.”
Annelise, who lives about 30 minutes away from Chief Mountain’s trailhead in Golden, Colorado, has been with Icelantic since its inception. Her childhood friends, Ben Anderson, Travis Cook and Travis Parr, founded the ski company in 2004. And when Ben needed some help on the business side of things, he asked Annelise to come on board. It’s not a surprise she said yes, seeing as she’s the type of person who will carry 60 pounds of rock down a mountain for her friends. In 2014, Annelise became the CEO because the company was in financial trouble and she knew the way forward. She is just “really good at navigating shit storms” (her words, not mine). Now, with Annelise at the helm, Icelantic has overcome its growing pains and is hard at work innovating, inspiring and building community in the ski industry.
Annelise grew up in Colorado’s historic Gold Rush mining town of Idaho Springs. Nature reigns supreme in this corner of Clear Creek County. On the weekends, the Loevlises climbed nearby mountains, like Chief Mountain, and skied at Loveland. They also traveled internationally a lot, which is why Annelise can speak a little bit of Norwegian, Spanish, Italian and Russian. Annelise says she thinks all that travel made her a good communicator, which is why she does what she does.
Annelise’s parents are entrepreneurs. Her Norwegian father, Kristian, is an inventor. He created a sprayable concrete called Shotcrete, and her mother, Mary Jane, helped turn his invention into a successful business. A passionate community builder, Mary Jane cares deeply about Clear Creek County and fights for historic preservation. “My mom is amazing. She just bought the Argo Gold Mill [in Idaho Springs],” Annelise says. “It used to be the biggest gold mill in the world, and she is going to develop it into a modern hotel and conference center. It’s going to be a really good thing for the town.” And for 20 years, Mary Jane has been spearheading the effort to bring new transportation options, like a monorail, to Colorado’s insufferable I-70 corridor. This, I imagine, is where Annelise gets her grit.
From the beginning, Icelantic’s mission has been to connect people to nature, create change, and inspire curiosity and adventure.
In 2004, Annelise earned two degrees from the University of Vermont, in international business and Spanish. And about 2.5 seconds after she got her diploma, Ben asked for her help starting Icelantic. “I was definitely like, ‘Yeah, Ben, I’ll help you. You are going to need a phone number and a bank account and stuff.’ But I was just kind of just helping out at the time because he was such a good friend.”
Ben and Annelise met on the first day of seventh grade at Clear Creek Middle School. Annelise had already started her own businesses selling candy out of her locker (shocker!), and Ben, who apparently really loves candy, quickly became her best customer. They’ve been buddies ever since.
“Ben has always had this ability to make things happen,” Annelise says. “He is a dreamer and a doer. And he has no ego.” This explains why he wanted to create a different kind of ski company. Icelantic was the first ski company to manufacture all its products in the U.S., and each and every top-sheet has original artwork done by Travis Parr. From the beginning, Icelantic’s mission has been to connect people to nature, create change, and inspire curiosity and adventure. “‘Return to Nature’ is our slogan; that’s a not-so-subtle suggestion-slash-invitation for people to return to nature, whatever that means to them,” Annelise says. “We also sell skis, which automatically encourages people to get outside and move their bodies. And the content that we create with our athletes, the crew behind the scenes, and our community is always intentional.” Plus, Annelise says, Icelantic is working with Conservation Colorado to help protect public lands. (She’s also working on some cool, creative initiatives that she can’t really talk about yet. Stay tuned.)
After about a year of “just helping out,” Ben asked Annelise to work for Icelantic full-time. It was 2005 and she was 23. Seven years later, in 2014, she became CEO and helped Ben save the company from bankruptcy. “I did an assessment of the business and found, ‘This is what is not working. This is how I see transforming it.’ I presented it to the board and said, ‘I have to say this or else I can’t be here anymore.’ That was sort of the impetus for me to take over as CEO.”
Annelise’s introduction to becoming the boss was not an easy one. She had to fire some of her friends and really shake things up. She says it was one of the hardest things she has ever had to do. Since then, Annelise feels like she has finally started to understand her drive and reason for working for Icelantic. “Forever it was for Ben, then it was to save the company,” she says. “Now I’m realizing my purpose and what motivates me to being part of this company.” Annelise has confidence and pride in her ability to see how things work. She has a knack for observing a situation, seeing what’s missing and filling the holes. She is constantly inspiring her team of 20 employees and athletes—she and Ben take them on an international sailing trip every year just to get away from work and have fun. She doesn’t try to change herself just because she’s the boss, and she’s not afraid to drop an enthusiastic f-bomb when she is excited. She’s relatable and fun and, well, she really, really loves skiing.
Icelantic has been growing in a big way lately. The company had record-breaking sales during the months of August and September. “After 10 years of doing this we are finally getting a little momentum,” Annelise says.
Part of the reason the company is doing well—besides the artfully designed graphics, USA-manufactured products and up-to-date shapes—is that Icelandic is paying attention to women. In the beginning, Icelantic didn’t offer women-specific skis; in 2010, Icelantic introduced its first model, the Oracle 110. And this year, the company will be offering six women-specific models (out of 15 total) in all sizes.
At the Vail Resorts annual Labor Day sale this year, Annelise cried happy tears. “I was checking out the ski wall and looking at the ladies’ section. I felt so proud because we had more women skis in our lineup than the total number of skis on the wall. And I love the skis we are making for women.” Annelise is also psyched to release Icelantic’s newest women-specific design: a big and burly ski built for hard-charging women called the Maiden 177. In January 2018, the company plans to release its first women-specific backcountry touring ski called the Mystic, as well as a couple more new women’s all-mountain models at Snowsports Industries America’s annual trade show.
“You and I both know how cool it is when you can ski with other women,” she says. “It’s such a joy. Women are mothers and decision-makers, and it’s important to continue having women involved in the sport. They are huge influences on whether or not it’s going to continue to grow.”
As we wrap up our call, Annelise tells me that it’s hard for her to quantify or measure her goals for Icelantic. All she knows for sure is that she wants to be a part of a company that positively impacts the world. “I want to build a conscious company. When people see us or come into contact with us, I want it to be associated with integrity, and fun and nature.” And she wants to use Icelantic to get people outdoors, because in Annelise’s wonderfully open mind, the more people outside—regardless of gender—the better.