From boarding to the boardroom: Quartet of former pro skiers, snowboarders launch Tahoe-Truckee businesses
Special to the NNBV
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This story is adapted from the winter 2018-19 edition of Tahoe Magazine, a specialty publication of the Sierra Nevada Media Group and Northern Nevada Business View. The magazine, which is packed with plenty of features and advertisements about all that the Tahoe-Truckee winter has to offer, is on newsstands now across Lake Tahoe, Truckee and Reno. Go here to read it online, and be sure to pick up a copy today!
Lake Tahoe is a hotbed for professional athletes, entrepreneurs and creative inventors, but there are a few instances where some locals have proven to be all three.
From paving the way on the slopes to paving the way in business, here are four stories profiling professional snowboarders who have transitioned into budding business owners right here at Lake Tahoe:
Ryan Williams: Creating lifetime users in active sports with Stomp Sessions
Residing in Lake Tahoe for more than two decades, Ryan Williams came to the area for a photo shoot in 1993 and fell in love with the place.
He moved to the area permanently in 1995 and spent the next few years competing in snowboarding, including winning an X-Games silver medal in Big Air in 1998 (which also marked first year that snowboarding was introduced to the Olympics).
Williams is often credited as one of the original athletes who helped build the foundation for modern snowboarding, part of a group that was developing new tricks every minute.
As social media and technology evolved over the next 20 years, Williams recognized a problem in local terrain parks — kids were watching YouTube videos and then going out and trying the tricks without proper guidance, increasing their chances of getting hurt.
If only there was a pro who could meet them at the top of the terrain park and share their secrets so that they can stomp that trick, he thought.
Thus was born Stomp Sessions, a mobile app that Williams calls the “Uber of Action Sports” — it pairs the world’s top athletes with a person looking for tailored advice on how to progress and take his or her abilities to the next level.
“Our mission is to create lifetime users in action sports,” Williams told Tahoe Magazine. “When you start bridging the gap from beginner to intermediate, that’s when you start having a lot more fun.”
Along with co-founders Robert Suarez and Dave Sick (based out of the TrailRunner International office at 10925 Pioneer Trail, Truckee), the team figured out a way to get your favorite pro to meet you at the mountain or the skatepark within 15-20 minutes and help you rapidly improve while creating unforgettable memories (the pro videotapes your session, to which you can then refer back).
Stomp ambassadors/Olympic and X-Games athletes available in the app include Jamie Anderson, Julia Mancuso, Jeremy Jones, Red Gerard, JT Homes and famed skateboarders Ryan Sheckler and Chris Cole, among others.
Known as “the professor” in the skateboarding world, Cole regularly teaches other skateboarding professionals how to land tricks that win them contests. For Stomp Sessions, Cole has recorded and shared 50 pro quick tips available in the app’s side-by-side video player feature so you can watch your technique, along with your favorite pro’s technique, and fix it accordingly.
“It helps people so much who are trying to get that trick down,” Williams says.
Ralph Backstrom: Changing the coffee culture of Truckee-Tahoe at Pacific Crest Coffee
A few buildings down in Truckee’s industrial area, at 10736 Pioneer Trail, is another professional snowboarder who is busy roasting beans in the Pacific Crest Coffee shop.
“We’ve grown fairly quickly and are trying to get out there, meet people and change the coffee culture in the area,” Backstrom says. “I think the third wave of coffee roasting is here, in maximizing the flavor. But at the end of the day, it’s just about making things that taste good and smell good and we’re here to provide high-quality ingredients resulting in great-tasting coffee.”
Backstrom became interested in coffee about 10 years ago when his late brother, Arne Backstrom, gave him some green coffee beans for Christmas, and then he got busy learning how to roast them.
Totally self-taught, by the fourth or fifth batch of brew, Ralph started getting the hang of it and found himself liking the taste of his own coffee more than anyone else’s, and thus, taking his own roasted coffee beans to enjoy on snowboarding trips.
In recent years, Ralph said he started wanting a career that offers more longevity and predictability unlike the shelf life of an action sports professional.
Since he had spent the last 10 years researching and improving his roasting processes, he naturally segued into the craft coffee world. When the nitro cold brew craze came about a couple years ago, he got some kegs and started making smooth, frothy cold brew on tap.
The Crepe Hearts food truck in Squaw Valley was the first to start carrying his cold brew, along with mate tea on nitro to make their specialty Arnold Palmer drink. Since, more local businesses/nonprofits, including Waterman’s Landing, Tahoe Food Hub, Jake’s on the Lake and Sugar Pine Cakery, among others, have all started carrying Pacific Crest Coffee products.
Olympic skier Travis Ganong is also a partner and investor of Pacific Crest Coffee and promotes the company while continuing his skiing career.
Danny Toumarkine: Finding renewed excitement and passion with Sticker Pack
On the other side of the Truckee River, boxes and boxes of presumed-to-be stickers are sitting on Danny Toumarkine’s front porch. Upon ringing the doorbell, his mini Australian shepherd, Slyder, starts running around barking, a boundless ball of friendly energy.
In the back of the house, Toumarkine’s office has a huge cutting board, a few large printers, rolls of adhesive paper, a computer and a TV playing rap videos. He is busy printing hundreds of stickers in preparation for an upcoming souvenir tradeshow in Las Vegas where he is hoping to land some big accounts with tourism groups.
Toumarkine’s sticker printing career began before he got into snowboarding when he went to Colorado to hang out with his older brother, Conor, following his high school graduation. While there, he would regularly drop in on his brother’s silk-screening internship, and the duo ended up forming their own brand of apparel.
“I went to get stickers made for my car (to go along with the apparel brand) and the guy was asking for way too much to get them printed, so I went home and ordered a sticker machine to make them myself,” Danny told Tahoe Magazine this summer.
Although the apparel brand fizzled, Danny continued onto college and studied advertising, his sticker machine in the corner collecting dust. One of his friends noticed the machine and taught him the basics of sticker-making, and he began doing production runs for other people as a side hustle.
“My brother graduated a year before I did, and we knew we were going to do something together but we didn’t know what it was going to be. He noticed that I was a good snowboarder, so Conor was going to be my manager,” Danny says. “I drove to Colorado, sold my car and we bought a truck and trailer and traveled around competing. I rode slopestyle, big air, rail jams, halfpipe — anything I could get into.”
During the 2007-08 season, Danny entered 31 contests throughout Colorado, Utah and Tahoe, winning 28 of them. He moved to Tahoe to ride at then-Booth Creek-owned Northstar-at-Tahoe and Sierra-at-Tahoe resorts.
Unfortunately, in 2011 Danny suffered a serious brain injury while snowboarding and didn’t know if riding professionally would be in his future. Back in his hometown in New Hampshire, Danny, Conor and ex-girlfriend Michelle Parker (another Tahoe pro athlete) came up with the brand Sticker Pack and started to continue on that new path.
“It has always been a side gig, really, up until June of last year (2017),” Danny says. “We rebuilt the site, put a lot of money into SEO (marketing), and established relationships around Tahoe.”
As word got out around Tahoe, local brands and big companies wanted Danny to produce their stickers.
“This is my passion, this is what excites me,” he adds. “If I dedicate myself to this with my brother’s help, then I think it could be big.”
Nick Visconti: Helping coffee create community at Drink Coffee Do Stuff
The Drink Coffee Do Stuff story starts at the top of a 12,000-foot glacier in Switzerland, where Lake Tahoe/San Francisco native — and pro snowboarder — Nick Visconti was, well, drinking coffee and doing stuff.
“I was at the country’s highest café, sitting at an elevation of 12,000 feet, doing espresso shots, taking a run, having a cappuccino, taking another run, and thinking, ‘oh my gosh, this is so great,’” Visconti recalls. “I noticed in Europe that people used coffee as their main fuel source.”
Thinking about how coffee fit into his own lifestyle and always leaning toward the more natural, holistic ingredients found in coffee as opposed to those in energy drinks, Visconti came back from his trip and became engrossed in the emerging coffee culture. He spent a few years in the Northwest taking classes and apprenticeships to learn everything he could about roasting coffee.
Growing up snowboarding at Lake Tahoe, Visconti gained sponsorships and traveled around the world. However, about three years ago, when his contracts expired, Visconti shifted his energy onto coffee, where he felt like he could push himself in another way — building a brand that focused on healthy, outdoor lifestyles.
“I built this business the same way I snowboard … start with the local shop sponsors, go regional, ride amateur, and then go pro,” he says. “This is five years in the making, learning everything I could in the trade, finding my style, which is like going down the Palisades snowboarding — everyone does it their own way.”
His beans are grown in mountain regions at a minimum altitude of 6,000 feet, and he says his roasting process makes all of his varieties impeccably sweet. Building a business has also shifted his attitude about snowboarding.
“I have more of an appreciation for it now. Ultimately, snowboarding was a conduit to people … I was traveling 6-9 months a year and spending a lot of time in Europe,” Visconti says. “Like snowboarding, I saw how coffee created community, conversations, a way to connect with people.
“I noticed that a coffee culture was prevalent on every continent, and — like the snowboard culture — was unique to a place.”
Along with the support of partners Brad Farmer and wife, Laura, Visconti says Drink Coffee Do Stuff has big ambitions for what’s to come.
And, he doesn’t have any plans to slow down.
“I’m gratefully discontent, I can’t be complacent,” he says. “We tapped into something that wasn’t about us; this is an experience that we can all share together. And I’m proud to be a part of a Tahoe maker movement, I love what everyone is doing.”
Drink Coffee Do Stuff officially launched in December 2017 and can be found in 65 stores across Northern California and Reno. You can find Drink Coffee Do Stuff coffee beans specifically in the South Shore, Incline Village and Reno Raley’s locations, plus at New Moon and Tahoe Sports Hub in Truckee.
Reading this book is like giving yourself permission to goof off, knowing why doing so is beneficial, and knowing that it’ll make you feel oh-so-much better when you finally do buckle down.