Chances are you’ll be seeing more of New England native Jeff Mechura — a longtime ski industry pro — out and about in New Hampshire now that he’s taken over as president and CEO of Elan Sports USA.
Mechura, a University of New Hampshire graduate, joined Slovenia-based Elan Skis in 2016 to oversee global product development and marketing after having worked for more than two decades in the ski industry with positions at K2 and Dolomite. In 2016, Elan shifted its 70-year company focus toward the North American market, and a newly hired senior leadership team undertook this extensive global rebranding effort.
Formed in 2018 as a subsidiary of Elan Skis to bolster this objective, Elan Sports USA is headquartered in West Lebanon, N.H., which is akin to working from home for Mechura.
New England Ski Journal: Tell us about your New England roots. Where did you grow up and what are your earliest memories of skiing?
Jeff Mechura: I grew up in Wilton, Connecticut. Most of our vacations at an early stage were summers in New Hampshire, as my grandparents would rent a cottage on Lake Kanasatka. We also had family that lived nearby in Rumney, and around the age of 9, we started taking winter vacations to the White Mountains.
NESJ: Do you recall your earliest introduction to this sport?
Mechura: My first skiing experience was at Bretton Woods, all decked out in flannel and jeans, wool hats and mittens — really not having the gear at the time or knowing what we were doing. I was pretty much hooked from the start. I really enjoyed everything about the sport: skiing all day, trying new things, the vibe of the ski areas, the people, going into ski shops, et cetera.
Over the years we skied almost every area in New Hampshire, including adventures to Tuckerman Ravine every spring. It became a passion and I wanted to be connected to the sport in every way I could, which prompted me to get a job as soon as I was old enough to work in a local ski shop, the Outdoor Sports Center in Wilton.
If I could figure out a way, I always wanted it to be a career. I loved selling winter sports equipment, talking to customers and getting people excited about going skiing. I didn’t think there was anything better, and I wanted to be a part of it much as I could.
NESJ: While pursuing your English degree at UNH, did you stay connected with the sport of skiing?
Mechura: Coming out of high school, I didn’t have a fix on what I wanted to study, so I looked at different schools with liberal arts programs. UNH is a great university, and it gave me a lot of opportunity to expand my horizons. Plus, I knew I wanted to be in the mountains and New Hampshire was an obvious location for that based upon the time I had spent here growing up. This proximity allowed me to work as a ski instructor during the winters at Loon for four years, which exposed me to a different side of the industry and a lot of great people.
NESJ: Today you have more than two decades under your belt as a ski industry professional. How did your career get started?
Mechura: I was lucky enough to land a job in the ski industry after graduation with Dolomite ski boots. That five-year experience was invaluable to me as it was a small startup business in the U.S. with three internal people and a rep force. It really taught me the basics of the ski business — learning the cycle, planning, presenting, marketing, rep and retailer needs and consumer-facing programs that need to come from a manufacturer.
NESJ: And this served as a springboard into a long tenure at K2?
Mechura: I was recruited from there to work for K2, which required a move from the East Coast to Seattle. At the time, the great thing about working for K2 was everything I was exposed to. It was a big four-season business that was incredibly fast-paced. Expectations were high and the goals were always a stretch, which bred a lot of success. There was a long history of creative freedom at the brand, which we had a lot of fun with. Industry companies are typically operated by a small staff, so doing a little bit of everything, regardless of your title, is an absolute must. Product development, global marketing, sales, financial planning, forecasting, design, promotions, athlete management were all part of a daily routine.
But I think the most valuable experience I gained at K2 was learning the importance of working with a great team and how much impact that can really have on daily work, the products you produce and a business as a whole.
NESJ: What was it about Elan Skis that made you want to be part of its team?
Mechura: I truly saw Elan as a great opportunity for a number of reasons. Elan is a legacy brand; it is the last ski manufacturer building skis 100 percent made in the Alps, and has a history of great innovation and performance. My main role coming in was to help globalize the product and brand message in what was otherwise a Euro-centric philosophy. Elan had just been acquired from the state and made private, with the intention of investing and growing the business, and the North American market was the best target given the size of the brand in the U.S. at the time.
The team in Slovenia is absolutely first rate, and their commitment to the growth goals in North America has been unwavering. Forming Elan USA as an independent subsidiary was a necessary step in committing fully to the market, and further investing in the great team of people we have working in West Lebanon.
NESJ: Tell us about the impact some of Elan’s innovations have had on the sport.
Mechura: Elan has been the tip of the spear for major innovations that have changed the skiing landscape forever. The most notable innovation was the introduction of sidecut in skis that made skiing more dynamic and fun for advanced skiers while at the same time made it a much easier sport to learn for those new to it. Elan was also the first company to introduce cap ski technology, as well as screen printing graphic techniques that led the trends for years and simplified manufacturing processes. Not to mention technologies like Amphibio technology that smoothly blend rocker and camber for the perfect balance of power and forgiveness in a ski.
NESJ: Clearly, Elan doesn’t rest on its laurels. What other innovations are under way?
Mechura: More recently, Elan has worked closely with the military to develop the first folding ski, which is currently being used by special forces around the world, making it easier for elite mountain troops to quickly pack or deploy a fully functional high-performance ski in seconds without having to haul the length around on a backpack, which also makes troops more mobile. Elan is also in the final prototyping stages of a highly sophisticated electronic ski, which can be used by consumers or as a training tool to help analyze turn dynamics and ski pressure, along with other more obvious advantages of wearable tech like altitude, speed, vertical feet, et cetera.
NESJ: Why is Elan so committed to pushing the envelope of ski design?
Mechura: All of these innovations culminate into having the expertise to build great products for skiers of all levels, and our highly popular freeride Ripstick and all-mountain Wingman skis are a reflection of these efforts. The bottom line for building great product is to ensure that skiers of all levels have the best experience they possibly can on the mountain with friends and family, which is why our brand tagline and philosophy isn’t a technical or aspirational message — it’s our promise that skiing on Elan is “Always good times.”
NESJ: Shifting gears a bit, Glen Plake has extended his commitment with Elan for three more years. What can we expect to see from him after his wildly successful “Down Home Tour” last season?
Mechura: Glen Plake is an icon in the business and I would argue the most recognizable ski personality in North America, if not the world. It has been one of my greatest career privileges to collaborate with him and Kimberly for more than 20 years between the brands I’ve worked with. Plake’s Down Home Tour is something he and Kimberly have been doing for years around the country. The idea is all theirs. In fact, the very first tour was actually their honeymoon, when they just agreed to hit the road and show up at random ski areas completely unannounced and ski with the crowd.
They have done many of them over the years and we support his efforts any way we can because it’s such a true extension of our brand’s philosophy and consumers we connect with. I guarantee you that anyone who had the opportunity to ski with Glen at one of the stops will never forget the experience. He connects with everyone. You haven’t seen the last of the Down Home Tour, I’m sure. In terms of the near future, Plake produced a segment in the new Warren Miller film coming out this fall, and he will attend a few of those premiers across the country.
NESJ: What’s the easiest way to get to Slovenia?
Mechura: I travel to Slovenia at least once a month and honestly, it’s the best-kept secret in Europe. Aside from working with a great brand, the Slovenian people, culture, landscape, history and diversity are just fantastic — from the Alps to the Adriatic. Most people in the U.S. wouldn’t be able to point to it on a map, and getting to Slovenia is easier than people may think. Sharing borders with Italy, Austria and Croatia; a simple flight to any major European airport and you’re an hour or so flight to the Slovenian capitol of Ljubljana.
NESJ: With all that’s on your plate with Elan Sports USA, do you still find time to ski?
Mechura: I currently live in Seattle with my wife and two daughters, and split my time between the Pacific Northwest, New Hampshire and Slovenia. We certainly get our ski days in every year between product development and industry functions, and they can vary from the East Coast to West and to Europe. But skiing with my family is still the absolute best time, and we get a fair amount of turns in the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest every season.