Working alone, out of his mother’s basement in Colorado in 2005, Flylow founder Dan Abrams was exactly where he wanted to be. Even if it did take him three years to move through all the inventory of that first big shipment of cactus pants and black jackets.
“I sold the pants for the same amount I paid for them,” Abrams said. “I wasn’t trying to make money. I was trying to build a brand and, subsequently, a life that would allow me to move to the mountains on my own terms … not as a ski bum, but as a professional.”
Mission accomplished. Flylow today is one of the most popular brands in the industry. Its straight-forward, highly durable gear appeals to the hardest-charging skiers on the mountain and in the backcountry. The company did $16.8 million in sales in 2021, up from $10.8 million in 2020, and projects another 40 percent in growth for 2022. Abrams lives on his own terms in Lake Tahoe, Calif., with his wife and two kids.
“Flylow is a community of people who value owning their own time and finding a balance in life that allows them to prioritize being outside and being present with friends and family,” Abrams said.
Those values were instilled in Abrams from the beginning. Born in Boston, the third of three boys, Abrams was first put on skis at the age of 2 at Stratton Mountain. “My mother wanted to ski so she made us all skiers,” he said. They lived in Newton, Mass., but, “eventually, my mother was pulled to the Rocky Mountains and she brought our entire family with her. I really took to mountain life, always trying to figure out a way that I could run my own company while living in the mountains.”
The dream gained momentum among a group of friends at the University of Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. There, Abrams and his Flylow co-founder, Greg Steen, a diehard telemark skier, lived in the same dormitory their freshman year. They studied political science together and they skied together … hard. They lamented that their ski gear simply wasn’t holding up to their demands as aggressive skiers.
At Jackson Hole in Wyoming one day, one of their college buddies showed up with a French girlfriend. “I would let the tele folks go first as they stopped in the middle of the run — no disrespect to telemarking, but this was 1998 and we were on skinny skis and old bindings,” Abrams recalled. “I would then ski top to bottom and wait for the crew. Our friend’s girlfriend came to the lift line and said to me, ‘Dan, when you ski, you do not ski fast, you fly low.’ ”
She spoke the two words as one and Abrams instantly envisioned “Flylow” printed on ski gear. “It was perfect for this fictitious clothing brand we had all kicked ideas around developing,” he said. “A brand that uses mountaineering apparel factories to make ski gear that was as cool as snowboard gear.”
When Abrams took the leap a few years later, finding factories to help make the product, the name already was decided. “Two of my friends still think the girl was talking to them,” he said. “And who knows anymore, but that is how I remember it.”
In those early years, Abrams served as designer, head of marketing, and head of sales. Steen, who has since moved on from the company but remains a very close family friend and investor, moved to the Denver area to help get the brand off the ground. Abrams would travel to Boston to visit family and shops all over New England in an effort to land more dealers. On one of those trips, Jay Peak received eight inches of snow overnight, and Abrams hooked up on a backcountry adventure, culminating with a ride back to the resort in the back of a pickup truck.
“The next day I was in Onion River Sports in Montpelier giving a clinic to the shop kids and trying to convince a sales rep to carry the brand as one of his lines,” he said. That sales rep, Abrams soon learned, was industry legend Russ Roth. He closed the deal with Roth at the Skinny Pancake across the street.
“From there, New England stores started buying and selling Flylow,” Abrams said. “We just resonate with the people here. We are durable, not too flashy and have a lot of value built in the product.”
Flylow is featured in 90 New England stores now, including Arlberg’s Ski and Surf, Outdoor Gear Exchange, Pinnacle Sports, Philbrick’s Sports and The Ski Monster. The company now has 21 full-time employees and 14 independent sales reps. Its products are in 350 stores in the winter, 450 in the summer.
Fun fact: Flylow today is more widely distributed as a summer mountain bike and mountain apparel brand, although 90 percent of its revenues still derive from the winter business.
Another key to Flylow’s success derived from the connections Abrams built within the freeride community. He joined up with Vermonter Ryan Hawks and the Chickering-Ayers brothers (Lars and Silas), traveling in their van to Freeride World Tour events.
“Eventually, they started winning the comps in our gear,” Abrams said. “All of these young American freeride kids knew that they could wear anything they wanted, but they were loyal to Flylow gear. I was blown away. It was really these freeride athletes that put Flylow on the map.”
Abrams was with the Green Mountain Freeride crew when Ryan was fatally injured at the Kirkwood FWT competition. “It was one of the saddest days I can remember,” he said. “Eventually, I met Ryan’s father, Peter, and vowed to be loyal to him and his new Flyin’ Ryan Foundation, just like Ryan had been loyal to me.”
Flylow started designing gear for Peter and the foundation. “And it felt really good,” Abrams said. “So, I kept going, eventually meeting Roy Tuscany of the High Fives Foundation and doing the same for him.”
Today, through its Good Lab program, Flylow works with many nonprofit and community organizations, customizing products for them and sending money straight back to their causes, which range from avalanche education, to getting more diversity into the outdoors, to trail building and climate change activism. In addition to the Flyin’ Ryan and High Fives foundations, Flylow has partnerships with the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance, First Descents, Protect Our Winters and the Kelly Brush Foundation.
“We are still small and happy to be worn by those in the know,” Abrams said. “It has been a slow process but Flylow is so much bigger than our group of friends from Puget Sound ever imagined. We are still an independent company growing at about 40 percent per year and we are more than happy with that.”
Matt Boxler can be reached at email@example.com.