She lives in the mountains and is a passionate skier. She has a professional career in the ski-sport sector and her living partner is a ski guide. Yet, she is one of many free-riders who lack ski companions and who searches other people to share her passion with. Finally, she decided to focus on what she found most important in life. Meet Regina Knuenz – a ski entrepreneur and co-founder of the initiative Exploristas as well as co-developer the Freeride Station.
The picturesque Montafon valley in Austria is the home of Regina Knuenz, a 36 year-old mountain-lover and mum. With the mountains and snow next door, Regina doesn’t lack opportunities to ski when her working schedule and parental duties allow her some free time. Her challenge is to find someone to ski with once getting some time off. “At a certain age I lost most of my skiing friends. With time they got kids or other interests. When I get two hours free, I can easily go skiing, but it is difficult to find someone to team up with. Moreover, I long for meeting other people, to get a few weekends each year to go off and do sports together with others.”
One day Regina decided to join a ski camp for women, something that triggered the birth of Exploristas, aiming to strengthen women in outdoor sports. “It made such an impact on me being with only women. I am not used to that type of atmosphere. We were lots of women from all over Europe, and I was surprised that there are so many good female skiers out there.”
Regina met Anja Schmidt at the ski camp, the second co-founder of Exploristas. Together they decided to create a forum to strengthen Austrian women in outdoor sports. With a three-year startup support from the Austrian Ministry for Services and Sport they are creating a national platform with the vision that every girl and woman will dare to come out, leave their comfort zone and start exploring the mountains.
The idea of Exploristas is to inform, strengthen, connect and motivate girls and women in summer and winter mountain sports. On the web site exploristas.at they highlight inspirational individuals and market sport events that they organize together with various collaborators.
“We were ourselves surprised how much energy we gained from skiing with other women. Many women that joined the ski camp had children but were still very good skiers. They quickly became role models for me. If they can continue skiing at this level as parents, I can do too” Regina realized. “This type of camp changes you and opens a lot of channels. You can connect and network into other fields of subjects when you share a common passion like skiing”.
Regina and Anja started the Exploristas project in January 2019, after three months of preparations. “We complement each other well because Anja has connections with the Ministry while I have connections with mountain athletes” Regina explains. “We concentrate on the national market, and we successfully received grants for setting this up because we target an important issue. The Ministry receives lots of applications from men, and very few applications focus on gender issues although there is a big interest for it.”
There are several reasons for focusing on women-only activities. “A female sport camp provides an additional opportunity and should be regarded as a complement to conventional, mixed sport camps” Regina explains. “At a women’s freeride camp for example, women get an opportunity to connect with other freeride skiing women which are otherwise difficult to get to know.”
“It is also a health issue, because girls need to improve their amount of physical activity. Moreover, girls and women can gain more self-esteem through sports and dare to do more. Some girls and women are willing to take higher risks and become more confident in themselves when trying out new things in a female-only environment” says Regina.
Exploristas support female athletes and event organizers in various ways. “If they organize camps or events for women, we can support them financially. Moreover, we can help them with media campaigns, which in turn help them to get sponsors.”
Regina is herself a courageous woman with an entrepreneurial mindset. She quit her marketing job at an Austrian ski manufacturer to set up Exploristas. Moreover, she is currently creating the Freeride Station together with her living partner Simon Wohlgenannt on behalf of the local ski resort in Montafon. The aim is to attract more customers and to highlight the resort’s freeride capabilities. At the ski station they develop a meeting point, organize various events and provide ‘coffee and powder snacks’ among other things. See more at freeridestation.at.
“My partner is a ski guide, and together we developed a home for free-riders. We invite people to come and have a good time with us. To ride, connect with each other and learn things like the basics in avalanche safety. Both men and women face the challenge of finding ski buddies. Especially in freeride skiing when you shall not ski alone” says Regina. The Freeride Station is also a mean to integrate the local people and shape the feeling in the valley – to strengthen the local ski community.
At present Regina is busy with planning spring events. “We organize a powder festival with cliniques and workshops in February, of which one of them is dedicated to women.” In fact, there are several Austrian organizers providing female freeride camps today, but the demand is even larger. The various providers don’t have to compete. Instead they collaborate and send customers to each other when they get fully booked.
Being a mother of one child with a second on its way means that Regina needs some additional help in the near future. Janine Tschanhenz is another Austrian free-rider and inspirateur, who is supporting Regina and works for the Freeride Station at the moment.
The infrastructure in the valley is also essential when combing parenthood with business development. “It is great to live here. The infrastructure for kids is perfect. For local people it is easier here than in many other ski resorts because we have four seasons.” Regina wants to have a balance in life, and she loves the possibility the valley provides in terms of mountain-biking and climbing in summer, and skiing in winter.
Regina may still struggle with finding skiing partners at times, but she is certainly doing what she can to help others facing similar problems. In addition, I find it interesting that someone with Regina’s profile and network gain so much from attending women-only camps and meeting other skiing mums, and that the general interest of such events is so large. Perhaps something to explore and support in other countries too?!