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A New Way to Shop Online: How Curated Makes the Outdoors More Accessible

Published on 05/26/2023 · 8 min readStarting a new sport is overwhelming enough on its own without factoring in the options of what gear to choose. Luckily, the Experts at Curated can help!
Alex K., Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Alex K.

Imagine yourself here: Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, Colorado. Curated can help! Photo by Alex Kochon

Making the Outdoors More Accessible

It’s a tale as old as time. You walk into a ski shop. You’re filled with anticipation, excitement, and uncertainty as you mentally prepare to leap into a new sport. You’ve thought about it at length, considered the costs, and decided to make it happen: “This is the year I buy skis and actually enjoy winter!”

You drive to the store—it’s 15 minutes, a half hour, an hour, maybe even longer, away. You get there and walk inside. It’s busy. You’re struggling to get anyone’s attention. Finally, someone addresses you. “Yes, can I help you?” the employee asks.

“I’m looking for beginner cross-country ski stuff,” you stutter.

You follow them as they motion to the back of the store, where they do their best to hurry the process along. You’re not feeling warm and fuzzy like you’d hoped. This experience stinks, and you wish you had stayed home.

There’s a better way to find what you’re looking for, and it’s called Curated. When I started working at Curated early in the pandemic, in-person shopping was highly discouraged. Most people relied on online shopping, which had some major upsides. No standing in line. No wandering aimlessly around stores. No need to leave your house unless you wanted to. But online shopping is easy when you know what you want. When you're brand new or returning to a sport, it can be difficult to know what you actually need.

Once you get the gear, XC skiing can be free at local golf courses and parks. Photo by Alex K.

I started as a Camping & Hiking Expert with Curated during the summer of 2020. I enjoyed it so much that by the time winter rolled around, I begged my bosses to let me be one of Curated’s first Cross-Country Ski Experts. They entertained my idea that cross-country skiing would be more popular than ever that year—and guess what? It was! People yearned to get outside on skinny skis, kicking and gliding with a free heel in their backyards. Of course, downhill skiing and snowboarding were other options, but ski-area restrictions and restricted ticket sales made that more challenging during the pandemic. With nordic, you could grab a pair of waxless skis and go almost anywhere snow was.

That winter, I met a lot of friendly newcomers to cross-country skiing—many of whom were looking to lose weight through a winter activity. Remember, gyms were mostly closed, jeans were out and leggings were in, and there wasn’t much to do besides lounge at home. The pandemic brought a lot of change, and people's bodies changed with it. For some, getting active in the crisp winter air seemed like the perfect solution.

One of my first customers told me about her experience at a ski shop. (To be clear, I have a ton of respect for good shops, business owners, and employees who are eager to help, listen to what customers want, and don’t try to upsell. In those cases, I highly encourage buying locally if possible.) This woman went to a ski shop to get fitted for cross-country skis. She explained that an employee was incredibly discouraging and claimed they didn’t have anything that would work for a person of her size. I was appalled, not only by the lack of sensitivity but also by the lack of knowledge. The notion that no cross-country ski would support her weight was ridiculous—there’s a gear option out there for almost everyone.

There’s something amazing about being able to ski out your back door. Photo by Alex K.

I don’t have a background in sales. I’m a writer, editor, and former ski journalist who’s passionate about the outdoors. I especially love skiing, and I’ve found cross-country skiing to be my niche. Now in my third winter with Curated, I see it as a way of helping people find the equipment they need to lead a fuller life. I’m not kidding when I say getting outdoors is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body. Better than chicken soup, it’s like brownie batter for the soul!

“I see Curated as a way of helping people find the equipment they need to lead a fuller life.”

Alex K.
Ski Expert

When a customer pops online to Curated, fills out the questionnaire, and gets connected with a Winter Sports Expert (or Expert in any other category on the site), they’re taking that initial leap—similar to their first steps into a ski shop. But it's so much more comfortable from their own home. They can connect with an Expert in the way that feels best to them—over chat on the website, text, email, or phone. These conversations can take 10 minutes or across 10 days, and there's no in-person awkwardness or pressure to buy, just real advice delivered from a real Expert.

The Expert, someone like me who loves winter sports and has a broad knowledge base, then asks a few questions to pin down the needs and requests of the customer. Something like, “Have you skied before?”, “What are your skiing goals?” and “Where do you plan to ski?” Often it’s more personal and casual, like talking to a friend.

Within minutes, an Expert can create a customized package of skis, bindings, boots, poles, apparel, and anything else the customer might need. Unlike other sites that sell one-size-fits-all packages, Curated Experts consider every facet of each customer and pick gear that best suits them. The Expert sends a “curated” list of recommendations, and the conversation continues, with the Expert answering questions, adding to or tweaking the list if necessary, and learning more about you.

We work on commission, so seeing a sale go through is always rewarding. Even so, we don’t work for any specific brands and don’t have any brand allegiances other than personal favorites that we’ve owned and bought with our own money. To me, the best part about working for Curated is the customer interaction and the acquaintances I’ve made that have become friendships—and that’s not lip service. I don’t work for Curated because I like sales; what’s kept me onboard is hearing from people of all ages and abilities who have used and loved the stuff they bought through Curated. Some of them have found a new lifelong sport. Others were impressed that we found exactly what they were looking for, even when they didn’t know how to articulate what they wanted.

We don’t just cater to beginners. Sometimes, a longtime skier or former racer comes to us with a request to help them update their 20-year-old (or older!) equipment. Here is a testimonial from a customer who purchased both alpine and nordic gear from Curated in 2021:

“I was an elite class racer—back in the seventies. But I hadn't really kept up on equipment, etc. Shop folk's eyes would glaze over or they would spew nonsense when I would try to explain what I was looking for. The Curated guy [Ski Expert Nikolas Otte] was an ex-racer too and knew exactly what I was talking about.”

Alex K.
Ski Expert

Nikolas set him up with new downhill gear, then connected him with me so I could help him find a cross-country ski package for his wife.

Customer photo from Blowing Rock, NC, last winter: "The set up was perfect. This was in Blowing Rock, NC. I skied from my house, downtown, and across the golf course."

Here are some other customer testimonials:

“I am a novice at cross-country skiing. I've always rented equipment and never questioned what I was given. So when I decided to buy my own I didn't know what to look for. Ski equipment talk is like a foreign language to me. … Alex assessed my situation and made great recommendations for me and my husband. I'm particularly happy that I didn't have to do a ridiculous amount of research to get it right. …We are thrilled.”

Alex K.
Ski Expert

Winter wonderland in New Jersey. (Customer photo)

Alex helped me, a beginner, feel confident in my equipment and provided me courage to take risks with XC.”

Alex K.
Ski Expert

“My husband and I have been dreaming of skiing out our backyard and into the forest for years now. We were always a little overwhelmed with purchasing choices and sizing to pull the trigger. Curated was a gem to find on the web! They made everything so simple and easy!”

Alex K.
Ski Expert

“You were super knowledgeable but very encouraging and down to earth. (The ski shop people here … are pretty indifferent when it comes to XC, and had no suggestions for where to get my equipment. A lot of shrugs, and ‘yeahhh, we don't have that.’ End of story.) Curated is an awesome business model.”

Alex K.
Ski Expert

Regardless of your skill level, background, or budget, Curated has passionate Real Experts who want nothing more than to see you living your best life. And the conversation doesn’t end after the sale. I’ve offered video demos, phone calls, and tips to help customers use their new gear and remain in touch with these customers to this day.

The key to accessibility is removing barriers to entry. The way Curated has revolutionized shopping for gear has already helped more than 55 thousand skiers and snowboarders take that initial step in finding quality equipment that will last and make meaningful human connections in the process.

You don’t have to believe me; try it yourself! The service is free, and you’re never obligated to buy. Plus, if you’re looking for more than outdoor gear, Curated is expanding to more categories where we noticed consumers needing help with high-consideration items. Start a chat with an Expert, and you’ll be on your way to having all your questions answered and gear needs fulfilled in a fraction of the time you would have spent searching at stores.

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