Business is starting to snowball for accidental entrepreneur and Bloomfield Township ski instructor Monica Schwanitz, who recently designed the new SkiRing that is gaining traction on slopes throughout the country.
Schwanitz, who works as a professional landscape architect, spends part of the year as a ski instructor at the ski school at Pine Knob, as well as Mt. Holly and Mt. Bachelor, in Oregon. It was there that she noticed her students needed something to help keep the correct posture and form when learning to ski.
"It took me about five years to play with the idea and perfect it," she said. "I had about four prototypes we went through. I used my fellow instructors at Pine Knob as guinea pigs. We would play with something and test it out, and I would get their opinions. We kept changing it until we got to something that was a winning concept."
Schwanitz said beginning skiers need to make sure they are centering their weight over their skis, as opposed to leaning back, and must keep their hands forward. While ski poles keep their hands occupied, they often get left behind or are awkward for new students. The SkiRing, she said, acts as a steering wheel, of sorts, to keep hands in the correct position and energy focused down the hill.
"If you're leaning back, you're not in the proper stance. You're out of balance," Schwanitz said. "It's a stance-balance issue, and you will never get your skis where they need to go. It's a technical problem I solved in a very simple way."
Modern downhill skis, she said, are designed to put pressure on the front to force them to turn. When leaning and placing your weight too far back, a skier doesn't have control. By holding the SkiRing like you would a steering wheel, she said, students automatically assume the correct position.
Since designing the SkiRing and securing a patent, Schwanitz formed her own marketing business, Lost Mitten LLC, to market the tool. It's now used in more than 30 ski school programs around the country, including those where she teaches, as well as at Mt. Brighton, Crystal Mountain, Nub's Nob, Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands, Killington Resort (Vermont), and others.
Schwantiz said the SkiRing can help new skiers and experienced racers because it helps them keep their hands forward and "literally drive hands down the hill to be more dynamic." While you don't actually use the SkiRing to steer, she said it looks like a steering wheel, which also gives beginners a sense of security.
While Schwantiz has been a ski instructor or more than two decades, she said she didn't truly start skiing herself until after she finished college and started a family.
"I grew up in Michigan, near Bay City, in Pinconning. I was a farm girl, and my family wasn't a ski family. We had one family in the whole school who knew how to ski, and we went after school and made our own school program. I fell in love with it," she said. "College came along and I didn't ski. I went to college in Texas and I didn't ski. When I moved back to Michigan and had a family, I decided to start. Technically, I learned as an adult. Now, our whole family does it."
Photo: Laurie Tennent