Nordic Skier Andy Liebner has returned to Michigan, but not in pursuit of another ski title…at least for now.., he has his sights set on representing the USA in a different way, and is off to Sochi via a multi country tour demonstrating the benefits of his American made, Michigan made, Nordic ski equipment to the larger European market. We caught up with the young CEO at his new head quarters in Cheboygan, just prior to stepping out the door to his first stop in Austria. Andy was kind enough to give us a walking tour of his facility as he spoke with pride about the care and quality that his U.S. base company hopes to bring to a global market. Andy will be a coach at the Sochi Olympics, and supplying his athlete with equipment.
NS: Can you tell us about the United States Ski Pole Company and the vision behind it?
AL: Sure, the company produces a product line of ski poles for Nordic skiing, and we are beginning to look at the downhill market as well, we have great archery products, and kayak paddles also. We are filling a particular niche in the three markets we are a part of and providing high quality, world class products at much more competitive prices. The vision is to produce a high quality product which we have done, based on test results from Europe our ski poles had excellent results when compared directly with current manufacturers, and then to produce that quality product here in Michigan.
NS: How do feel about running a business in Michigan?
AL: I`m proud to be a U.S. based company, and based in Michigan , which traditionally has been known as a powerhouse in manufacturing. I feel part of a team in a way with the century long history stretching back to Henry Ford, what he created and brought to the state, and to be part of carrying that tradition to the future. That Idea holds value for me and that’s one of the reasons I came to Michigan.
NS: can you share a little bit of your product line and what you are most excited about?
AL: I`m excited about everything we make here, and proud of the quality. Ski poles, archery supplies, kayak paddles. It`s amazing to see the materials arrive in raw form and see it go through the production process and go out the door as a completed product, looking completely different than when it came in ; the transformation is really amazing. We pride ourselves in every piece that is produced, factory seconds, the lightest ski pole ever made, or our archery products that are the strongest in the world… Its sort of like having kids, your proud of them and you want to see them doing well out there. There is something unique in each one of our products that’s not offered anywhere, and we`ve done that in only our first year so far. We are proud of what we do and when we hear good feedback from people and the media, magazines, emails from retailers and customers it`s very uplifting to us here.
NS: You are getting ready to head toward the Olympics in Sochi, what do you hope to accomplish there?
AL: I`d like to see people giving their best, and being proud of who they are and what they have accomplished as they represent themselves, their countries, and their sport and to do that in a positive way. It`s important to be true to themselves in everything they do in life, and I enjoy using what I have learned to help others achieve their dreams. I`ll enjoy seeing the battles out there, the blood sweat and tears in competition is important. The external battles of the athletes in competition, but also the internal battles, the mental battles are really important as well. Everyone who is there has achieved goals and met objectives and are in the process of chasing their dreams. My dreams are met watching them pursuing theirs.
NS: You skied at a high level yourself, where do you think Nordic skiing in Michigan could go, and what would it take to get there?
AL: That’s a good question…I think Michigan has potential, but what it lacks right now is a good junior development program, and supporting teams. Other Midwest states have some well developed and competitive programs, but Michigan has fallen short a bit there. To take it to the next level and increase the sport`s popularity it would need to continue to get more juniors involved and have events that offer good competition that inspires juniors to take the challenge and put in the work to get there. As well as continuing to develop our trail systems and advertising that they are available for people to enjoy. I know we have competitive runners in the state that are nationally ranked. Why is that? There is a consistent development system that the high schools participate in. we need that for Nordic skiing as well. Where I grew up in Alaska every high school had a competitive running team and a competitive Nordic ski team. That’s one of the reasons for being such a strong Nordic skiing state is the solid high school level programs that exist there. In Michigan that sort of system does not really exist at the same level. It`s my opinion that to support kids and make it into a real sport in their eyes at younger ages it would have to be made into an official high school and middle school sport. Alaska had regular high school programs and they allowed home school kids to be a part of it as well. Having the routine of after school sports instills daily progress and team environment. Why do other states have such strong skiers at JN`s (junior nationals) and continuing to college? Because they were introduced to it young, and high school weekend races allowed the opportunity to compete without additional costs.
NS: If you had a piece of advice for Michigan skiers with an Olympic dream what would that be?
AL: …Learn from as many people as you can…because everyone has got their own story, their own history and background, and there is something to learn from that. If you can stay focused on doing what you do best…anything is possible and you can achieve the things you want to achieve. You have to be able to believe in yourself before you can become a master of what you do. Self belief is more important than what others think of you. If you don`t believe in yourself than it`s not going to happen, what you think about yourself is way, way more important than what others think. If you have that…I think I can, I think I can attitude, that positive spin on everything you`ll eventually get it. That`s just the way it is. Of course you have to have a certain amount of talent, a certain amount of oxygen carrying capacity, but you have to have the passion for it, the heart for it to be able to put in the work that is needed, and you have to be able to rest, to know when to rest as well which is another important thing, something that I learned, to have a balance so that your body can recover to be at it`s best. You can put in all the hard workouts you want but finding that balance is most important. Those are some things that it will take…I hope that helps…
NS: your nick name – skiwolf, where did that come from? (question via email)
AL: I had opened an email account after ending my coast guard career and beginning my college career. The mascot at the University of Alaska was the Seawolf. I was a UAA Seawolf on the ski team. Thus came Skiwolf. Interestingly Brian Gregg was on the team with me and sitting at the computer as it was created. Brian was just named to the Olympic team yesterday and is married to Catlin(Compton)Gregg a 2x Olympian a 2010 Olympian and 2011 Birkie Winner and also a teammate of mine when I lived in Marquette. They just stopped by my hotel here in Austria for a visit coincidently. Ski wolf meant, to me, a wild and aggressive ski competitor. I would often imagine being a wolf in the Alaska wild flying over the ski trails. It reinforced the inner instinct to catch and pass other skiers in races, like a hungry wolf chasing after fresh meat!
NS: Thanks Andy for taking the time for a few questions, safe travels!!!