It seems like a former life: Investment banking at Goldman Sachs. Healthcare equity research at Citi. Boutique leadership consulting for aspiring CEOs. While Morristown, New Jersey, native Alli Widman (MBA 2009) cut her teeth in finance and consulting, and enjoyed the “view from the top,” after nearly a decade on Wall Street, she knew that there was something missing. 

“My underlying desire to do something on my own never went away,” said Widman. “I was trying to balance having two small kids, so time was the most finite resource. I had never thought about making a business out of the things that I most enjoyed.’”

Widman, a lifelong athlete and marathon runner, is also an avid skier. With that, she decided to marry her personal passions for athletics and travel into a new business model. During this time, Widman regularly communicated with HBS Career Coaches who helped to advise and cement her decision to leave her “traditional” job. Widman also leveraged the Harvard Angels around this time to further network.

“It was definitely a bit of a leap and was not an easy decision at the time,” said Widman. “I tried to start it on the side, but there were not enough hours in the day. And I have a very supportive husband that said, ‘you know, you’re not getting any younger.’”

And thus, Avant Ski was born.

Reimaging Typical Ski Trip Prep

Widman launched NYC-based media company Avant Ski in November 2018 for the sole purpose of transforming how recreational skiers and snowboarders discover their winter sports experience. A play on “après ski”—the beloved post-snow pastime—the name Avant Ski is meant to encapsulate that same great experience, except before hitting the slopes.

“Planning a ski trip is so daunting and so many factors are involved,” said Widman. “When I was travelling, skiing, and consulting, I thought ‘wow, I’m spending a lot of time on this.’ We’re here to make the ‘avant’ as much fun as the ‘après.’”

With personalized recommendations on multi-resort season passes, snow sports gear guides, resort reviews, daily itineraries, curated après ski lists, and insider tips, Avant Ski is meant to be an objective, one-stop shop for all the ingredients of a successful ski trip.

“Think of us as a credible friend who has been there before,” said Widman. “Our mission is to get more people on the slopes, skiing or riding, and more places—we’re not in the pocket of one resort or one pass.”

Bringing a Breath of Fresh Air to a Stodgy Industry

When you consider the total cost of ski passes, ski rentals or purchased gear, plus lessons, food, and lodging, the sport of sliding down steep icy peaks on two small strips of wood in sub-zero temperatures may seem a little senseless. With these factors in mind, part of Avant Ski’s mission is to simply get more people on the slopes.

“It’s a tough industry—it’s challenging, expensive, and time consuming,” said Widman. “But it’s also addicting. Ultimately, we want to get more people on the slopes, and help recreational skiers experience the mountain like locals.”

Widman’s collaborators and contributors include experienced freelancers, lifetime enthusiasts, and locals who bring passion and fresh perspective to the Avant Ski team. They plan to cover the 160 most-trafficked resorts in North America and abroad, plus include industry expert features, such as ski patrollers and instructors.

Avant Ski further differentiates itself with its family-oriented, non-expert tilt on information that’s custom built for busy professionals—a different perspective that fills a current market void.

“We’re not Powder Hounds for extreme skiers, and we’re not a mommy blog,” said Widman. “We’re rolling out a whole line of content about multigeneration ski trips, how to get the kids involved, and how to do so without going to 10 different websites and making 10 different phone calls.”

On the Upslope

In the future, Widman hopes that Avant Ski becomes the first and only site people visit when deciding where to go skiing and what to do while they’re on their trip. Longer term, the company may look to partner with a bigger travel or media company—and may consider expanding to other industry verticals, such as golf, running, hiking, and cycling.

“I have such pride in the brand that we’re creating here,” said Widman. “It’s been a really exciting year, and we’re growing. We hope to continue inspiring people by highlighting the beauty and accessibility of the mountains.”