Profile: The Gaston twins on racing uphill and creating a brand
Imagine it’s 6:30 a.m., 10 degrees and you’re in spandex. The shadow of the mountain you’re about to ascend reminds you that it’ll be hours before warm sunlight appears. Then you start. You huff and puff, sweating on the inside, battling frostbite on the outside for 25 miles across Aspen’s four ski areas, 11,000 feet of climbing and 12,500 feet of descending (on skinny rando race skis).
Those were the conditions Aspen’s Pete and John Gaston experienced during the Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race last March. The 25-year-old fraternal twins won the race as a team with a time of 5 hours, 28 minutes, 23 seconds, beating an elite group of experienced adventure and endurance athletes.
The brothers have a penchant for going fast uphill—specifically, on skis and mountain bikes. As teammates and individually, they’ve captured titles at the Grand Traverse, a 40-mile backcountry ski race between Crested Butte and Aspen and at Pierra Menta, one of the largest ski mountaineering races in the Alps. They have won the 24 Hours of Moab, and in September, John beat Lance Armstrong at Crested Butte’s Alpine Odyssey 100 mountain bike race.
Photos by Jack Boyd in Aspen/Snowmass, CO
They may be blessed with athletic genes and a high tolerance for pain, but the brothers modestly maintain that these endurance races are part of a lifelong goal they share, the same goal that first got them hiking Aspen Highlands Bowl as youngsters: to spend more time in the mountains.
“If you spend your days in the mountains, you have to walk uphill,” said Pete, who recently passed his second of three exams on his way to becoming an AMGA ski mountaineering guide. “Only you can determine how long it takes. If you can climb two peaks in one day, it’s twice as much fun.”
The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Connecticut natives grew up skiing Aspen Highlands, where their family owns a home. They didn’t race or compete in freestyle events.
“Our parents let us choose what we wanted to do, so most of our time was spent ripping around Aspen Highlands,” says John. “I actually hated hiking the bowl at first, but then we got into the big-mountain movement when we were 18. We wanted to ski big lines, but we didn’t live in Alaska. We lived in Aspen, and we had the bowl. “
While hiking and skiing, the brothers started noticing a distinct hole in the market between affordably priced 2L gear and backcountry-specific 3L technical styles.
“You either had to choose style, fit and price and sacrifice waterproofness and breathability, or spend upwards of $500 on a true technical piece, which were all designed, marketed and priced for the older generation, with tighter fits, boring color options and price tags too expensive for the 16- to 30-year-old ski bum.”
After graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder, the brothers founded Strafe in fall 2009. After a year of design and development, they entered the market in December 2010.
Strafe pants, jackets and one pieces feature a 17-stitch-per-inch thread count, one of the highest in the industry. Their membrane is rated at 20K/20K, coupled with SoftTouch backing, which achieves a new level of comfort in 3L gear. This season, Strafe switched to a different variant of Gelanots hybrid shell fabric, that increased durability and only gained 10g/m2 of weight.
“It’s really an incredible fabric,” says John. “To date we have yet to see a more durable, full stretch, 3L fabric on the market. It truly does perform like a hardshell in terms of waterproofness but offers a stretch even better than most softshells.”
With a direct sales distribution model, Strafe fulfills the majority of its orders through its online store and showroom. Prices range from $180 to $600 (for a 3L one-piece).
“By not having to adhere to traditional wholesale pricing and markups, we’re able to give the end consumer a significant price break,” says John.
They opened a showroom at the base of Aspen Highlands in November 2011. It’s a loungy place where people can grab an espresso and hang out. Customers range from big-mountain and backcountry enthusiasts to park skiers to moms on groomers to ex-World Cup racers who like the quality of the fabric.
As for Peter and John, 2012/13 season plans include ski mountaineering in Chamonix, Morocco and British Columbia as well as racing in a handful of ski mountaineering races here and abroad in hopes of qualifying for the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team.