In DCSki’s Interview Series, we take a look at interesting people connected with the ski industry. Earlier, we interviewed Peter Landsman, Editor of LiftBlog.com, and Chris Diamond, Author of Ski Inc. 2000 and former President of Steamboat Resort. Today, we offer a two-for-one interview, chatting with Phil and Tricia Pugliese, who operate the popular Pugski.com gear site and on-line skier community.
It’s a magical moment when passion collides with vocation, and Phil and Tricia Pugliese have made that a reality through their operation of Pugski.com. Pugski has always had a strong focus on ski gear — a passion of Phil and Tricia — and visitors will find detailed gear reviews on Pugski as well as an interactive ski selector. But Pugski is also known for its Forums, where a strong community of skiers and snowboarders from across the world discuss a wide variety of topics and help each other out. Often, they meet up in the real world through on-slope gatherings.
Scott: Phil, I understand you’re originally from the East Coast, and started skiing in the Poconos back in the mid-70s. Be honest: did you ski the Poconos in jeans? That was kind of a Pennsylvania thing in the 70s, I understand.
Phil: Did I ski in jeans? You have been doing your research, haven’t you! But unless you have incriminating pictures, I cannot confirm nor deny such an accusation.
Yes, I started skiing in the Poconos. I considered Camelback to be my home mountain in the late 70’s to early 80’s. It was the old “My mom will drive if your mom picks up” time of my youth. We had a fun posse of skiers that all skied together and pushed each other. If you look out straight from the top of Camelback you could see my high school… that I skipped regularly to go skiing.
Scott: Tricia, where did you get your start skiing? When did you decide to translate your passion for skiing into a skiing-related career?
Tricia: I started skiing when I was 18 but only casually, and pretty much self taught. My niece and nephew asked me to help with an extracurricular school program to take the students skiing. Fueling the excitement for skiing with these kids fueled my own passion a whole lot more than I’d imagined.
I joined EpicSki in 2005 while searching for information on the Atomic Metron B5 (there’s a blast from the past), which only fueled my passion for skiing even more. In 2010, when my life was in the midst of a big transition, I had already been a gear review editor on EpicSki for 4 years and had made some connections. I was offered a job at a ski shop near north Lake Tahoe as a hard goods sales associate with the promise of becoming a bootfitter. It was at that time that I was offered a contract position to be the site manager on EpicSki, a task I could easily do while working at the shop.
Scott: Not only are you business partners, you’re life partners. How did you first meet?
Phil: Prison, I was doing time for skiing on a non-indemnified binding on a prototype ski and Tricia was my Cell Block D night guard. Actually, we met on EpicSki where I was the Gear Review Editor and Moderator and actually suggested bringing Tricia aboard as Moderator after seeing how she was interacting in the community.
Tricia: Phil and I became good friends while working together on EpicSki. Later, when we both found ourselves living in the single circle, the friendship kindled into something more.
Scott: Did you get married at a ski resort? I’m guessing you were married at a ski resort.
Phil: Yes, at Northstar during an Epicski Gathering… during a leap year in 2012. There is a bigger back story to the day but we don’t want to embarrass a generous friend.
Tricia: On a powder day. Bonus! Some of your DCSki members were at our wedding.
Scott: You both served as Gear Review Editors on EpicSki until 2015, when you launched Pugski. What made you decide to launch your own site?
Phil: Starting Pugski wasn’t our idea, it was actually the community’s idea. When Mountain News Corp (Vail’s media division that controlled Epicski) released us from our contracts, the community was outraged. They came up with the name pugski.com, found the URL, gifted it to us, crowdfunded us to get started and built us the site. Pugski.com was up and running in 10 days.
Tricia: It really was a whirlwind moment. We went from being released from our contracts, and being in shock, to feeling the outpouring of passion from members of the community to feeling like there was hope for something better. Something that we could drive with ideas we had wanted to work on but were unable to under someone else’s ownership.
Phil: It was very humbling.
Scott: Did you originally envision Pugski’s focus to be primarily on gear reviews, or did you anticipate that the community forums would be integral to its success?
Phil: Gear was to be the cornerstone of pugski.com. We always envisioned having interactive reviews and we were finally able to integrate a ski selector this past season.
Tricia: Our passion for ski gear and providing quality interactive reviews was an obvious cornerstone, but more than that, we knew early on that we had the potential to influence ski gear development and build a community of readers. We’ve held focus groups for new product lines and have been asked to preview products before they go into production.
Phil: In addition, we have curated one of the largest heritage archives on the internet. Our Heritage section is a huge draw and is referenced not only by other sites but by manufacturers too.
Scott: Although it was once one of the most popular ski-related forums, EpicSki experienced an unfortunate demise after the company was purchased by Vail and Vail didn’t see a return on keeping the forums running. If Vail had chosen to name its mega pass the Monumental Pass instead of Epic Pass, do you think the EpicSki forums would still be chugging along?
Phil: Having the name EpicSki was a bad coincidence. Part of it was having the Epic name but also part of the demise was the platform Epic was hosted on was no longer being supported, and the cost to move to another platform would have been financially prohibitive.
Tricia: It was clear to me that Mountain News Media bought EpicSki to own the URL. I’m not sure they ever really knew the value in the site and the potential influence they could have tapped in to.
Scott: A lot of skiers view Pugski as the heir apparent to EpicSki. Is that a fair assessment? What steps did you take to ensure that EpicSkiers would find a welcoming home on Pugski?
Phil: We never wanted Pugski to be Epicski 2.0. Remember too, both sites ran concurrent for almost two years.
Tricia: To elaborate on what Phil said, pugski.com isn’t and never was meant to be Epic 2.0. It was meant to be a fresh start for us and an opportunity to do better, having learned from our years of experience on EpicSki.
Phil: Yes, being under a corporate umbrella, there were limitations. We designed pugski.com from a clean slate.
Scott: There are a few ski forums on the Internet that cater to skiers across the country. There’s Reddit, of course, along with Newschoolers, The SkiDiva, and others with a more regional focus such as DCSki or AlpineZone. How would you compare and contrast Pugski with other on-line forums?
Phil: Each site has its own demographics. I think many of the sites complement each other and more often than not, readers frequent more than one. We really do not like to compare pugski.com to other sites.
Tricia: I would say Pugski is more global. Many of our readers also read at least one or more of the sites you mentioned. The in-depth reviews we offer from our team of product testers is one of the things that sets us apart. Another thing that has a global draw is the strong discussion area about ski racing.
Phil: Yes, about 30% of our traffic comes from outside of the United States.
Scott: If you had to describe your user community in three words, what words would you choose?
Phil: Skiers / talking / skiing
Tricia: après / ski / aficionados
Scott: An on-line forum is a combination of two things: software and users. While the software will behave exactly as it’s programmed (usually), users are people, and people can collide in various ways — productively or not so productively. How do you “steer” your community in positive ways, so that discussion is productive and interpersonal conflict is minimized?
Phil: We have two basic posting guidelines: 1. Don’t be an ass. 1a. Being overly sensitive can also be considered being an ass. 2. We get to decide who is being an ass. I think a key aspect that we were adamant on was not to allow political and polarizing topics on the site.
Tricia: Adding to what Phil said, we have so many solid members who value the tone of the site, they tend to self moderate. Occasionally if a conversation is being steered by a pot stirrer, you’ll see someone say, “Hey, we don’t do things like that here.” We don’t tend to need to moderate heavily.
Scott: As the Pugski community has grown and evolved, have you seen any culture shifts?
Tricia: Probably the biggest culture shift was when EpicSki shut down. There was a rush to Pugski with an expectation that things were going to be done the same. That is when our site editor came up with the rules you see in Phil’s previous comments about guidelines.
Phil: Tricia pretty much nails it. When this happened someone said, “Now that Epic shut down, you will get everyone from there.” When both sites were running concurrently, most of the people who wanted to come over to Pugski had already done so. There were some people that migrated begrudgingly and others that Pugski was just not a good fit for, and that was fine too.
Scott: The Internet provides a chance for people with similar hobbies to connect, who might not otherwise bump into each other in “real life.” How often do you see people meeting up in real life on the slopes after first connecting virtually on Pugski?
Phil: This is huge for us. There is rarely a day that any member/reader cannot hit the hill and have someone to ski with. At our National Gatherings, we get to ski with people from all over the world. Along with our National Gathering, community members also get together for regional Gatherings such as a Mid-Atlantic Gathering that many DCSki members also attend.
Tricia: The arranging of ski meetups is a key component of our members. One of our annual Gatherings at Arapahoe Basin for Mother’s Day has been going on and growing since 2007 (starting in Epic days). Since it was cancelled this year due to the pandemic, we had a Zoom meetup with over two dozen people in attendance.
I’ll quote one of our site member’s comments to sum this up: mdf: “All of my ski buddies are people I met here at Pugski. I enjoy skiing alone, but I enjoy skiing with friends even more.”
Scott: More and more people are consuming Internet content from mobile devices such as smartphones. While a convenient way to access and view content, smartphones aren’t ideal for typing long-form data, which on-line forums depend on. How has that impacted Pugski? Do you think you have a lot more lurkers than active contributors?
Phil: Our platform, while it isn’t a mobile app per se, works very well on a mobile device. This is very important in that almost 50% of our readers do access the site on mobile devices.
I cannot tell you how many people have come up to me and say, “I read your reviews all the time, I love your work…” My reply is usually, “Thank you very much, who are you on the site?” And commonly the reply is, “Oh I don’t post, I just read (lurk) it. This is why we keep reiterating to our prolific posters, “When you are replying in a thread, you are not answering the person asking the question but the hundreds of lurkers who might have the same question but are afraid to ask it.”
Tricia: While the membership and contributions are vital, we are just as excited to know that there are hundreds of thousands of other people who read consistently.
Scott: Both of you have years of firsthand experience testing gear, and you’re also both Masterfit-trained bootfitters. What are your favorite types of gear to test and review?
Phil: Yes, we are both experienced bootfitters and that knowledge helps us understand and have insight into skiers and our readers’ needs. As far as my favorite type of gear to review, it is not so much the type of gear but finding the nuances of a ski. Our testers are very astute in discerning who a ski is for and just as important, who a ski is not for.
Tricia: Hey, is this a trick question? So much depends on the new technology, the conditions and my mood. Obviously testing powder skis in real powder is fun, but testing a nice carving ski on fresh corduroy lights me up too.
Scott: Is there a particular piece of gear you remember reviewing that made a very positive impression or surprised you in some way?
Phil: I could go on about a lot of skis, but the Renoun Z90 is one of the skis that really stood out when I got it. It has an “on the snow” feel I had never felt before.
Tricia: The standouts on the ski side have been the Renoun Z90 and the Augment AM77. One of the biggest shocks to me recently is the 2020 K2 Anthem Pro boot. My long term review is coming soon, but suffice it to say, I’m blown away by its out-of-the-box fit, performance, light weight, and comfort.
Scott: I think it’s fair to say that skiing is a gear-heavy sport, and it seems like companies are constantly coming up with new ways to get us to spend more money on gear. But there have been some significant innovations in gear, such as the advent of “shaped” skis in the 1990s, which eased the learning curve for new skiers. What are some of the biggest innovations you’ve seen in gear over the past several decades?
Phil: As you say, shaped skis and the variety of shapes that we have now. Rocker, who would have thought a bent ski could ski better? But I will have to say boots and access to better boot fitters have been a huge step forward in recent years. We actually have boots that are shaped like a foot and so many options.
Tricia: Since Phil answered on the hard goods side of things I’ll answer to another level of comfort. The crazy amount of options in waterproof clothing and insulation varieties. If you don’t think it’s changed that much, wear some of your retro gear on a storm day.
Another thing that’s changed is warming technologies, such as Therm-ic’s introduction to Bluetooth technology so you can change the heat of your boots on a phone or watch app. Heated products (vests and boot heaters) that work off motion sensors, so it knows when you’re going to need more heat.
If you’re not warm and dry while skiing in these times, that’s your fault.
Phil: To add to Tricia’s comments on warmth, to quote Weem’s Westfeldt, “There are two types of cold people: poor people and stupid people.” In today’s age of awesome clothing technology, there is no reason to be cold.
Scott: Are there new products or product categories on the horizon that you’re excited about?
Phil: Can you keep a secret? Well so can I. Seriously, we are fortunate enough to have the ears of more than a few manufacturers. We have earned the respect and trust to be one of the few media outlets that have been involved in product development, and there are more than a few products that are currently on the market and will be coming to the market in the next few years that we had direct influence over.
Tricia: To expand on what Phil said, since launching Pugski, we’ve influenced production of multiple products, one of which is the upcoming Look Pivot 15, which was introduced at the Outdoor Retailer Sports Expo & Conference this past January.
Scott: You both have been able to do something that is not all that common: establishing an intersection between your passion and vocation. How many days each year do you get to ski?
Phil: We get on the snow about 100 days a season. I will say, most of those days are half days; we are up on the hill for a few hours to get on different skis.
Tricia: My annual ski day count is usually around 80-100 days. As Phil said, they’re often short days so we have time to write.
Scott: Do you currently have a “home hill,” or do you spread your ski days across the country?
Phil: We would consider Mt. Rose to be our home mountain. We will ski about 40% of our days there, another 20% at Squaw/Alpine and other Tahoe resorts, then the remaining 40% is traveling to pugski.com events or industry events and trade shows.
Scott: If you could only ski at one ski resort for the rest of your life, which resort would it be, and why?
Phil: Mt. Crumpet, it is just north of Whoville. Of course I am joking. I would have to say Snowmass. With a 4,000-foot top to bottom vertical along with a great mix of terrain from steeps to trees to great groomers, the place has everything. Oh, and awesome chocolate chip cookies.
Tricia: I think it’d be a toss up between Mammoth and Snowmass.
Scott: What was your best ski day ever?
Phil: Would it be too easy to say our Wedding Day? It was a powder day during a Gathering skiing with 100 of our closest friends.
Tricia: Our wedding day, hands down.
Scott: What was your worst ski day ever?
Phil: So far it has been every day this season since March 14, 2020. Actually it was February 28, 2005 at Jackson Hole right after a woman was killed in Laramie Bowl. It was my first day ever at Jackson and for some reason I was so unsettled that day that I could barely link 4-5 turns. The next day I was fine but that day was very disconcerting.
Tricia: It was a few years ago at Arapahoe Basin. We were on our usual trip for the first two weeks of May at A-Basin. We had a glorious spring day the day before and were on quite a high. Little did we know it had gotten cold enough overnight to create the most horrible coral reef kind of snow. Not that you could call it snow.
Scott: Is there a question I didn’t ask that I should have?
Phil: Sure, and that would be “What is your typical day like?” Well, being west coast-based with a global readership, it is far from a 9-5 job. Our usual day is getting up at 4 a.m. to check in on the site. We will be on the site for an hour or two, then back to bed for a “second sleep,” then up at 7-7:30, coffee, then off to the hill. We will be on the hill from first chair ‘til about lunch time. Back home again, we’re on-line for a couple of hours, take an afternoon nap (if we are lucky), then back on-line and working in our shop to get the skis prepped again to get back on the snow.
We are usually in bed by 9-9:30 then we do it all over again. We do help out at a shop part time and that is usually on weekends when site traffic is the lowest.
Tricia: Hey Phil, you know I don’t nap. ;)
How do we manage so much travel? Fortunately we have a reliable Yukon XL, fondly known as the S.S. Pugski, so we drive almost everywhere. With the convenience of mobile hot spots, one of us usually working on-line while the other is driving.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
Thank you Scott. It was fun recollecting some of the history back to my Mid-Atlantic skiing days.
It's really nice that various ski websites can act symbiotically rather than as rivals. It's all about the love of skiing/snowboarding.
@JimK, I agree. The ski industry is small and getting smaller and smaller. We have been a believer in the statement "A high tide raises all ships" mentality and we thank Scott for reaching out. I hope we can do more in the future...maybe co-host a Mid Atlantic Gathering? Who knows in these crazy times but a symbiotical relationship does make sense.
I was just looking at the picture from the Jackson Hole Gathering and see many DCSki members,
JohnL, Jimmy, Ski3PO, and possibly more.
We love our ski buddies. Thanks for sharing.
Great interview, I've really enjoyed being a member of both DCSki and PugSki. Keep up the great work!
Thanks Phil and Tricia for a great interview. I'd be happy to partner on future initiatives. I'm a huge fan of Pugski and agree that a strong ecosystem of passion-driven sites is great for skiers and the sport we all love.