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Today's word on journalism

Friday, September 1, 2006

"[F]ew things are as much a part of our lives as the news. With the advent of sophisticated mass communication, the news has become a sort
of instant historical record of the pace, progress, problems, and the hopes of society. On the other hand--and here's the puzzle -- the news provides, at best, a superficial and distorted image of society. . . . The puzzle, simply put, is this: How can anything so superficial be so central to our lives?"

--W. Lance Bennett, political science professor, 1988

Local ski patrollers form new outdoor company, design rescue pack

EMERGENCY PACKS: From left, John Keith, Jeff Rich, Todd Strickland and the guy and Kevin Pack attend to someone in need. / Photo courtesy Todd Strickland and Bill Sinykin

By Annalisa Fox

May 3, 2006 | Two ski patrollers from Beaver Mountain in Utah, Bill Sinykin and Todd Strickland, have designed a backpack especially for ski patrollers, because they couldn't find one that catered specifically to their needs as on-the-go emergency personnel.

The two have decided to run with their idea and form a new company called Pron (pronounced "prone") that will be based out of Logan and will sell backpacks and other soft goods, such as coats, gloves and ski pants, in the outdoor market, Strickland said.

Strickland is in his "rookie year on the ski patrol," while Sinykin has been patrolling for the past 20 to 30 years. After making it through four cuts of skiing and medical training, Strickland said he started looking around for a backpack in which to carry his supplies. After looking around to no avail, he thought, "Gee, if I can't find anything, I'll do it myself," he said.

With Strickland's background as an industrial designer and Sinykin's experience as a mechanical engineer, Sinykin said he feels they formed a "very good marriage, so to speak," when co-designing the pack.

By June, Strickland said, the company will have six to seven products designed and at various stages in the manufacturing process. Three of the packs are designed especially for runners, and Sinykin has been dealing with a running company in Salt Lake City that is interested in doing business with Pron.

When Sinykin, who is also a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America, first told his friends about the backpack, he said they told him "everybody and their uncle does a pack," and wondered why Pron would design another one.

"The pack has enough things that are unique and different," said Strickland, "that I think we can be a player in the market." The pack is designed to carry snowboards and skis on the exterior, no-slip surface. It opens like a book and has three adjustable lumbar and shoulder pads, Strickland said.

"I especially appreciated the easy-access to the pack," said Ben Stowers, a member of the National Ski Patrol who used the Pron pack on an all-day backcountry ski trip. "It basically allows you to unzip the pack like a planner or binder, then unfolds and lays flat giving you easy access to your gear."

While Stowers also said, "The zippers, straps and buckles are all burley and built to handle extensive outdoor use," another member of the ski patrol at Beaver Mountain and senior studying watershed science at Utah State University, Quin Bingham, was concerned about the weight of these heavy-duty features.

"The pack looked and felt solid. I was able to try one on and it fit good," Bingham said, but "it seemed a titch heavy."

The running packs will be lighter, said Strickland, but said the ski patrol pack is constructed of heavier fabrics to withstand the wear-and-tear of the patrollers' abuse.

Strickland said the company hopes to have a Web site available in June of 2006 and Sinykin, who has contacts with the NSP said they are working on having an advertisement in the coming issue of Ski Patrol Magazine.

"We wanted to create a high-end pack with a low-end price," said Sinykin, who is currently working on developing a business plan to present to capital investors to help get the company off the ground. Up until now, Strickland said, the two have covered all of the costs themselves.

With hopes of becoming a key player in the industry, Strickland explained how Pron teamed up with Troy Oldham, a journalism professor at USU, to give beginning public relations students an opportunity to develop a PR strategy for the company.

Oldham was in charge of testing and training for the ski patrol at the local level when Strickland was trying out, he said, and that's how they met.

"Troy is in the know with things cool and with skiing," said Strickland and has done some entrepreneurial work himself. Strickland said Oldham liked the pack when he saw it and suggested letting his students develop PR campaigns for the product.

"Public relations is a lot of fun," said Taylor Scott, sophomore at USU who worked on developing a campaign for Pron, "Doing this campaign gave me a chance to learn about an industry I otherwise never would have learned about, plus, it gave me a chance to practice real-world skills like pitching to a client."

Both Strickland and Sinykin said they enjoyed hearing the student proposals and intend to start promoting their product once more aspects involving the company, the Web site and the pack designs fall into place.

"We are a little behind for this season," said Strickland, but "we'll go when we can next year."

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