No one was more surprised than Randy Burklund, owner of Kinderlift, that a ski vest designed to keep kids safe on the slopes would find a market in the special needs community. Kinderlift was created by a mother whose son fell off a ski lift when he was very young. The boy was fine, but the mother had the idea of making a brightly colored vest with a strap on the back so that it is easy for parents to grab onto kids when they start to fall as they learn to ski. “The strap is something a person could hold onto on the ride up the ski lift, too, to make sure the kid doesn’t go anywhere,” Burklund says.
Kinderlift began in the mid-nineties. Over the years, the ski vest was sold in some major ski areas, like Beaver Creek, Park City, and Northstar Lake Tahoe. Sometime within the last ten years, a school in Lewiston, Maine, heard about Kinderlift safety vests. “They found out about them because somebody who was skiing had one or was using one. Word got over to them. [Farwell School] bought a couple to try to use with their special needs kids … to get around and help with mobility issues,” Burklund says.
Burklund bought the company in the fall of 2011. He was focused on expanding it, “calling resorts, going to them, meeting face-to-face, trying to build the business as anyone would.” When the orders were coming in, he noticed one from Farwell School. “I looked at it and thought, ‘what is this?’” Burklund recalls. He thought maybe it was a school ski program, but he decided to call them so that he could understand what they were looking for. Burklund spoke to Delbert Peavey, who is an occupational therapist with the Lewiston Public Schools. Peavey explained that the school’s physical therapist, Dr. Kate Benson, put an order in for Kinderlift because they have been using a couple of the vests at the school for several years.
Burklund sent the vests to them. “That prompted this whole thing of, is there a market, another market or another place that I can take the vest and help kids out?” he says. He wanted to understand the special needs market more. He followed up with the school, and Benson wrote back in an email, “[The vests] are very durable and washable which is a positive for the population of kids that we work with … I have found this product to be better than anything else out there to provide an assist while promoting independent ambulation–it is reasonably priced at what you offer it for as well.”
Recently Burklund reached out to the local Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) in Denver, CO. He wanted to experience seeing someone with special needs use the vest in person, so he met with two of the women there. “Their comment was, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this. Neat colors, looks nice. The concept makes sense.’” Burklund is currently looking into working with the MDA to see if they can give the vests to some parents and caregivers in the Denver area and receive feedback from them.
The vests themselves come in a variety of bold colors, from orange to lime green, pink camo to tie dye. They were designed to fit over ski coats and range in sizes from x-small to large. Peavey’s advice to Burklund is that he might consider resizing the vests for young students to use when they are not wearing winter jackets. The quality is good: a Kinderlift vest will last for two to three years in the ski industry. “The quality and strength that is needed to work with kids in the ski industry, also fits very well in the special needs world,” Burklund says. The vests are made in Denver, so any tweaks or changes that might need to be made to the design for a non-ski market would be easy for Burklund to do with his team. He muses, “If this makes some sense, it could be very helpful.”
For more information about Kinderlift, visit their website or call (303) 898-2242.