World Cup ski racer Jono Brauer is breaking the mould. Taking risks and carving out a passionate life for himself and his family. From an injury plagued skiing career to a crash course in running a business and starting his own brand, it’s been a steep learning curve for the ski racer turned entrepreneur.
Published August 13, 2023. Words Mandy Lamont Photos Thredbo Resort
Growing up in Thredbo
With wife Caroline and kids Lilly and Banjo, living in their 4 bedroom off-grid home on 100 acres in Jindabyne.“It’s a lot different from Thredbo and not the vision I had for myself growing up in a 2 bedroom apartment.” Jono tells me from his home office overlooking Lake Jindabyne. “We’d always skied as a family, mum and granddad were mad skiers, and we did our week a year. But when mum came down to Thredbo I really got into it.”
Jono was 10 when his mum bought Olga’s coffee shop and moved to Thredbo. With no high school in Jindabyne at the time and no way to get to Cooma. Doing year seven by correspondence meant three hours of work a week on a Friday afternoon. Needless to say, skiing went really well. Enrolled at Chevalier College, the following year Jono didn’t do distance ed. He just didn’t go to school very often, and it wasn’t long before he started traveling internationally doing his first trip to Czech Republic and Austria at 11. “It was awesome. I loved it and that was it, I didn’t stop after that.”
“At the time there was a really good pathway for Alpine and an opportunity to train and travel locally and internationally. It was pretty tight knit but a really well operated program from Sport and Rec and the National Alpine programs, then NSWIS. And that was it, I’d then be away from three to seven months every year for the next 20 years.”
World Cup Competition
Competing at World Cup level, Jono’s best result in World Cup was 14 in Chamonix Combined event in 2006, just before the Turin games. “Unfortunately in Turin I crashed in both events Super Combined and Slalom. Super Combined was going really well, that was my best season. I’d just won a Europa Cup and was in really good form coming off a series of season-ending injuries. The story of my career.”
With some really good results the following season, Jono got his world ranking down to 42 in the world for slalom, and 65 in GS, before he started having some big injury issues. “A lot of patella tendon damage, basically my tendon was dying faster than my body could heal it because I was training and competing a lot. As an Aussie athlete, relatively well supported by both personal sponsors and by NSWIS and the Olympic Winter Institute. I didn’t want to stop competing in case I lost those contracts or funding. Of course, that’s a really short term strategy and the long-term outcome is that your body never heals and it’s very difficult to get back to where you were.”
The many injuries
Having to finish midway through the following season, 2007, Jono came home to have his patella cleaned up. It took about 18 months to come back. Then it happened to his other knee in 2008. Told by many doctors and surgeons to either stop racing, put up with it, or change discipline, Jono shifted focus to speed events. Super G mainly.
“2009 I was coming back off my second patella tendon and GS was going well, super G was going well. I got super G down to around 67 in the world and GS was 80 again, so really picking up some pace. Then, I had a crash in Europa Cup finals. I put my tibia eight millimeters into the base of my femur, snapped my ACL and blew the lateral side of my knee apart.”
So again a big hand break and back to the gym. From age 18 to 28 Jono had seven season ending injuries. A snapped Achilles in there as well. The last crash of Eruopa Cup finals in 2009 was the beginning of the end, as much as he didn’t want it to be. His comeback consisted of two or three days a week on snow for two or three runs, gym work was extremely limited. “It was hard to compete at the top of your game. I’d been in the top 100 in the world for 10 years in one discipline or another.
You’re not there to be top 100 in the world, you’re there to be top 30 or top 15 or top 10. So once you get to the point where you can’t be top 10 because your body doesn’t allow that, there’s not much left. It was extremely painful every single day. I’d already qualified to go to the Vancouver games before that crash. I was rehabbing to make sure I could compete. No matter what I had to do, I was going to go. My first downhill race of the season was at the Olympics.
That gives you an indication as to my preparation. I skied alright, but to do that, I had numerous injections in the month leading in. It was just silly stuff. Taking a lot of painkillers and anti inflammatory’s to try and slow the pain or stop the pain which didn’t work.”
The end of the Road
“When you’re at that point it’s hard to keep going. The reality for me was I really love skiing and I need to be able to do that for the rest of my life. I was planning on proposing to Caroline, so I wanted to be able to get down on one knee. We wanted to have kids and our passion is skiing. I injured myself in March 2009 and I gave myself to mid January 2010 to be in a state that was feasible to keep racing and competing. If there was light at the end of the tunnel, I would have kept going.”
“I worked every day with my physio on a million different ways to try and reduce or remove the pain but when your body’s that busted, it’s just a temporary fix. It was a difficult decision, but whether you’re 100 in the world or number one, if your body’s cooked….”
“It was pretty shit to be honest. I thought I had a lot more potential, more opportunity to succeed at a high level. I’d hoped to do something like Stevie Lee and Zali, those before me. That was always the goal. To achieve at the highest level in World Cup, but what can you do, instead, I crashed lots.”
Life after Racing
Proposing to Caroline while she was sitting on the back of my ute at the time so I didn’t have to bend far. After racing, I started coaching at Thredbo and then running the junior team internationally. That was really difficult because my knee hadn’t healed even though it was 18 months post surgery. I was still in a lot of pain day to day, and that had a shelf life because it took all the fun out of being on the mountain.
That was when I took myself out of skiing. Lilly was born and we started a business in Canberra. We had six or seven years living off the mountain, skiing a few weeks a year as opposed to 200 days. That was probably really good for my body because it gave it a lot of time to recover and now it’s relatively good. I still ski, I just have to manage it. It’s a balancing act of how long I ski and how intense.
There’s a few little hacks that I’ve been able to work out to help me stay on the hill longer. And that’s alright, as long as I can still ski and at the moment I’m still ahead of my kids. I’m pretty competitive and I’ll try and keep that going for as long as I can, but they’re pretty damn good. I won’t have much longer with that.
Living in Canberra
“Canberra was great. We had a great time with the kids when they were young. It’s super easy living, all of the conveniences you need. We had a really successful Total Tools franchise with some friends which once up and running, I ran on my own. Like most small businesses, the first few years were 100 to 120 hour weeks. Post that 60 to 80 hours was pretty normal and when you’ve got two kids and a wife who still had a career, trying to work and juggle the kids, I was super burnt out. That franchise in particular was really good to be involved in. It was like a fast track to understanding business and I’m really happy I did it.
But coming from watching the sunrise 200 days a year on top of a mountain to being in Fyshwick looking out my window at a car park and some strip clubs. It was nothing like what I’d been dealing with the 20 years prior. I liked the business side of it. And I didn’t mind the product, but I definitely didn’t love it. When you get tired and burnt out you make some emotional decisions and mine was just a big f*** this! My dad had recently passed away and I had one of those moments wondering. “Is this it? After everything I’ve done, is this what I’m gonna do for the next 20 years? And the thought of that was scary for me.
I selfishly made the decision to sell the business. Caroline backed me, but it was a risky decision because I had no plan. The only plan was, I don’t want to do this anymore. I’ve always been a risk taker and it didn’t really faze me, but I guess the reality is when you’ve got two kids, a mortgage and bills to pay, it’s probably a better idea to have some form of plan.”
“We’d bought a little place with my mum in Thredbo that we shared as a holiday house and rental. So when we sold the shop, we took the winter off and spent some time with the kids. Lilly was at school, but Banjo wasn’t. We did a winter and went back to Canberra. Stu Diver called me that summer, asking me to come back and run the Thredbo Mountain Academy. It was a good way for us to dip our toe back in the water and see what it was like to live here again with the kids. So we enrolled them in school in Jindabyne and in 2018 did the winter program, with little plan after that.”
Arc Ski Program
“I have an idea a day and Caroline finally gave me the green light to act on a couple of them. One of them was a ski program in Italy. When we sold the shop in Canberra, we both agreed skiing for a month overseas was a prerequisite to leaving Canberra. Then I had another O s**t moment because I didn’t have a plan to pay for it. Having some skills in coaching and ski racing, I thought, we can leverage off that. And we started The Arc in Italy with friends Pippo and Milly in 2019.”
“Obviously the impact to a ski program aimed at Australians operating in Italy, 2020 was the beginning of the end for that one. We shut down for a year and in 2022 we were able to run a really small program. Then this year we turned it back on again. It’s a really unique product that delivers tailored training for developing skiers.
There’s a family holiday aspect to it as well and parents can also have a great time. We were over there in January for four weeks with a week in Japan on the way over. So that’s ticked the box of going international skiing for a month every year. And our kids absolutely love it. Livigno, where we ski is an amazing place. This year, we got back to pre COVID levels with 40 plus kids. Pippo and Milly are Italian Maestro, the highest level instructor trainers and coaches.
Our product is all about skill development across a broad base of skiing, with an Alpine focus, we also have the ability to do slopestyle programs. Mottolino, one of the resorts in Livigno has one of the, if not, the best slopestyle parks in Europe. With one of the only airbag lander jumps in the world, the training is amazing and it’s the venue for the 2026 games.
The next gen
I was fortunate enough to be able to travel when I was a kid and I’d be really unhappy if my kids couldn’t do the same. The kids love skiing, they’re absolute ski frothers, they’re mountain kids which is pretty awesome. They’ve skied since they were 18 months, towed around on plastic skis, but they were both skiing independently, at two.
We did the hard yards early on but I have never coached them. I want to make a point of that. I don’t agree with it, because kids hate being told what to do by their parents, and parents hate getting yelled at by their kids. So my stance was, you can go ski with someone else and they can teach you. And when we go skiing we’re just going fast, having fun and drinking hot chocolate.
This year in Japan was the exception. I gave them a few tips and that was it, they had the best time. Banjo loves free skiing he loves going fast and enjoys racing. He absolutely loves skiing pow,skiing off piste and ripping around with his mates. Lilly also loves that but she probably has a bit more of my competitiveness in her and ski racing, she’s decided, is her thing. That’s what she wants to do.
So I am now slightly reluctantly a racer dad. I don’t want to be her coach but I want to be able to help her when she needs it. It was both of their decisions, they both want to do the race club this year, which is great and I’m super proud.
Skiing is Caroline’s favourite thing to do, my favourite thing to do and thank goodness, Lilly and Banjo enjoy it because otherwise it would have sucked having to go skiing with us for the next twenty years.
Sendy was me late at night. We were living back in Thredbo and I was really excited to be riding again and waiting for the bike park to open. I thought, I better get some stuff for the kids. I started looking online at kids mountain bike gear, and there wasn’t much. A few different versions of something black and generally really expensive. Slightly smaller version of whatever was made for adults. Not fit for purpose and not very affordable.
I inherently have a tight arse, so I baulked at buying something at full retail and had another idea. I said to Caroline, ‘there’s a market opportunity here, what do you think?’ I spent a couple of weeks researching and was like, screw it, let’s see if I can do something. Not coming from manufacturing, or design and with no knowledge of creating a brand from scratch, I felt there was an opportunity.
When you start a business it’s generally zero return, we took a punt and launched in 2019. Our whole focus is creating product that is fit for purpose and fits properly so kids actually wear it. Designed using my kids, all our samples were tested on them. Our number one selling item is protection, so knee and elbow pads, which we did as an afterthought.
Steep Learning Curve
Launching in 2019, with bush fires then COVID, they started out relatively slow. “2020 was not good, we had a big lull for six months, and wondered if we’d made the right decision. I didn’t expect that we would have such a big uptake after that but summer 2020/21 was great. With everything from shoes, socks, pants shorts, jerseys, knee pads, elbow pads, hydration packs, merch and gloves, it’s a pretty broad range of product. Biking in general had this extreme high and then quite a big low. It’s been about 12 to 14 months. So right now the entire bike industry, is in a bit of pain. It’s like the hangover, everyone’s in a sugar crash.”
It’s been another huge learning curve for Jono. As a one man band, Sendy contract a designer and digital marketing assistance, but for the most part, everything else was a lot of YouTubing, googling, and a lot of trial and error. “You can do a business course, but you learn really quick when you’ve put your own money behind something and you need to make it viable.”
With a distributor in New Zealand and pallets heading to North America, Sendy are expanding and teaming up with Spawn bikes. Based in North America for about 12 years, they sell the world’s best kids bikes and we’ve started importing them into Australia as well. That brand runs in parallel with Sendy.
As if that wasn’t enough Jono and Caro also run Pit Viper in Australia with a team of seven, executing everything on the Australian side in conjunction with the US head office. It’s a bit of a juggle, but what’s amazing about the way businesses work today is that there’s usually a way to find efficiencies and create streamlined processes and digitally enhance your business.
“We’ve got a ski program because the family loves skiing, we distribute a bike brand and our own apparel brand because the family love bike riding and we run a sunglass brand because it goes hand in hand with our bike and ski stuff. I’m really fortunate to be able to have a partner in Caroline that supports me with these crazy ideas, removing ourselves from traditional thinking and doing something totally different.”
It seems to be working Jono, keep doing what you’re doing.