When a teenaged Kevin Boyle left his home in Pennsylvania to chase after Utah’s powdery slopes, he says he was reborn. “You gotta do what you love,” he says simply—and he did. Determined to ski 100 days that year even when his savings dried up, Boyle waited tables, sold ski hats in the Snowbird parking lot and sometimes even took shelter in a snow cave he’d dug with his ski buddies.
Fast-forward almost four decades, and he’s still writing his own playbook—being outside as often as he can—although now residing in an actual house. When he’s not on the trails, he’s at KÜHL headquarters in Salt Lake City, bouncing ideas around with a handful of his 140 employees for shirts with additional vents, pants with smoother stretch, and warm jackets that feel like a second skin.
Boyle’s long-ago move out west for the daily snow-worship eventually drew his brother, Jay, to join him on the Snowbird slopes. There, they made fast friends with mountaineer Conrad Anker and fellow skier John “Alf” Engwall. When Engwall designed a Peruvian-style ski hat with a fleece lining, it caught the attention of the other three, and together, they began producing and selling the “Alf Hats” out of the trunk of Engwall’s car. They called their company Alfwear, and soon the multicolor, must-have ski hat of the 1980s dotted the powdery slopes of most Utah mountain resorts.
After a tragic car accident that resulted in the death of Engwall, the three remaining partners eventually set out to pursue individual passions. Conrad Anker received sponsorship for his climbing endeavors, Jay Boyle moved to Phoenix to earn an MBA and Kevin Boyle bought the business, renaming it “KÜHL” (cool in German) and pursuing new designs while expanding the product line. Today, it is the second-largest privately-owned business in the outdoor industry, growing at 30% year over year with 500 different products this season alone.
And while everyone wants in on KÜHL’s “technical sportswear”—high-performance casual clothing that moves effortlessly from ski runs to sales meetings—KÜHL remains purposely small-staffed, locally-run and committed to doing business with outdoor retailers over mega-companies. That it’s still independently owned and operated is due to one simple fact: it’s not for sale. But what else would you expect from a fiercely independent powderhound who found salvation on a pair of skis?
KÜHL tends to capture like-minded customers who are obsessed with performance and have come to trust its inventive design features and super comfy fabrics with special weaves and stitching that can withstand repeated blows. The company’s employees—who live and breathe the outdoors as well—field-test everything so nothing is left to chance.
“We have bikers, skiers, boarders, trail-runners. You name it. People that tend to work here seek balance and feel centered in the outdoors.” says Boyle, who has worked to make the headquarters homey by offering daily, chef-made meals for employees, ski passes for their use and an open-door policy for families and four-legged friends. “I owe the success of this company to a loyal, rainmaking team and I know we’re all happier and perform better when we have the space to pursue our passions.”
Not only has Boyle rebuffed potential buyers, but major retail giants who wanted KÜHL in their store. “You don’t walk away from people who have supported you,” he says of the specialty retail shops and outdoor companies that once took a chance on him. He adds that working with businesses compatible with the culture of his company keeps the brand from getting watered down—and Boyle is obsessed with keeping the brand as authentic as its origins.
“I want a life of quality, not quantity,” the founder says, adding that safeguarding KÜHL’s “born in the mountains” authenticity is akin to breathing. “Our team is all about doing the right thing the right way rather than just focusing on the bottom line. This company has deep roots, and I couldn’t watch it get watered down into something unrecognizable.”
Available at kuhl.com
Eskape Duffel Bag
While typical adventure-duffels are made to hold everything, most require a complete dump-out to find anything. The Eskape carries like a comfy padded backpack but features easy organizational features and stow-away shoulder straps for checked luggage. Made of durable, waterproof, TPU-laminated nylon fabric.
The One Jacket
An enigma of seeming opposites, The One is lightweight, breathable, stretchy and features heat-releasing underarms while managing to keep out wind and water. Its synthetic insulation keeps you moving fast, feeling light and staying warm. In men’s and women’s sizes.
Men’s Resistor Lite Chino
Designed to feel weightless with moisture-wicking fabric even on the hottest, most humid summer days, these pants move seamlessly between a trek to an alpine lake, kayaking through the wetlands or closing a deal in the boardroom. Timeless chino styling masks performance patterning, rebound and a tough-as-nails weave.
Read about other stars of Utah’s outdoor industry.