If you follow Julia Kern on social media or her blog, you have probably gotten the sense that outdoor recreation is more than just part of her job as a professional cross country skier. A quick scroll highlights a multitude of activities that extend far beyond rollerskiing and World Cup travel. Kern seems to do it all: open water swimming, backcountry skiing, paddle boarding, camping, trail running, rock climbing, and mountain biking. And always with an inviting and contagious grin across her face.
This November, Kern shared that she has been assisting from behind the scenes with the launch of a new networking app for outdoor enthusiasts like herself, called Pastimes. In addition to contributing to its evolution, Kern is also a Pastimes athlete ambassador.
In a nutshell, the platform is designed to facilitate getting out in the outdoors with friends, new or old. Want some company on your long ski this weekend? Post it to the app to connect with others of similar ability levels. Moved to a new town and want to find some new adventure partners? Here’s your chance. Eyeing a new route but want some company to help you stay on course and safe? Find out who else might be heading that way.
To learn more about the Pastimes App and Kerns role in the design process, FasterSkier reached out with a few questions to which she responded via email. You can find additional information on the Pastimes website and Instagram page, or try it out by downloading from the App Store or Google Play for android.
FasterSkier: Tell me about the origins of Pastimes. What was your role in the creation and design process?
Kern: Phil Belena (a cross country skier, fan, and a former digital consultant for Craftsbury Outdoor Center) reached out to me in August for user testing on their prototype. I have always been passionate about adventuring in the outdoors, so I was really excited to hear about the app and to give feedback. I also have a background in design work and worked for the DALI Lab at Dartmouth this fall as a designer so I wanted to help in any way I could, using both my passion for the outdoors and my design skills to give productive feedback. After rounds of user testing and exchanging ideas with Phil, I wanted to become more involved because I thought the app had a lot of potential (exactly the type of app I have been wanting) and Pastimes was looking to build an ambassador network so they brought me on board.
The idea for Pastimes came about amongst the founders who are passionate about community building and outdoor activities. On the whiteboard at the climbing gym they all climb at, they noticed people would write down their phone numbers so they could find climbing partners. This was a need that wasn’t specific to just climbing, but to the greater area as a whole. The Salt Lake City area is concentrated with people who love getting outside for adventures, yet when people move somewhere new, they find it very difficult to break into that community.
Forest Good, the Co-Founder and CEO of Pastimes moved to Salt Lake City about 6 years ago and found himself wanting to get into outdoor activities for the first time. He moved to Salt Lake as part of an acquisition of a company he co-founded called HackHands (acquired by Pluralsight in 2015). It was an online technology mentoring platform for computer programmers and coders. After successfully leveraging technology to connect a community of programmers, he saw an opportunity to connect people who share a passion for the outdoors. Co-founder and friend Rod Liberal shared his vision for how a dedicated app for finding outdoor partners could not only help people do the activities they love more, but make new connections and friendships.
The process for developing Pastimes evolved over the summer as we conducted interviews with potential users. We interviewed an extensive amount of potential users to understand what features would resonate. These initial interviews drove our feature set and helped guide our design and engineering. Once the app was in a prototype state, we went back to confirm that the features actually worked for this user group. This iterative process continues as Pastimes evolves. We use analytics to understand how our customers use the App, continually improving the user experience to align with their use.
How has the launch gone so far? Has the pandemic posed any hurdles in terms of creating something that fosters meet-ups and connecting with others?
The launch has gone well so far. We learned a lot from the initial launch, gathering a lot of user feedback for future updates. We just launched a big update with features that make it easier to connect with others in your local area. These include messaging and profile enhancements, along with the ability to make your availability for an activity discoverable and match with others in your local area. We have a lot more updates rolling out soon! What I love about working with the people working at Pastimes is that they are always looking for ways to improve and love to hear people’s feedback. They want the app to evolve based on the user’s needs, taking a human-centered design approach.
When Covid hit, it made the founders rethink their idea. They questioned whether a social app would be used by people to meet up during a pandemic, but then the outdoor industry exploded. Every single bike sold out, people were outside going on daily walks, hikes, and bike rides more than ever, finding ways to socially connect with people in a safe, socially distanced way. Getting outside became people’s only way to connect with people in person. Instead of the pandemic being the end to the idea, they designed Pastimes to thrive during this time. The app is designed to create smaller group size events for those doing an activity, removing any worry of having to reject others or manage the bulk coordination of large group events. Users can set party size limits so they have control over the group size. That being said, it is still extremely difficult to build a community, it takes time, especially in a time like right now. Our top priority is for people to stay safe and healthy, and to follow local guidelines so the pandemic has slowed the launch a little bit.
What are your goals for the app?
I have always felt there are so many incredible people out there who love to do the same things I like to do, but it is hard to connect with those people. I have randomly met new people out on the trails or in the mountains, but even then, it is hard to reconnect with them again. My goals for the app are to fill this big need I see in the outdoor community, helping people connect over shared passions in a non-exclusive, efficient, and easy way. I hope it not only connects people who already are into outdoors activities, but also to the people who are new to it and don’t know where or how to begin. I have found myself most happy playing in the mountains with people and I want everyone to be able to have access and to able to be experience that feeling. I also think this app could foster mentorship within sports that require a lot of technical knowledge such as climbing. A lot of sports have a steep barrier to entry, whether it is gear or experience, so finding people to link up with to either learn from or mentor is an incredible thing and is one of my goals for the app.
What excites you most about the app and concept? Do you envision yourself posting skis/rides/runs while you’re in the Northeast during the off-season? How does this fit into your training?
I am really excited to meet new people who share the same passions as me, I am always looking for new adventure buddies! We all have such busy schedules so I really like the matching features, which connect you with people who have a similar availability level, making it easy to coordinate schedules and connect with people in the real world.
I will definitely be using the app when I home in the off-season! Last year when Covid hit, this was exactly the app I was needing in my life. I would skin up a downhill area or mountain bike alone every day, and it wasn’t until I made a new friend skinning by coincidence and luck one day, that I had a partner to go into the backcountry with. I want to get out and ski, ride, climb and hike with people this spring.
Since I have been injured a lot over the years, I have had to modify my training plan to what I can do, which often results in training alone. This summer and fall I did a lot of mountain biking so I would link up with friends if they were around to ride. I see myself using the app on cross-training days to connect with friends or meet new people. This summer I was even using dating apps to find people to mountain bike with in a socially distanced way, which isn’t the actual goal of dating apps, but there was nothing out there that could help me discover people in my area to do things with so it was the next best thing. I know many people who use dating/friend apps to find people to do outdoor activities with, highlighting the need that is out there for Pastimes.
What else do you want people to know about Pastimes?
I have been in charge of building an ambassador community of people who are passionate about sharing their love for the outdoors with people. It has been really fun to meet incredible people who want to share Pastimes with others and help grow the app user base.
I think Pastimes can be a great tool for the cross country skiing community. The ski community is filled with people who are passionate about being active outside and value community. Whether it is coordinating your family’s schedule with another family for your kids to go skiing together, or if you are looking for a training buddy for skiing, running, biking, etc., Pastimes can help you connect with others!
For example, there is a group of people who have been connecting in NYC for group rollerskis on the app. This group is Manhattan Nordic, a mix of elite Master Skiers, serious recreational skiers and curious newcomers who are interested in skiing on one of the most famous roller ski loops in the world – Central Park. The community and discoverability aspect of the Pastimes events has led to an increase in rollerskiers taking advantage of the training and welcoming ski community.
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646