South Tahoe man creates sustainable outdoor gear company after ‘chilling experience’ in backcountry

Zain Ali, founder of Nature's Keeper.
Provided/Zain Ali

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Nature’s Keeper was founded by South Lake Tahoe’s Zain Ali in the summer of 2021 and has since been making handmade, sustainable outdoor gear for snowboarders and skiers.

The company produces items such as custom made backcountry packs and bike bags among other gear and hats, hoodies, and shirts, all made of recovered old gear. 

According to the retail site the Nature’s Keeper brand is Influenced by the culture of the Bay Area and the creativity of brands like Volcom, Electric and World Industries.

“I’ve had my fair share of chilling experiences in the backcountry to know what you need to have confidence in your gear,” Ali said. “A few days before the COVID lockdown in 2020 I decided to check out this cat skiing operation.”

The backcountry adventurer told the Tribune it was unlike his previous trips. 

Ali said his travel companion and backcountry guides were properly equipped; their packs had avalanche airbag packs, as well as standard avalanche tools, feeling good about the conditions, and waited until assessments were completed by the guides. The company’s commercial shows footage of the life-changing event, which soon after led to the birth of the eco-friendly company.

Ali recounted the “spooky moderate conditions” that were lurking beneath the powder. 

“I triggered the avalanche and pulled my airbag immediately while yelling avalanche,” Ali said. He said he rode the avalanche down through cliffs and trees reaching speeds upwards of 55 mph and dropping 2,500 feet in elevation. 

“I was swept by a second wave of snow and was having trouble breathing. Fortunately the airbag kept my head above the snow enough that I was able to uncover myself,” he said.

In the video Ali can be heard saying “Thank you Jesus,” as he recovered his camera when he came to a stop.

Nature’s Keeper has been making outdoor gear technically designed for snowboarders and skiers, and according to Ali, the company has prototype bibs and jackets that are planed to be released next winter, but the primary focus has shifted to customizing packs for individuals that have specific needs in the backcountry.

Ali said he hopes to use his business and experience to increase the accessibility to nature and the activities that surround the basin, “the opportunities are endless.” 

Nature’s Keeper owner with custom A Frame ski pack.
Provided/Zain Ali

The options for pack customizations are numerous with Nature’s Keeper multiple patterns of high durability fabric, waterproof cordura. Key features such as an external emergency avalanche access pocket for shovel, probe, first aid, skins, multi board placement configuration, adorn the solid A-frame with multiple inside pockets for tools, goggles, keys, phone, sunglasses. The customized packs are easy to grab from any angle with four handles, one each on top and back, another two handles on front. The entire back has reinforced stitching as if that weren’t enough each bag comes with a lifetime warranty.

Most recently the 34-year old graduated from REI’s Embark program, which is a three month program for 17 founders who were chosen out of thousands. According to Ali the program provides entrepreneurs of color with resources and tools to learn how to turn their ideas into successful business ventures. 

“Entrepreneurs need specific skill sets, industry knowledge, and professional connections to drive business growth. Historically, however, access to these resources has been limited based on demographic, geographic, or socioeconomic factors,” said Enhao Li of Founded Outdoors, which operates the Embark program. “Embark is designed from the ground up to support our founders’ needs as visionaries, business owners and members of a growing and diversifying outdoor community.”

Embark is part of REI Path Ahead Ventures’ multi-year $30 million commitment to partner with founders of color as they start and scale their businesses in the outdoor industry. This is the second annual cohort to complete the Embark program, according to a press release from Founded Outdoors.

“REI was really helpful in sharing their network and resources on how to approach sustainability and production as a small business,” Ali said. “Ultimately it helped me lay down a foundation for Nature’s Keeper that goes beyond bags and clothes.”

Ali said he will use it to embrace stewardship and create access to nature for marginalized people.

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