Shannon Bahrke Happe
We speak to the two-time Olympic moguls medallist about her various entrepreneurial endeavours
Many athletes use the skills and experience they acquired in their sporting lives to give them an edge in the business world, but not too many manage to do it twice. After a long and successful moguls skiing career, American Shannon Bahrke Happe has already established and sold one business, Silver Bean Coffee, and has now moved on to her next venture, Team Empower Hour.
Growing up in Lake Tahoe, known for its ski resorts, Bahrke Happe was out on the slopes from an early age and started skiing when she was just three years old. She hadn’t considered competing, however, until a local coach managed to convince her to give freestyle events a try at the age of 12. Now 36, Bahrke Happe went on to have a successful 12-year skiing career that saw her claim two Olympic and two World Championship medals.
Bahrke Happe says that she’d always wanted to be her own boss – “to figure something out and make it work from the ground up” – and so perhaps it’s no surprise that she made the most of some time out from competing to start her own business.
In 2008, just before a FIS World Cup event in Tignes, France, Bahrke Happe suffered a season-ending knee injury. From the disappointment, however, came the chance for her entrepreneurial spirit to shine through. “I thought to myself: right, I know I’ve got two years before the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, and I know there’s going to be a lot of rehab – so that gives me some time to start up a business,” she recalls. The result was Silver Bean Coffee, a coffee distribution and packaging warehouse in Salt Lake City that Bahrke Happe ran with her husband, Matt.
Having something else to focus on besides recovering from injury was important for Bahrke Happe, and it helped her get through what was a difficult time in her sporting career. “Whenever I was skiing I always had a side job, something to take my mind off the really big tasks that can sometimes weigh so heavily on you – things like going to an Olympic Games and wanting to win a gold medal. So I always liked having that side project of the business.”
In the mornings, Bahrke Happe would focus on rehab, before turning to her business project in the afternoons. “It was a perfect balance which I really needed in my head, just to keep on an even keel,” she adds. Bahrke Happe returned to competition and eventually bowed out in 2010, just after winning her second Olympic medal at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, but the skier admits that it was difficult to adjust to life after sport.
“Every athlete wants to go out the way I did – I had just won an Olympic medal, and I podiumed at my last World Cup – but about a year after I retired I really started to struggle. All the newness and the shininess of winning an Olympic medal wears off and the reality sets in that you’re never going to have that high again.”
Importantly, however, the time Bahrke Happe had been able to put into Silver Bean Coffee helped ease her transition from the pinnacle of Olympic success, giving her something else on which to focus her attention. Bahrke Happe and her husband have since moved on from the world of coffee, having sold their business in 2015. The arrival of daughter Zoe gave the pair a new perspective, and Bahrke Happe decided that she wanted to do something that made the most of her passions and her attributes as an Olympian – which is where Team Empower Hour was born.
Team Empower Hour is a company that provides teambuilding workshops and sessions for corporate clients. Bahrke Happe explains how her sporting experience influences what she does in these sessions, and says that the ethos of the company embodies the Olympic spirit.
“We focus on things like communication, or leadership or mental toughness – exactly the things that we did as Olympians that translate into everybody’s corporate life. In addition, we get them up and moving, doing a lot of the things that we did in training. I try to take all those special things that I’ve done as an Olympian and bridge that gap into the corporate world, incorporating movement, fun, inspiration and that Olympic spirit that I just love and that people need more of!” Bahrke Happe draws much from her athletic experience to inspire her work, but does she use her reputation to help promote her business?
“Yes, absolutely! One of the things that I am so incredibly thankful for is to have worked hard enough to become an Olympian. That grit and perseverance that I think is recognised worldwide, that sacrifice you make as an Olympian, people look up to that and want to buy into that feeling. For me it’s a natural way to get people out of their seats and excited about what they’re doing in life.”
Despite her success, Bahrke Happe has endured low points as well. She says that other athletes making the same journey need to understand that it can be a tough transition period, but that as Olympians they have a wealth of skills and experience that can help them beyond the sporting arena.
“It is one of the hardest times in your whole life. You have to surround yourself with people that understand that it’s okay not to be okay. I think crying everyday and asking ‘What do I do now?’ is completely normal – but nobody ever talks about that. If somebody had told me that even though I was going to end my career with two Olympic medals, on top of the world, that I would still crash after retirement, I wouldn’t have believed them.
“When you start taking that next step it’s scary – really scary – and it can be really hard. But as Olympians we have the tools to be able to push through that, so you need to believe in yourself, and use the people around you to help you get to that level.”