As a kid, Jim Hill was always drawing pictures of hiking boots and spending hours building longboards – long before they were popular. Today, not much has changed. As the founder of SportHill, an Oregon-based clothing company that designs and sells athletic gear for runners and cross country skiers, Jim is still drawing up new ideas.
While growing up in Virginia, Jim sent his design for retractable spikes to the footwear company (Tiger) who eventually turned him down. But that didn’t discourage him. Little did he know what his future held. Jim went on to run track for the University of Oregon and competed in the 10,000 meters at the 1983 World Championships, and three Olympic Trials. That’s when he came up with the idea for SportHill.
Being used to a drier climate on the east coast, Jim quickly discovered that his typical cotton sweats and nylon shorts didn’t hold up so well in Oregon’s rainy, wet weather. This led Jim to design his own clothing using 3SP fabric – a fast-drying stretch knit that he created himself. While racing in Europe, he continued to search for clothing more appropriate for Oregon’s climate. He admired euro-styled athletic-wear, but the fabrics were still inferior. So Jim decided to merge a European fit with the best American fabrics, and ended up creating the perfect running pant.
With an extensive running background, Jim geared his clothing toward shorter outdoor workouts, such as a 10K run along Eugene’s trail system. Not long after, Jim discovered cross country skiing and realized that the clothing he thought would protect him during an outdoor workout wasn’t so ideal for being out in the snow for 2-4 hours at a time. And after spending hours on cross country skis, Jim soon found a love for skate skiing. This new sport helped him refine the clothing athletes needed to help maximize their workout while keeping them protected from the cold temperatures and snow.
SportHill sells their products worldwide, designing and producing apparel for everyone including beginners to world class athletes. Their staff even includes competitive athletes who help design and market their running tights, singlets, XC ski jackets and XC ski pants, as well as much more. As an athlete and inventor, Jim’s created a well-known athletic clothing line that’s not only top quality, but reasonably priced. And due to the small size of the business, he’s been able to do it for over 30 years.
In 2004, Jim received the Leo Harris Award – an honor presented to an alumnus letterman of the University of Oregon who has demonstrated continued service and leadership at the University. It’s no secret that Jim gives back to the community in numerous ways, including coaching a high school XC ski team. While Eugene is approximately an hour away from the nearest ski area, students eagerly sign up and are often discouraged by cold temperatures before they even step into their first pair of skis. After heading out to groomed tracks for the first time, Jim says that once they are out there they are sold. “One way I give back” Jim said, “is to coach skiing.” And many high school students can likely attest that he is also the reason they continue to sign up.
His passion for life and the outdoors seems to keep him on the cusp of new ideas and inventions. Past creations include the Ski Sauna, a product Jim came up with because he was looking for an easier and cheaper way to apply wax to skis. He designed a simple heated box that would allow wax to penetrate more deeply into ski bases. The box was popular among skiers, snowboarders and ski shops.
While SportHill keeps Jim busy, he continues to coach as well as sponsor races including the the Crescent Lake Challenge, a 22K citizen ski tour and race circling scenic Crescent Lake in the central Oregon Cascades, and Western States 100-mile Endurance Run in California. And while SportHill’s business peaks in the winter months, Jim keeps himself busy by continuing to pursue new ventures. There’s just no slowing down this inventor who continues to lead an active lifestyle and give back to his community, while managing one of the most well-known brands in the running and XC skiing world.
About the Author
Amy is a writer, ultrarunner and RaceCenter’s copy editor, living in Bend, Oregon. With a knack for finding her way around in running shoes, Amy has also finished numerous marathons including Boston. In an attempt to balance work, life and twin seven-year-olds, she is currently training for her next ultra. Follow her @amywrites.