Like lots of kids growing up, my first acquaintances with the world of skiing was at the local ski shop. It was funky old place that was full of dark corners, shinny, straight skis and smelled like hot wax. The staff ranged from bearded old ski bums to the owners who were definitely Mom and Pop.
Downstairs the ski benches were cluttered with inexplicable tools, faded old posters of ski racers, freestylers, and gorgeous women that were scantily dressed wearing Lange boots. Post cards were tacked to the walls from away ski destinations like Aspen, Sun Valley, Switzerland and France. Ski techs with furrowed brows were hunched over waxed encrusted ski benches tuning skis and doing things to ski boots that I have never seen before. Paper work was filled out and customers were somewhat confused and miffed about why their ski boots had to be fit so tight. There was a total emersion to the entire experience and for those like me who chose to build their life around skiing, it all goes back to the brick and mortar, Mom and Pop type shops that got us all hooked.
Later in my high school years I would live out that dream by working in that very same ski shop, learning the tricks of the trade on how to hand tune a pair of skis and fit ski boots the right way. Most importantly, I got to purchase those skis that my ski heroes where skiing on in the movies and in the magazines at a cost so cheap compared to what the customers were paying, it seemed like highway robbery. It was also the place that I first tried beer and those funny smelling cigarettes after the owners left and the doors were locked for closing time as we cranked out ski tunes that were due the next day listening to Steely Dan and the Grateful Dead.
Historically, ski shops have had a huge influence on skiing. They acted as evangelical missions for the sport when it was obscure and created a social center for skiers outside of the ski areas to gather. They were the original importers of exotic ski gear and clothing, and now standard products like foot beds and custom boot liners. They employed real skiers and helped facilitate the buying decisions of myself and others who they took under their “cooking like” aproned wings. Along with the sales process and technical jargon, there always a story to be told about that unforgettable powder day and the cheap beers and cute ski bunnies at the bar afterwards. They held their ski or choice in one hand and gave you the other to touch and feel. There is nothing like flexing a brand-new pair of skis right off the rack.
Fast forward to the new millennium of on-line shopping, Air BnB’s, cell phones and a whole lot of things conceived and invented to disrupt the traditional buying ways of the past. Its easy to see why many of these ski shops have gone by the wayside, gone out of business or disappeared of the retail radar entirely.
With the internet and on-line buying now being the norm for most, it has put a huge dent in many of countries most established ski retailers. Many retailers like ourselves here at Mountain Ops in order to stay in business and be competitive have jumped into on-line sales and e-commerce, knowing that we had to in order to stay afloat and keep up with our “competitors.” Truth be told, there are certainly deals to be had on line for sure, as long as you don’t want the latest and greatest in a common size. Other than buying ski boots, ski gear has become just another commodity, it makes sense for a lot of people to shop that way. And no doubt that were many ski shops that were destined to be extinct in the modern era because they refused to keep up the times and modern technology.
While e-retailers offer attractive pricing and convenience of shopping from your home lap top or cell phone, they lack two critical things that every skier needs: a custom boot fitter and veteran ski techs. The internet isn’t going to grind your boot shells, build you a custom foot bed, P-tex those core shots or fix that blown out sidewall on your skis. Furthermore a laptop, I pad or cell phone won’t get you back on the hill tomorrow for that storm that’s coming in to fix your skis and boots, even if you have the latest I -Phone 15 Titanium version. Beyond the electronic world and just fixing your ski gear, the local ski shop is the only reality check between marketing hype, the reviews that you read on-line and in the magazines, and your own stupidity for saying you are a true expert skier while you hurtle yourself down the mountain on slippery sticks.
Photo: Shop Manager Robbie punching out boots.
Every skier needs to learn that the brand-new boots that feel oh so good are one size too big, that remounting the bindings off your old straight skis is not a good idea, and probably buying those 110 underfoot powder skis you have been eyeing in a 190- centimeter length are not the appropriate daily driver ski for Stowe. Everybody needs that gut check eventually. The Black Diamond marketing department or even your own intuition isn’t going to be able to give you advice on how not to fall backwards skinning up the Nosedive headwall after a thaw/freeze cycle on those skins you just bought on- line from the mega outdoor store. Couple that with the fact that you tried cutting and trimming them yourself and they seem to be a bit “off.” But our shop will cut and trim those skins properly and be able to advise you that’s its probably a good idea to purchase some ski crampons to have in your pack for just that scenario that happens all to often in the Northeaast.
My old ski shop is now long gone but shops like Mountain Ops here in Stowe, Vermont are still as relevant and important to the ski community as ever. Located in a quintessential big red barn overlooking the mighty Mt. Mansfield, we have a rich and long history. We have been in the business for over 30 years and have been owned by the very same owner, Don Allen since the get go. And Don’s no paper pusher, his zest for skiing is as strong as anyone’s. He never tried to be like the other shops here in town or others across the country by following the same trends and buying the same gear. We are a niche shop that caters to human powered pursuits whether it be on super skinny Nordic skis or wide planks to surf the deepest powder. We are staffed by people who truly love and breathe the sport and are active in the ski community. Whether it be leading group skins, hosting bike packing trips, or having a ski tuning seminar, we practice what we preach.
Photo: The view off Mt. Mansfield from our back porch.
If you are reading this, you are probably already a committed skier, or you are just killing time, or both. Part of that commitment is investing in gear that really works and is applicable for your skiing ability and your desired application. We help you figure that out that by asking real questions that really matter, skiing each and every day and knowing what the conditions are really like both that the resort in in the backcountry. Someone who works here has actually skied that ski you have been eying to give you real deal review on its true capabilities, especially how it handles the eastern hard pack. All skis can hold their own in soft snow and around here we like to say the "Soft snow if for soft people." We only carry and sell gear that we believe in and actually use. Lastly, if you are into earning your turns, you will not find a ski shop anywhere in the Northeast let alone in the country that carries such a wide variety of touring boots and bindings, period.
So flex the skis in the rack, smell the hot wax downstairs, cozy on over by our wood stove, grab a seat and talk skiing with us. Support your local shop that supports skiing and that lives and skis the mountains where you ski or maybe where you want to ski. And I’ll leave you with these wise words of ski advice- Don’t but the skis you WISH to ski on, buy the skis that you will ACTUIALLY be skiing on. You will be glad you did. We look forward to seeing you this winter and think snow!