Signs of a Good Ski Shop

I’m no fan of corporate America, and I quietly disapprove of its attempts to influence the sacred sport of skiing. But the fact remains that change is inevitable, and so it has come to pass that many ski resorts have succumbed to the financial allure of deep-pocketed venture capitalists or other well-financed resort holding companies. So be it. However, one critical component of the ski industry that must resist this is ski shops. These establishments are the heart and soul of the local skiing and riding community, and it is these places from which the true mountain “vibe” flows. Ok, that might be a bit much, but you get my point. I have walked into far too many shops over the past few years that made me question whether I was in a ski shop or Target. Once it actually was Target. Lucky for you, I made notes on my experiences. In case you are wondering what makes a good ski shop, keep an eye out for the following signs.

The Smell
When you walk into a shop, the first thing you should take notice of is the aroma. If all you can smell is lavender or jasmine, take the train. At a minimum, a good shop should smell like wax. If you also catch a light whiff of stale PBR, even better. You know you are in the right place if you can smell both from the parking lot.    

The very first thing that should greet you when you walk into a shop is a dog. Said pooch should either come up to you wagging its tail, or simply lift its head in acknowledgment if he/she is sprawled out on the floor. If the latter, you should have to walk around the dog as there is a fat chance it will move out of your way. Labs, Retrievers, and Springers are all good candidates, but really any friendly canine will suffice. No small yappy ankle biters, though.

Dress Code
If the first human you come into contact with at the shop is wearing pressed khakis and a polo like Jake from State Farm, and then proceeds to greet you with a cheery “Welcome to Ski Mart, how can I help you?”, turn around and immediately head for the door. No, my friends, appropriate employee attire should consist of jeans or shorts, snow sports-related t-shirts, or flannel or Hawaiian shirts. At least two employees should be donning trucker hats. One employee should be wearing flip flops. Bonus points if that employee is the owner.

I swear to Ullr, if the next shop employee refers to me as “Sir,” I’m gonna lose my frickin’ mind.  Yeah, sure, I might be over 50, but every time someone calls me that, I quickly look behind me thinking they are talking to my dad. If they only knew how much of a dirtbag I really was, I doubt they would have called me that. Rather than “Sir,” I would prefer to be referred to as “Bro,” “Man,” or “Dude.” Oh, and the appropriate greeting upon entering the establishment should be “Hey (insert one of the options above), how’s it going?”

Free Stuff
You know how to gain a following with the next generation of snow sliders? Give ‘em free stuff.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just something cool. A good shop will readily hand out posters from their suppliers. Great ones will sling their branded ski straps and old-school bumper stickers with slogans like “Ski or Die,” or “I Love Head.”

Ski Movies
Any shop worth its weight will have some kind of skiing or riding movies playing on at least two big screen TVs. Films showing some kind of big mountain riding or heli-skiing are always good, but you know you hit the jackpot if the shop you walked into shows nothing but movies featuring Glen Plake.

Brad Northrup is a former ski racer, coach and ski industry professional. His chances of owning a ski shop are the same as the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl this year.


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