Necessity is the master of invention. Vince Zimmer, owner of Spokane Alpine Haus, grew up on the South Hill without a nearby ski shop. He was tired of catching the bus downtown just to check out the latest boots and skis, so in 1976, at the budding age of 25, he took a chance and started a business for himself.
“I started skiing when I was six years old on wood skis and leather boots,” Zimmer says. In his office he points to a black and white photo of his dad skiing in the 1930s. Each wall is littered with photos in Washington and British Columbia, atop mountains 15 miles and thousands of feet above the nearest city or town. He describes skiing as a true family sport.
For years Zimmer ran the business as a one man show. It wasn’t until the legendary ski shop, Lou Lou’s closed its doors that his alpine business and customers found their niche. There are only three specialty shops in town and, according to Zimmer, what Spokane Alpine Haus offers is hands-on service. “We specialize in custom boot fitting and foot beds and we’ve got a master ski tuner that can tune like nobody else.”
Zimmer says the business runs off the snow momentum of the previous year. Thanks to three straight heavy snowfall years, business is good. So good that in 34 seasons they are crushing previous record sales. Maybe people are tired of hearing the bad news and just want to have some fun, he says, or maybe the sport is getting more popular. “Skiers and snowboarders are very passionate about their sport,” he says. “But we’re in a recession. I don’t know why business is so good, but I shouldn’t question it. I’m thankful.”
The items selling the fastest this year are boots and rockered skis. People can only live so long with boots that don’t fit, Zimmer says. The rockered skis—where the tip and the tail of the ski ride above the snow—are popular with advanced skiers because they are good in deep powder or hard snow.
These days Zimmer makes it up to the mountain every weekend. Although he’s done both skiing and snowboarding he’s a skier at heart. “Heck I’m 58 and my bones are more brittle than they used to be,” he says laughing. Whether it’s on the slopes or in the shop Zimmer’s happy to be in the Northwest.
“We’re just so lucky here to have five local resorts and access to some of the best skiing in the world in Canada,” he says. “In this game we live and die by the snow. And we all feel like heroes when it does snow.” Here’s the gear you’ll catch him on this season:
SKIS: Vocal Mantras are a wide ski that doesn’t feel wide and it’s good in hard or powdered snow, he says.
POLES: Scott Composite Poles that are made of carbon fiber and fiber glass.
BOOTS: Langes are definitely the best performance boot, Zimmer says, “they give you an edge on skis.”
GLOVES: Sales representatives are always trying to bribe me with gloves, Zimmer says. “But the Sway Gloves are the only gloves I’ve ever owned that keep my hands warm even on the first run after my lunch break in the lodge,” he says. They keep the moisture away from your hands when you sweat.
HAT/HELMET: Zimmer wears a Vans Helmet or a knit hat. “I haven’t fallen in 4 or 5 years,” he says. “But if you see me in the lodge without a helmet know that I promote helmet safety!”
JACKET: Spyder, a great jacket, that’s water and wind proof, yet very breathable. “What I like most about this coat is it’s long enough to keep my backside warm even while sitting on a cold chair lift.”
PANTS: Rider Snowboard Bands with a real wild looking, multi color and patterned print are a favorite. “My friends and co-workers give me a lot of grief for them. I guess for a 58-year-old I’m supposed to be conservative but I’m not.”
UNDER GEAR: Skins or CWX Compression Bottom Underwear. These prevent lactic acid build up in the muscles, he says. In turn the muscles get enough oxygen and can breath which allows you to make more turns down the mountain. “This stuff is amazing … it’s the stuff triathletes use because it will truly up your performance.”