One stop, 30 years for Steamboat ski shop
November 17, 2012
Steamboat Springs — They're not all great ideas.
John Kole still winces when he talks about his decision several summers ago to invest in a fleet electric bicycles. The six battery-powered bikes almost immediately became an anchor.
He's wheeled them to the sidewalk in front of his downtown business, the now 30-year-old One Stop Ski Shop, hoping for a sale nearly every warm day since he wheeled them into the shop for the first time in 2010.
There have been few rentals and fewer sales.
"We still have five of them," he said.
But for every electric bike, there's been a success such an early jump on shaped skis or a quick adaptation of the rocker-ski movement. The trends like ski blades and monoskis have come and (mostly) gone, but One Stop, in one form or another, has been there.
Plenty of other ski shops in Steamboat Springs had meager beginnings. Few, however, can rival Kole's start in the business. He got his start hawking skis and offering indoor ski clinics with his father not far from the boardwalk on the New Jersey shore.
A chance to work with Olympian Billy Kidd brought him to Steamboat Springs in 1982. That didn't work out, but for Kole, Steamboat did. He decided to do the only thing he knew how to do, and he opened a ski shop out of a small closet in the SubAlpine condos lobby near the ski mountain.
Maurita's Ski and Boot Service was named after his mother.
"Really, it was a storage closet," Kole remembered. "It wasn't even 100 square feet."
For one winter, Maurita's offered tuneups, boot fitting and whatever accessories it could squeeze in. A small collection of rental skis was added in its second year.
By the third year, it was time to move up. The effort became One Stop Ski Shop and eight more years passed at what was then the Overlook Hotel, now a Legacy Vacation Club property, that towers above McDonald’s. One Stop Ski Shop finally moved downtown in 1990, setting up on Yampa Street in the building now occupied by Sweet Pea Market & Cafe.
None of those stops were in palaces.
"It was painted this disgusting pink color," long-time employee Pete Dawson said about the Yampa Street location.
Dawson started with Kole in 1989 and has worked with him — for the most part — ever since.
"It was small and quirky, every square inch filled with product," he said.
They emptied out the building's basement to store rentals, then cleaned out the attic and stashed even more there.
No easy day
There have been plenty of tough times. The shop jumped to its current location on 11th Street and into a new building in 2006. What the spot offered in amenities, it lacked in location, 150 critical feet from the main drag of Lincoln Avenue, where visitors are more likely to pull off to pick up their rentals.
Kole still does rentals, but he's worked hard to build the shop’s reputation in other categories. The primary focus has been in boot fitting, in which Kole and his crew take an immense amount of pride.
"We'll stick with someone as long as it takes to find a pair of boots," Dawson said. "I think other shops don't focus on that so much. It's grown for us, and a lot by word of mouth, to the point where it's probably a bigger business than rentals for us.
"It's good because it gives people a reason to come down here and find us. We are off the route, and that's a disadvantage. We get no passing traffic."
Kole takes the boot fitting seriously and maintains an association with America's Best Bootfitters. He spent a week last spring skiing in Oregon to review boots with that organization for Ski Magazine's annual gear review issue.
The store, which offers river tubing and sells some water ski and lake equipment in the summer, never has built itself up enough to easily coast through a bad season. In fact, a couple rough summers have taken their toll.
The cold and wet weather of summer 2011 that pushed the Yampa River too high for tubing and the dry weather of summer 2012 that left it too low for recreation combined with a miserable ski season in between to cut deeply into the shop's pocketbook. After years of keeping several staff members on year-round, Kole had to lay off employees and run the shop himself the past two summers.
That has ground away at Kole at times, leaving him to lament the lack of a deep-pocketed investor and make decisions based on finances. That's one reason the shop only offers snowboards to rent not sell.
It's also allowed the shop to maintain its focus, and none of it has cut away at Kole's spirit and love for the business. Ask him today what he'd do differently if he could go back to that first Steamboat day in 1982 and he’d say packing up and leaving is the last thing on his mind.
"I'd stay away from my first wife," he said, chuckling, then turning the conversation back to the shop. "I used to order way too much product. That was detrimental."
But One Stop Ski Shop survived all that, from the tiny closet near the mountain to the new digs around the corner in downtown, through warm winters and cold summers.
It's kept Kole, his family and his staff in ski passes, and Ted, the ever-present office dog, in treats.
In a town full of full-service ski shops staffed by experts in all things snow, One Stop Ski Shop is not the locals place, but it's a locals place, and for Kole, that's not a bad way to make a living.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com