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Pigs in blankets will be served today at Snowmass Sports, part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the resort that opened Dec. 16, 1967. The retro snack, apropos to 1985 when Tom Wenzel debuted a slopeside ski shop in the then-Eldorado lodge, also speaks to the warm embrace of this family-owned business seen through a little bit of comfort food.
“Growing up in Snowmass, in a family ski shop, breeds a love of skiing,” Cameron, 34, said. “I remember clinging to the chairlift and not wanting going back to college,” in Clemson, S.C., where he studied business.
When the younger Wenzel finally came home — via Chicago and Bariloche, Argentina — he took an advanced degree in customer service through hands-on work in the shop at the end of the Snowmass Mall.
“We try to set ourselves apart by buckling the boots,” Tom Wenzel said, after helping a tender-footed customer get fitted into a pair of rental ski boots. “We try to be hands on and make sure people are comfortable. Treat others like you like to be treated.”
As if on cue, Alex “Goldy” Goldberg, who said he’s been a customer since 1990, popped in for a quick hello and hug, sending notice he was back for his 27th season.
“They’re the best,” Goldberg enthused. “Coming from a family-owned business in Pennsylvania, it’s a real treat to have one slopeside in Snowmass.”
Over the years, Wenzel has figured out a product mix that works, i.e., while Snowmass Sports rents ski boots and snowboards, it does not sell those items.
Cameron Wenzel further refined the leasing options and borrowed a page from Suit Yourself, the ski clothing rental operation started by Lorenzo Semple (an Aspen Daily News columnist), by offering that service himself.
“People skiing for one day don’t need to spend $200 on pants,” he said.
Cameron also thought to sell Dipping Dots in the summer, to quench people seeking an ice cream fix on a hot July afternoon.
But summer is still secondary to Tom Wenzel, who remains true to the lopsided seasonality that Snowmass promised ski bums and business owners who were lucky enough to swim with the tide back in the sport’s earlier heyday.
“The greater majority of our business is done in 16 weeks,” he said. “We can make ends meet in a four or five-month period. But a third of the year, you’ve got to be prepared to weather the storm.”
From a high season need for about 15 employees, Snowmass Sports scales back to just two people for at least part of the year.
Cameron has been able to lead technical advances through the website, where about 40 percent of the rental bookings are made in advance. But the personal touch is never far from the surface.
That’s a handy tool when vying against the booking power of Aspen Skiing Co., which he admitted has the convenience of “one-stop shop. They have a big product to sell. It makes it much more difficult.”
By the same token, Tom retorted, “For a little store, per square footage, we get our share.”
Keeping with the times
When Cameron originally stepped in to help manage the store, at the start of the 2008/09 season after an employee had a serious medical issue, “I had a passion for the industry. It was a great opportunity to run a family business, but I originally had no intention of doing that.”
By 2012, he was moving Snowmass Sports’ data from paper forms onto computers.
“It gave us a customer database so when they came in, we knew they wore a size 27 ski boot.”
Today that’s the industry standard, but was a significant move for a mom and pop shop at the time. Online reservations quickly followed for additional smooth integration. “It’s a big part of the business,” he said.
In the 46 years that Tom Wenzel has toiled in the local ski industry — having started at Gene Taylor Sports, another family-owned local institution, back in 1971 — he’s seen a seismic shift in many areas, including guest visits. Back in the day, individuals and groups visited Snowmass for week-long stays, usually from Saturday to Saturday.
“There was always that steady turnover. People came in Saturdays for their equipment and turned it in on Friday nights,” Wenzel said. “I remember Saturday mornings as always being the best time to ski.”
The addition of more lodging gave the public the ability to wield the upper hand when they wanted to come and leave, he said.
Gene Taylor’s had another keen impact on Tom’s life as he met his future wife Harriet while renting her a pair of skis.
With respect to the decades his dad has toiled in the business, Cameron said, “I’ve been here for 90 percent of my life.”
While some stays by “real skiers” may now be in the three-to-five day range, he said, Snowmass Sports is seeing more foreign travelers, including a solid market from Brazil, Australia and Argentina.
Almost since its 1967 roots as Snowmass-At-Aspen (now Snowmass Ski Area), the resort has been a favorite of corporate gatherings. Tom observed, “the groups are generally of smaller size” but that there are now more.
The Florida Ski Club is Cameron’s favorite and not just because they’re coming from 75 degrees, he said. “We’re so glad to have them here.”
The Floridians will get the same treatment as the bigger-name guests as befits the low key feel of Snowmass Sports. Still, it’s known that PGA players favor the shop, as does a former vice president Al Gore, the original Spiderman, Jeff Gordon, Will Smith, Reba MacEntire.
Photos from a generation ago — Andy Mill in his prime — and Martenson tie together the first 50 years of Snowmass’ history and suggest many future runs.
Last winter, a woman attending a conference wasn’t able to find rental gear for a late afternoon uphill ski that required climbing skins.
“I let her use my stuff,” Cameron said. Still, that doesn’t change their decision to retain a focused inventory of product in house that doesn’t include mountaineering gear. Instead, Snowmass Sports sticks with its strength.
“Because we are locally- and family-owned, you’re going to get a different level of customer service. People notice and appreciate it,” he said.
Tom Wenzel is thankful for his long career of working in the industry at a job he loves.
“Through the years it’s provided a lifestyle that’s hard to come by,” he said. “You work hard for five months, coast for two months before and two months after,” and pretty much just get by during the summer.
“There’s not a lot of businesses where you have that,” he said, adding that at its heart, Snowmass is a ski town.
Indeed, while Snowmass the resort started 50 years ago tomorrow, the municipality of Snowmass Village did not incorporate until a decade later, in 1977.
One level up on the Snowmass Mall, the season’s momentum was also palpable.
- The article was Adapted from Original by Madeleine Osberger, published December 15th, 2017 in the Aspen Daily News.
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Snowmass Sports are more than just a ski shop--they are a family owned business that has been in business on the Snowmass Mall for over 30 years, and you can trust them to give you the perfect fit for your boots and skis. There is no reason to consider any other sports shop.
My ski mornings always get off to a great start when I enter Snowmass Sports to pick up my equipment! With its premier location slope-side at the end of the Snowmass Mall, this 30 year old family owned shop is the only place in Snowmass Village to go for all skiing/boarding needs. My family and I have been coming back for over 20 years.
It wouldn’t be a family ski trip to the four mountains of Aspen, Colorado without a stop at Snowmass Sports to fill our equipment needs. Snowmass Sports is a second-generation family-owned business, staffed with knowledgeable sales associates and technicians who know how to properly access and fit all levels of snow sports enthusiasts. Snowmass Sports’ ski-in, ski-out location on the Snowmass Mall, makes it a quick and easy stop to exchange and add/subtract equipment, gear, and clothing should snow and weather conditions change.
Snowmass Sports is absolutely the best place to go for your ski rental (and other ski equipment and clothing needs). We have out-of-town guests (family and friends) staying with us almost every week during the ski season and we always take them to Snowmass Sports for their rentals. They have a very knowledgeable and friendly staff and the best location (slope side and right across from Starbucks).
Need swap our equipment during your day? With their slope-side location It’s easy because you can be back out on the mountain in a short amount of time. Plus free overnight storage for rental customers is the best, to rack your skis there at night and not have to carry them back and forth every day.
Special service on my new pair of skis. Above and beyond. Best ski shop in Snowmass. Highly recommend to my ski clients and anyone needing anything associated with skiing. Many thanks, Snowmass Sports!
Aspen Snowmass comes to life during the winter in a stunning display of color and light, leaving you overflowing with wonder and joy! Don’t miss out on our vacation this year. Book your equipment with Snowmass Sports