From the time of their inception, the small towns of the Rockies and the lives of people who line in them have revolved around the mountains. The character of native Indians, miners, and modern pioneers alike have forever been influenced by the power of the rugged peaks and the purity of the piercing blue skies. Molded in the mountains’ image, the modern inhabitants of Crested Butte, Colorado are an inspired breed, rugged and enduring. They are a people accustomed to the hardships of mountain life, as well as the rewards.
These are also the people who etched snowboarding permanently into the history and lore of the land. I found them slopeside, at the Colorado Boarder. Kicking back in the shop, I noticed a customer fixated on a tacked-up photo. She turned to the guy behind the counter and, in reference to the image of a boarder dropping a sixty footer in Alaska, asked, “Is that you?” He answered, “No, that’s Chris. He’s the guy setting up your board.” She knew then, as she headed confidently out the door for her first snowboard lesson, that she had come to the right place.
Since 1986, pros and first-timers alike have felt that same feeling when they walk into the Colorado Boarder. Long before there was any money in snowboarding Jim and Seth shard two of the major components to a successful business—vision and enthusiasm. At the time they were selling snowboards from the rear corner of a second-hand clothing store. Lots of folks were selling boards back then, but what made and still makes the Boarder unique is the package of accessories that comes with every purchase: confidence, friendship, and soul.
Since that time the story of the Colorado Boarder has been one of steady progression. Staying on top in the ever-changing and fast-paced snowboard industry is demanding, especially in highly competitive Colorado. To meet the growing demands of the market, the Boarder moved in the fall of 1987 to its current location at the base of Crested Butte. Numerous alterations have been made to the shop over the years, but last season saw the greatest change with the opening of a separate rental and repair facility across the hall from retail.
The current shop includes a fine array of customer-friendly features: lockers, a basketball hoop, a TV/video set-up, all accented by a killer mural that Bart painted on the wall of the rental shop. Also unique are the shop’s snowboard school lesson packages that not only draw the first-timer into the Boarder, but also send them out with the proper equipment. As Crested Butte develops into a veritable snowboard power, the shop has become ever more involved in the resort’s activities—which is good. For example, the Colorado Boarder purchased all of the material for the mountain’s snowboard park this season and helped to design and maintain it (no easy task in a place that is plagued by incessant dumpings). The Boarder also sponsors the annual U.S. Extreme Snowboard Championships that are held at Crested Butte.
Snowboarding Business caught up with ????? to talk about ????????
Tell us about the market in Crested Butte and how it differs from, say Southern California?
The snowboard market in Crested Butte revolves around steep and hopefully deep, all-mountain riding. It’s following the skiing trend that has been here in Crested Butte; jumping off big rocks and cliffs and going fast. There is some skate style happening too and we totally support that as well. A lot of the jibbers here also respect the guys who can go huge, stick a landing and ride fast.
So with the speed and cliffs, and that style of riding going on, how does that effect your buying and the lines that you carry?
We do really well with technical clothing; burley stuff that holds together. We don’t sell much along the lines of waterproof jeans, but rather, more functional items. With hardgoods we sell a small amount of low soft boots compared to other areas, as opposed to higher, stiffer boots that are better for freeriding. As far as boards go, we sell a lot more big ones than small. A 145 just won’t get you by on a deep day in Crested Butte. Strangely enough, there’s still only two or three percent hard shells out there.
Do you have any special strategy for buying?
The trade show are like one big reunion for us. All of our friends whom we used to ride with and even some of our original team members are now reps or working somewhere in the industry. The guys who are running the companies now, if they’re snowboarders, they know what we’ve been through. When I write an order it’s with somebody we know and have known for years and we know what to expect. That’s something that you don’t find in other businesses.
Have you seen the styles of riding changing over the last several years?
Absolutely. It’s going to all-mountain freeriding. You’ll always have the skate style and then the group that won’t ride anything under a 170, but in general, things are going toward the middle. We see things moving to big and fast, not slow and spinny. It’s reverting to freeriding, riding everything, like in skiing. That’s why Crested Butte is going off, because the style all over is going back to freeriding, and there’s killer freeriding here.
Besides being slopeside here at the shop, how to you guys stay in tune with what’s happening in snowboarding?
We all ride. We ride with everybody at Crested Butte. It’s pretty easy to figure out what people want and what works or doesn’t work. More so than any other ski area, there is a durability factor here with clothing and boards, but more specifically with boards. If a brand gets the reputation of blowing up easily when it hits a rock that will ruin the rest of the sales on that board. We choose reputable lines, and if they hold up well, they’re an easy sale. Aside from all of us being out there and riding we work closely with local riders. We also get some insight by supporting the Academy (which is the local high school’s snowboard team), a pro team and the Western State College Snowboard Club.
How is it that your service and repair have become so famous?
Experimenting. Chris Cox and I started repairing boards in 1986 and we just tried different things (as using pieces of hockey sticks to rebuild cores)—after doing that for eight years it’s pretty easy to look at something and figure out how to go about fixing it. What really helped us was in the beginning was that my partner Jim has cement mixers and bulldozers, and he builds log homes and he has always built stuff. Jim contributed the most by being able to look at something, know what it was made of, and know how to fix it. His input has always helped the rest of us in the rebuilding of edges, grinding, epoxying, and even in remodeling the shop.
We also bought a Wintersteiger machine four years ago. We were one of the first snowboard shops around to have one, which goes back to Crested Butte being a technical mountain—people care whether they have sharp edges or not
What do you think customers feel when they come into your shop for the first time?
I think some of them are shocked because we’re super easy to get along with. We are definitely rough around the edges, but it makes everybody comfortable. We try to be professional to an extent, but we try to have fun too. It’s not easy to be in a shop all day. I think that they sense that we’re just snowboarders too.
What is the Colorado Boarder doing as a shop to keep up with the market demands for the near future—plans for the shop?
We’re going to need more space, as our lines increase. This season we carried 22 board lines and next year we have 26, so more space for sure. We are also opening a store in the Gunnison that will be open year around. We’ll do some back-to-school snowboard sales, summer clothes and shoes. I feel like its kind of a cop out to be open seasonally, because I think that there are a lot of people, especially with the snow we have, that do backcountry and need equipment after April.
What are three things that make Colo
rado Boarders unique?
1. Bart’s mural in repair.
2. We’re in charge, we’re not employees.
3. We all ride and we know where everybody’s coming from.
Kurt Hoy is a pro rider for Apocalypse Snowboards, and often rides in Crested Butte, where he lived from 1987–91.