A specialty ski and snowboard shop in Colorado Springs is celebrating 65 years in business.
The Ski Shop opened in a barn by Colorado College in 1952, and was sold to Wolf and Julie Uhl in 1981, and then to Wolf’s son, Rick Uhl, in 2000. The shop has been located in the south end of downtown Colorado Springs since the 1970s.
Rick still owns and operates the store with his wife Debbie and his brother, Scott.
Rick worked at The Ski Shop as a teenager, and said something clicked.
“When I was 14 years old I first came here to work and I knew from the first day this is exactly what I wanted to do,” he said.
Scott was working in radio when Rick asked him in 2001 to run the shop with him.
Rick and Scott grew up on the slopes of Ski Broadmoor, a resort that used to be owned by The Broadmoor hotel, and both pride themselves on their expertise — every year they have teams of employees who try out skis and snowboards for their customers.
“I think the record we had [tried] was 32 pairs of skis in one day,” Rick said. “You’re exhausted by the end of the day and sometimes it’s two to four days long, but you really have to get all your information.”
Scott said product knowledge is one of the main reasons the store has been successful.
“We’re able to use that expertise and knowledge and transfer that to the customer,” he said. “The customer says, ‘I’m an intermediate-level skier, I don’t know what to ski on.’ We have an idea of what would work well for them.”
While the owners can suggest products to their customers based on personal experience, The Ski Shop also modifies ski and snowboard boots for a better fit.
“It’s real easy to sell boots, but it’s real tough to fit boots, so we’ve really focused on how anatomically to make that boot more like your foot,” Rick said. “Because the boots are like the foundation of your house, that’s where all the energy transfers to the ski.”
Rick also attributes the boot fittings and devoted customers to the store’s success. Having been open six and a half decades, Rick said he has seen third and fourth generation customers whose families have shopped there since its first season.
“Being a single store makes it tough sometimes, but it’s also a benefit,” he said. “I’ve been here for 30-something years — people just got used to seeing my face. My dad was here, same thing for most of my crew.
“We do not have high turnover for most of our crews and they’ve been here for quite a while. It’s good to see a familiar face every time you walk in.”
Rick and his family have been around the store for a long time, and with that comes both good and bad seasons.
Every summer, The Ski Shop is closed for three months, which is tough because no other outdoor equipment is sold. Though the store is open August through April, Rick said the shop is only busy six months of the year.
“With some of those lean years it’s kind of discouraging to close the doors and realize you still got everything and overhead remains the same, but there’s no income coming in, so you’ve got to work really hard to be frugal, to save your money,” he said.
Even when the store is open, Mother Nature is the boss.
“If she lets it snow, we will have a very good year, and when it doesn’t snow, those are the lean years,” Rick said. “It doesn’t matter what the economy’s doing or what the stock market is doing — it’s all based on snow.”
Rick said an additional challenge is the rise of internet retail, but he has noticed a change in the attitude toward buying ski and snowboard products online.
“It seems like due to the internet, we’re getting busier because people are getting tired of reading a review on a ski that was written from somebody on the East Coast versus coming in here and talking to someone who’s actually skied on that ski,” Rick said.
Though he declined to disclose store revenue, Rick did say profit has increased by 20 percent in the last four years.
One big change The Ski Shop made five years ago was joining the buying group called Snowsports Merchandising Corporation, which allows Rick to purchase snow gear at significantly reduced prices.
“That’s how I’ve been able to offset the internet,” he said, “because I can stay very competitive with everyone online and stay profitable.”