Friday, November 6, 2015

Working with Masters of their Art

Masterfit University Adds New Ski Bootfitting Training Locations in U ...This week was Masterfit University week in Reno. We had a great time. It was a small crew this year. We bring a big group every other year in a collaborative way with specific goals and tasks. The "off years" we only send a new fitters.  The group this year started out as a rookie fitter (Florian) and a third year fitter (Eric) to mentor him and get continuing education for himself. Then I decided I should go along to do some networking (and play some Wheel of Fortune perhaps?). At the last moment John Oshima went along too. John has gone through the most advanced classes probably 10 times, but he just loves to hang out and talk boots, so he gave me his best "puppy dog look" and got thrown into the mix.

So what goes on at these events? Masterfit is the most important educational organization for Boot fitters world wide. ( They have instructional classes in the United Sates, Australia, and Europe. Masterfit also develops boot fitting tools and fit aids, plus they run the industry boot test each year ( In addition they are the organization behind America's Best Bootfitters ( We go to many different Boot clinics, conferences, and seminars. Some of them effect our concepts and best practices here at the shop. Others are good excuses to ski and hang out with our peers with a little boot talk thrown in. Masterfit is the grandfather of them all and where most good fitters should start their journey. Masterfit has classes for all levels of fitters and sections that cover all types of knowledge including foot and skier evaluation, foot bio-mechanics, alignment issues, shell or liner modification techniques, and even the business aspect of boot fitting. There were probably 30 choices of classes in addition to the main content for each level. Certificates are given for attaining various levels of education. Very comprehensive. Super fun!

If you have been reading my blog over the years, you have already heard most of this and I just have to say it again. Masterfit is a great organization! I respect that they are simply trying to do the right thing by helping to provide a better experience for skiers. Yes, Masterfit is a business and they make money off some of the things that they promote. But the people behind it and who do the work are not in it for the money. If that was the goal, they would find other things to do. They are involved with skiing and bootfitting because they love it.

On the way home we were speaking of why we work in the shop and we are the same way. I have a team of people that are all basically under paid for the amount of knowledge, expertise, and skill they bring to the table. Most (probably ALL) of us could make more money doing something else. But this is more fun. It is more rewarding. We get to sell fun and lifestyle to people. Our customers love to come here. Not many people are excited to go to the DMV or to visit the Dentist. People love to come here. They come here to buy and maintain their toys. The shop puts visions of skiing into their heads and skiing makes people smile.

Masterfit is like that too I think. The instructors are all top notch, underpaid for their level of expertise, and having a great time while doing it. I have gotten to know most of the instructors pretty well over the years. They tend to work at resorts. This allows them to have the free time to teach until the tourists show up. It gives them the opportunity to submerse themselves in ski boots for a few months. They get to travel. Kitzbuhel Austria is not a bad gig for a week or so. Australia? Not so bad either. But mainly I think that these folks do it because it allows the skiers throughout the world have a better experience one boot at a time, and that is simply what a bootfitters mission is- or at least I think so, and I would like to think my entire staff agrees. Bootfitting is not a competition. It is a passion.

So there you go. Masterfit is simply a group of really passionate people who do their thing to make the world a better place. That holds true for the owners, the teachers, and the students. Hard to beat 'eh? We are lucky folks...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Holding our breath...

Well it is getting to be that time of year. The shop is about ready to rock and roll. Events are happening- tonight is our annual Backcountry Mixer. All we really need to get off the ground is some snow. Boreal has traditionally tried to open on Halloween. This year with all the El Nino talk it seems that Mt Rose was talking about opening a week earlier than that. Now it is too warm here this week to get excited but other places are ready to go. Sunday River in Maine is opening this Monday and will be the first resort in North America to open.
As a shop owner it is kinda important to see the resorts open. The sooner the better! Until they do, there is a chance they will not get enough snow to open until- who know? Christmas? That would be bad for business for sure. And we would all have to travel to ski or just keep waiting.
The Staff is eager too. A number of them need more hours and will not get them until it snows. And they want to be selling, renting, waxing, and fitting. Until it snows they are arranging, dusting, cleaning and the like.
The customers are getting more and more antsy too. This is like knowing you are going to a great concert but not knowing when it is going to happen. Just waiting to do something you know will be great...
And in the meantime we just wait. And try to remember not to hold our breath. Just relax. It will happen. And it will happen soon. Or it will be longer than that. But when it does happen it will be great- and that's what counts!

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Buyers Guide issue Blog

Well the 2016 Ski magazine buyers guide is out. Every year lots of skiers await the arrival of this edition to get their winter stoke started. Many skiers also rely on this issue to help decide what to buy. Over the years that mainly meant skis. Now they review boots too. And in between all the gear reviews are the ads. There are ads from all the major players. The review issues are to ski advertisers what the Super Bowl is to beer company's. Everything looks cool and inviting. So the products are beckoning to the consumers. We know what this means and it is somewhat important to us as a retail shop. We know that highly rated skis will sell well for just that reason. We typically look through the issue as a group and scoff at what we consider the inaccuracies. To our mind, they always seem to get some things right and some things wrong. But we know that customers will not always ask for our opinion compared to the printed word. And why should they? Ski magazines help sell skis- period. They are one of the many influencers the consumer is exposed to. It is a fact of our lives.
This year I perused the issue by myself for a number of visits before we all looked together. I probably read every review once and those of ski's I know well a number of times. I analyzed the comparison tables. I looked at all the ads. Here are my thoughts- right, wrong, or indifferent, about this years issue.
First of all I would like to say that one ad stood out from all the rest. Volkl? No. Marker? No. It turns out that Deer Valley is the Budweiser Clydesdales of Ski Magazine marketing. I agree that Deer Valley is magical, but the 36 page ad (yes 36 pages!) was more than I needed to send that home. Pointing out that Deer Valley was rated one of the top three ski resorts in North America for the past 10 years in a row by the readers of SKI Magazine (including five consecutive #1 awards),would do the trick don't you think? I will say that I enjoyed the ad though. It really made me feel the experience of a ski vacation and got me thinking about how I love to ski and that I would like to ski at Deer Valley some this year. The food, the lodging, the grooming- all first class for sure. There is probably no more civilized place to slide down hills on sticks than Deer Valley Utah! 

Next up was the short but important Trends section.A few highlights:
-Lighter skis are hot. Yes light is definitely still a trend in skis. What is light done right however? Too light can be a problem and weight has its advantages. I agree with all this.
-Revenge of the nerds? Are bootfitters Nerds? We always thought bootfitters were cool!
-Best in test winners by brand. We agree that blizzard deserves to be on top overall. We have carried them for years and know their excellence. Volkl and Rossi are both traditionally strong as well. They are deserving of the next two spots.We actually added both brands this season with their best scoring models in this test being the main reasons why. We came to the same conclusions during our own testing. Actually Volkl had the top scoreing models in the issue based on points for both Men and Women. We are carrying those two skis (and those two skis only) from Volkl this year.

Next came the ski test results by category. Skis are tested by test skiers and given "report cards" of a sort. Scores are compiled and averages  given. Results are based on scores and a written review of the skis is provided talking about the skis character and feel. You know- basic ski reviews. Overall the writing is good. This year the reviews seemed to be pretty accurate to me.
There are things I have a problem with however. I must state that I feel (once again) that both Head and especially Fischer were under rated or simply did not send skis (or the right skis?) to the test. Our shop test scores follow along with ski magazines on many models but those two brands are glaringly absent. I am simply at a loss as to why these two brands seem to fail at winning gold medals with Ski Magazine. On the other hand, it was great to finally see Stockli really participate in the test. Surprisingly they did not seem to enter the Stormrider 95 which we think is a fantastic ski. Overall though this year's scoring  seemed to be lined up pretty well with our testing impressions and scores. Better than most years results from Ski Magazine do.
Why do our results vary from the test? The magazine testers are certainly qualified for these tests if skiing excellence is the criteria. However most of our customers are not level 10 skiers and we feel they may find they get different outcomes. We still feel that (which we contribute to) is the most accurate testing and reviews for consumers. Like our staff, the testers have a broader range of experience and skill. We think this mirrors our customer base more closely.  I would also guess that we are simply a bit partial to our brands and have a bit of unintentional bias? Who knows, as we all do the best we can.
Things in the ski test that made me smile:
Four out of five stockli models tested win "stability at speed" in their category. Most of them by A LOT.  The fifth gets second place.  We have known this for years. Nice to find others getting a chance to experience the Swiss Ski that we love here so much. They are not for everyone...but you know who you are!
Head women's skis have been embraced by the magazines female testers. While I just noted that both Head and Fischer did not show as well as expected in the men's categories, at least Head did well on the ladies side. While we loved the older head women's skis, this new direction is certainly exciting for us. We are glad the magazine thinks so too. 
Boot tests-
We think it is hard to test boots. The criteria has to be based on performance with some fit notes thrown in. Since as bootfitters we know that "comfort is king" to about 98% of our customers, we don't focus on performance as much as on fit issues when choosing our lineup of boot models. That being said we were happy to see that the top two performing boots in men's technical models are ones we chose as well. The top performance boot was the Head Raptor 140 which is a staff favorite. The magazine quote about the boot was even from our own Eric Kipp who was one of the boot testers. Eric said "...quick, stiff, precise, with an amazing feel for the snow..."  How fun for Eric to be recognized for his thoughts in a big review like this!
The Fischer vacuum boots also got a mention about how "the stance is awesome". This is important, because it is awesome for everyone due to the molding. And the molding is why it is awesome. Other boots do not do this. Other boots are set in their angles to factory settings. There is a small amount of cuff adjustment on most boots but it is difficult to get a boot aligned perfectly without paying for a lot of labor. The Vacuum models becomes correctly aligned for whomever they are fit to (provided the fitter is well trained). It is a magic feeling when you are aligned perfectly. We feel this makes more difference than any other boot feature. Great skiers spend hundreds of dollars extra to get aligned well in their boots. Vacuum models do it for free. 
One thing the boot tests are disappointing on is the seeming bias against 3 piece construction. Dalbello Krypton models were absent entirely. We feel they ski great and offer comfort that is first rate. If the testers all had free ride backgrounds instead of carving and race backgrounds, we think it would be different. Maybe it's just us? 
On an interesting tangent, the Dale boot from Salt Lake City was tested and highly reviewed. We have sold these custom built boots for about ten years now (I love my personal pair). We agree with their assessment of the boot and would like to point out that the Dale is basically a three piece boot too!
Overall it is good to see boots reviewed. Boot reviews are tough. That is why they have just started doing them in a rigorous fashion the last few years. The folks from Masterfit University are definitely the best crowd to take on this task. We felt it was important to have has a tester there. Eric got the call because he is the right size and shape to test a lot of different boots. I think it was a value to the shop and Eric felt that he learned a lot. He got the scoop on the testing protocol, and skied more boots over four days than he had in his whole life. One take away of Eric's is that he needs to spend as much time necessary to get himself in a legitimate World Cup race boot. After feeling the power they posses he has decided he needs to go there for himself. I found that to be an interesting and telling take away!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Viva la France?

Rossignol logo The highlighted country on the map to the left is France. There seems to be a chicken looking at the map of France. Under the chicken it say Rossignol. Why is this important you ask? I'll tell you why...
 Our Fall Sale starts tomorrow. We will  have a LOT of skis from last year marked way down in price to make room for the new gear. Alongside these skis will be the exciting new skis that have just arrived for the 2015/16 ski season. For the first time, some of these will be from France. France is where Rossignol comes from. Rossignol has been in the ski business since 1907 and has many Olympic and World Cup victories. We have not sold Rossignol in the past, but we have always had a healthy respect for this iconic brand. We have continually tested the Rossignol skis over the years and the current models ski incredibly well and offer some fantastic values. After many years of stocking primarily central Euopean skis, we have said "Viva la France!". 
While we still love our Swiss, German and Austrian skis we would like to think we have evolved and become more open minded. We simply believe that Rossignol skis are some of the best right now and are pleased to finally offer Rossignol skis to our customers! 
So come on down and score some big savings on boots, skis or whatever else you need the next few weeks. The sale runs through September 13th. And while you are here, check out the latest and greatest from France! 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Will it be a GODZILLA El Nino?

Every year there are lot's of forecasts for the upcoming winter. As a ski shop owner I tend to want to scan all the various predictions until I find the ones I like. Every year SOMEBODY thinks it will be a good snow year. Sometimes it is the National Weather Service, other times it is the Farmers Almanac. Some years it could even just be Tim from Alameda who has a hunch it will snow a lot.

  This year tall the forecasts seem to be similar- "HUGE EL NINO!" they are shouting. One newscaster last week even called it a "Godzilla" El Nino. I wasn't sure how a huge Japanese monster had anything to do with yearly precipitation, but I am thinking Godzilla might be fun to ski with?

Anyway, it is hard to argue with the science behind it as I simply do not do my own ocean temperature monitoring. I just have to trust people that do it for a living. It is looking right now that it could be one of the strongest El Nino's since 1950. That could be very very good news for us powder starved skiers here in the sunshine state! We were talking today about how much we have used our race skis the last few years as we mainly had firm snow to ski on. It would be nice to spend more time on the fat skis this year!

You can read more about El Nino's if you are inclined here:

Whatever happens we will be here to help you have a great ski season. Boxes of goods are arriving every day. We open them, geek out at how cool it all is, and put it away for you to check out when you come in. We are currently getting ready for our big Fall Sale which starts on the 29th of August and runs through September 13. All the gear left from last year is at closeout "just get rid of it!" prices, and the 2015/16 stuff is on sale too with all of it's shiny newness! Come on down and check it out. Gear up for a Godzilla year!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We should be having fun now!

We should be having fun right about now up in the Sierra.

But we aren't unless we are up high or at a few select resorts.
Many of the Sierra resorts have closed and a few more probably should. Carson Pass is said to have a few pockets of good snow but not much is good in the back country either it seems.

There are a few exceptions that we keep hearing about:
Mt. Rose is way up high and still skiing well this spring.
Mt. Batchelor has had it's own weather system all year and is holding snow well into the spring.
Alta has considerably more snow than any of the other Salt Lake resorts and is good to go for spring skiing.
Brians Head in Southern Utah is having a better than average year.
When on the phone to Fischer skis back in New Hampshire I actually heard "I am so sick of winter! It's snowing again today!" To which I replied that I was going to golf tomorrow. I'm not really going to golf but I knew that would make him jealous. It was all I had in response to the snowpack in New England.

So it is not dry everywhere at least.

So will you find the time and make one last trip?

It is not seeming that anyone is still enthused here at the shop...

We are having what may be the biggest markdown sale in the history of the business and we only had a few sales today. We spent all day ordering shop supplies for summer maintenance and to be ready for next year.

Which we better start preparing for now because the forecasts are coming in!

Here are two:

ECMWF:  December looks wet, and we all will certainly be crossing our fingers that this verifies. California is in the midst of a truly devastating and historic drought. January and February looks warm. February could be wetter than average for northern California.

Farmers Almanac:  a warmer than average winter, although not by too much. January is slightly on the wet side. 

Fingers crossed! I may try to ski one more time. Then I golf, cycle, fish, etc.

If you are not busy and want to save some serious money come on by before April 12th. All skis are 40-60% off. Everything else is cheap too. We would be happy to see you!