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By Joe Stevens

Hello Everyone –

If you are a frequent visitor to this site and reader of this column, you know the fondness I have for every locally run ski and snowboard shop out there supporting the ski industry.

You know I love the fact that you can go into any of the shops and they will help you make a decision that will assist you in having fun while you are skiing or snowboarding at your favorite resort.

I know it’s a bit easier to sit behind your keyboard and just click that “buy now” button, but I think there is nothing better than to feel, taste and touch the product you are about to shell out some of your hard earned cash on to have fun.

Luckily, where we live in West Virginia, just a short drive from us is Ski Loft in the city of Barboursville. For over four decades the father and son team of Ron and Tony Newman have operated the store that features hard and soft goods, rentals and a tune up and repair shop.

This is also the place where I go and get “the word on the street” on what is happening off the slopes, when it comes to equipment and what people are saying. I have always enjoyed getting the straight poop from the guys who come face to face with the skiers and snowboarders who are visiting the slopes.

We went recently to pick up the kid’s new skis and boots and decided to sit down with Tony and chew the wax a little bit.

Just like the activity on the slopes, Tony told me this season so far has been about the same, “This season started off slow for us, then it ramped up the week before Christmas and it has been rocking ever since then.” Sound familiar, yeah, I thought you would agree.

Even though there isn’t any skiing or snowboarding going on outside the shop’s doors, Tony says they don’t even have to check the internet to find out that the snowguns are operating at the resorts, “People come in here and they are stoked, they are ready to go, and their eyes are wide when they walk through the front door. As soon as people hear about snow in the mountains, either natural or manmade, they are ready. What we have learned is that when the first snow hits, it gets the newbies anxious for their first turns and we see it in their faces. It’s pretty cool.”

So when it finally does snow in the lowlands, Tony brought me up to speed on what then happens for he and his dad and actually it surprised me a little bit, “When the white stuff is in everyone’s backyards, we see our accessory sales jump dramatically, they (customers) come in looking for a good pair of gloves or a jacket that actually is going to keep them warm and dry. All of a sudden, they realize that a ski shop like ours will have plenty of what they are looking for this time of year. It’s a little funny, because if it is 45 degrees they aren’t coming in here, but if it is 15 degrees, look out.”

When I got into the sport, it seemed like I upgraded my equipment every season or at least every other season. Tony let me know that they advise folks getting into the sport to start off strong and go from there, “We advise them to make sure they get top notch boots, because it all starts there. We make sure they understand if they have a good fitting boot, the rest will come along. It’s easier to move up in skis or snowboards, as long as you have a good boot. A good pair of boots can last someone 15 – 20 years, so we really try to make sure our customers understand it starts from the bottom up. Once you explain it to people, they get it.”

Since he was seven years old Tony has been working in the shop that his father opened in the 70’s. He laughed when he told me that it’s funny when people realize he might know what he is talking about, when it comes to their needs, “I appreciate the trust they put in me when they are spending money with us. After you sit and talk with someone and they understand the experience you have, they open a little more and that makes it easier for me to figure out what is going to be best for them.”

The Ski Loft

Needless to say, as soon as someone walks through the front door, the conversation goes towards what Tony and Ron have heard about the conditions at the slopes. Both are surprised that there are still folks out there that haven’t checked out the resorts’ on-slope cams that every resort in the region now have. Tony quickly explains that it helps take some of the guess work out of the decision where to go, “What the cams have done is to give a chance for everyone to know and that’s the main thing when it’s green in their backyard, they can tell if there is snow on the slopes. Before the cams, you had to rely on the resort’s snow reports and well, sometimes that wasn’t the most accurate place to get an answer. If you are going to spend your money, you want to know ahead of time if it is worth the effort.”

I for one can count on one hand how many purchases I have made over the internet for equipment I need to have fun enjoying the snow sports industry. But I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every trip I have ever made to my local ski shop and look forward to the next trip.

So, you may want to take my advice and check out that shop you have been driving by, I think you will be going back and back.

That’s it for this week. Just remember whether it be cold or whether it be warm, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. Your favorite slope is now open, so go make some turns and let gravity be your friend.

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