Best ski wear store Aspen – Performance Ski

Aspen’s Lee Keating — Authier Designer, Performance Ski Shop Owner — Has a Je Ne Sais Quoi that commands respect from ski brands, competitors and loyal customers.
By Meredith Ogilvy-Thompson 

lee_something_about_leeIt’s not easy to know where to start when trying to describe Lee Keating. Just like it’s not easy to explain why throngs of people pack into Performance Ski, Keating’s store at the base of Aspen Mountain, to shop and chat at lunchtime on a blue-bird day during the peak of spring ski season. But then again, it’s not everyday that a laser-focused sales executive with a successful financial printing business on Wall Street marries a former member of the U.S. ski team, moves out to Colorado, and goes on to buy an iconic skiwear brand that she now also designs.

Keating’s rather extraordinary journey was born from a most mundane affliction.

“My boot hurt, so I went into a ski shop to have it fixed and that’s how I met Tom,” Keating says of her husband Tom Bowers. “He fixed my boot, and didn’t charge me. So I invited him to dinner.”

Tom’s ski shop, as it happened, was the previous incarnation of Performance Ski, by all accounts an unremarkable rental and tuning shop. Keating would eventually open an annex next door—in her own words, “a small dump a quarter the size of all the other skiwear shops in Aspen.”

“Postcard was the brand that started it,” Keating says, referring to the line of ski clothes that arguably established Performance Ski as a bellwether. “It was 1996 and I saw it and flipped for it. I wanted it so badly for the store, so I begged and they scoffed. We were such a tiny shop.”

Postcard into one of the biggest names in skiwear. Other premier brands followed, and for years Performance Ski was a major sportswear dealer for Prada,  Moncler and Jet Set, among others. Keating became known as a brand maker.

By 2008, however, things began to change. Keating was losing her premier brands—Prada stopped selling through sports dealers, Moncler decided to open their own stores—and needed to find something new.

lee_floralEnter Authier.  An iconic purveyor of wooden skis dating back to 1910, the brand had undergone a revival in the 1980s that included retro ski clothes. It was sold to Hugo Boss and later Alberta Ferretti, before being bought by an Italian businessman by the name of Gustavo Sangiorgi.

“Tom and I had met Gustavo in Italy on our honeymoon. He came to Aspen in the fall of 2008, and he and I designed 10 pieces for the collection working out of my kitchen.“I had the store, was raising two children and still was running a financial printing business in New York,” Keating says with awry smile.

Now in its fifth season, Authier has become a cult classic. An edgy collection of plaids and camouflage with touches of fur, hints of retro, yet modern in functionality, and every inch high-end luxury without being flashy. It is Performance Ski’s signature brand, but is also sold in 10 stores around the world.

lee_camo_n_hatKeating herself designs every piece.“It’s all the things I wanted to wear,” Keating says. “And if you love it, you will sell it.”

From the vantage point of an oversized leather armchair near the entrance of Performance Ski, it is easy to observe how Keating’s passion has translated into a successful business. The clientele, 70 percent of whom are repeat customers, seem—for lack of a better word—happy. In fact, the atmosphere at Performance Ski is so social, one could easily be forgiven for thinking one had somehow wandered into a private club rather than one of Aspen’s premier ski shops.

“At the end of the day, there’s just something about Lee,”
says James Lartin, private chef to Aspen’s elite and Keating’s long-time friend.

Indeed, to spend any time with Keating is to be instantly struck by the fact there is just something about her. Whether effortlessly chic in perfectly worn blue jeans and an un-tucked flannel shirt,or miniskirt and a T-shirt, Keating’s style is unselfconscious; her manner quintessentially it-girl cool.

A cool that can, from time to time, be misinterpreted as cold or aloof, according to Lartin. “She just isn’t soft and fuzzy.”Neither is she a slave to fashion—the word itself makes her wince—nor much interested in selling for selling’s sake. In truth, Keating doesn’t try too hard, quite the opposite in fact.

lee_try_on_this“Lee can be brutally honest and tell you what not to buy,” one client says. “She has this amazing ability to push a sale, while instinctively knowing when to leave you alone. It’s like she knows if she can help you look good, you’ll be back.”

Keating herself will tell you she is good at reading people, can size them up, and know their style. And, she would never let anyone walk out of the store looking bad.

“I want people to buy stuff they don’t have to throw out,”Keating says, glancing over at her friend Minnie who smiles, nods and happily admits her ski pants are 12 years old. “At the end of the day, everyone has to be here to do sports.”

It is a sentiment Keating lives by, and perhaps the key to her success. From her many customers who call in advance and stop in straight off the plane to collect what Keating has carefully chosen—the Lauders and the Crowns are among Performance Ski’s regular clients—to her staff who, by design, work three day and two afternoon shifts so they are able to ski, to Keating herself—she skis every day, without exception, from 9:30-11:45 a.m.—there is no forgetting why anyone is there.

“Performance Ski is always one of my first ski wear store Aspen stops,” says world-renown mountain climber and part-time Aspen resident Annabelle Bond. “Lee has an amazing and unique style and is instrumental in bringing ski wear fashion forward but functional.”

Respect for Keating goes beyond her clientele. At ISPO Munich—an annual trade showcase for ski equipment and fashion where the buying for the following season takes place—competing ski retailers have been known to follow Lee’s path, stopping into Keating would never let anyone walk out of the store looking bad. exhibitors’ booths and checking on unknown brands simply because Keating did the same. Says one ISPO regular: “A retailer once stopped into a booth and said they wanted to place an order. The sales person asked, ‘Have you seen the collection?’ The response was ‘No, I just want to buy what Lee bought.’”

lee_in_stockWhat does Performance Ski have over other ski retailers? What is Keating’s je ne sais quoi?
“No clue,” says another longtime Aspen client.

“All I know is there’sa rumor circulating that when Leo DiCaprio’s people called to request she shut the store so he could shop in private, she refused. She said no! She’s such a badass. Imagine saying no to Mr. Gatsby.”