Family operated ski shops are still thriving

We all know it, we’ve all said it, and according to six of the world’s most well-known ski shops, this very notion of “family” may be the best line of defense for traditional brick & mortar businesses in the age of e-commerce. Here’s what we found out when we asked them how their ski wear stores are thriving in an increasingly online-oriented world.

“How boring is it to shop home alone and not have someone tell you how great you look in something you’re trying on, that’s such a sad and lonely way to buy ski clothing”


There’s a long list of reasons why Performance Ski in Aspen is one of the most successful ski wear stores in the world. The store itself is an Aladdin’s Cave of high-end labels, and one would think this may be the secret behind its success, but as many of Performance Ski’s loyal clientele will tell you, the real treasure at this posh ski boutique is co-owner Lee Keating.

Skier, mom, wife, business owner, ski wear designer, luxury brand owner (Authier), Keating is all of these, but she’s also one of the most charming and entertaining characters in the world
of skiing.

“How do we compete with all the Net-A-Porter’s of the world? How boring is it to shop home alone and not have someone tell you how great you look in something you’re trying on, that’s such a sad and lonely way to buy ski clothing,” Keating says with a chuckle.

“Family” may be the key ingredient in the prosperity of Performance Ski.  Keating admits the line between the shop and home gets blurred with husband and co-owner Tom Bowers (an ex-US Ski Team member) and their children Dairinn and Jack providing copious amounts of entertainment value to shoppers.

“We’re too cheap to hire an agency, so we have our daughter do the modeling for our ads. Working with my kids is easy, but working with my husband is not so easy. People have seen me throw ski boots across the room at him, but that also provides for entertainment for our clients and that’s what people like,” Keating adds with a huge laugh.


Gorsuch may be the Tiffany & Co. of the luxury ski wear world, but at its core is a family business with very humble roots.

“At Gorsuch, skiing is our heritage, and our family has been welcoming guests, friends, and clientele to the mountains for nearly 60 years,” says Jeff Gorsuch, one of three brothers who run the shops today.

Gorsuch stores are a destination, and it’s the exceptional teams of staff and professionals who make each store the destination that it is. It’s a given that you need great merchandise for prosperity in retail, but at the heart of Gorsuch are those who have given of themselves to make it the amazing place of community that it is. The richness of the relationships our family has built with the staff and our clientele give us a sense of community that is the lifeblood of success at our brick and mortar locations,” says Gorsuch.


You know your clan has deep roots in the ski world when the family name morphs into a verb over time. Ninety-nine years ago, Ambros Strolz began making custom, handmade ski boots in Lech, Austria, and people have been “Strolzing” at the family shop ever since!

Today, the humble boot maker’s workshop is a palatial four-floor luxury ski department and one of the best ski wear stores run by Grandpa Strolz’s grandson and namesake, Ambros Strolz Jr. The family boot brand is regarded by many as the world’s best bespoke ski boot.

“Four generations of families have been skiing in Lech, and they keep coming back because, in some way, a visit to our shop has become part of their vacation experience,” Strolz says.

“It’s the experience of the snow, the mountains, and the genuine “Austrian feeling” you get when you’re here that is missing from a digital App. You have to ‘feel it’ with all your senses, and this is something we focus on at Strolz, making sure our clients have a fulfilling ‘experience’ in our shop when they’re visiting,”
adds Strolz.


“Family, The Sign has always been about family,” says Bonnie de Merlis, one of Canada’s most influential ski fashion movers and shakers when asked to describe her shop in one sentence. She is the second-generation owner of Toronto’s The Sign of the Skier. “We’re family-owned and operated, so we love getting to know all members of the families that shop at our store,” says de Merlis, who believes it’s this sense of family that keeps her clients coming back to the Toronto shop that has had a cult-like following for years.

Proud of The Sign’s renowned “no stress to buy” vibe, de Merlis believes making the shop a place where clients can touch, feel, and try equipment with zero sales pressure is the best way to keep people coming back in the digital age.

“So much of what we sell needs to fit properly. We listen, we help, and we make sure the fit is right and the style suits, and that’s not something you can experience from a phone or computer,” says de Merlis.


  It’s a rare occurrence for a name to be synonymous with a sport, but in La Belle Province of Québec, when you mention the name Bernard Trottier, people immediately think of skiing.

“My father is one of the forefathers of skiing in Québec, and I guess you can say skiing and retail are in our DNA, so in 2011 it was a natural fit for my brother Richard and I to start our own shop, Ski Town in Brossard,” says Brigitte Trottier.

According to Trottier, creating a family vibe in their shop is vital to the overall success of Ski Town. “When someone enters our store, they see a wide variety of snow sports equipment and clothing. We spend endless hours coaching and mentoring our service and sales staff in understanding the needs of clients. A happy skier will always come back, and our mission is to sell happiness above everything else,” says Trottier.


Ben Franklin’s adage, “Honesty is the best policy,” may be a great way to conduct yourself as a good person, but it’s also a smart way to run a successful business according to Adam Cole, a second-generation member of Park City, Utah’s most famous ski retailing family.

According to Cole, honesty is Cole Sport’s highest priority, and the key to building lasting relationships with clients. Good relationships are good business in the e-commerce age. “From home, you’re missing everything that makes shopping for high-end gear so exciting,” says Cole.

“The relationship you build with sales staff is hard to replace. Most of our staff have been working at Cole Sport for 10-25 years and can match you to what you truly want. Having someone help guide you into the perfect ski pants or boots is something you cannot replicate from the comfort of your couch,” Cole adds.