When the Juneau outdoor equipment shop Adventure Sports closed in 2000, local downhill skiers were left with few options for buying new gear in Juneau.
But many new models of skis make their way onto Eaglecrest Ski Area's slopes every year, despite the lack of a local store. That's thanks in part to people who are official dealers for certain brands of equipment.
Mark Sanderson and Terri and Darin Fagerstrom, with the help of the Eaglecrest ski rental shop, can supply downhill skiers with equipment. Though many skiers shop for gear on the Internet, buying locally is no longer impossible.
Ski gear companies often hook up ski instructors and employees of gear shops with "pro-deals" - heavy discounts on equipment. Dynastar, a major ski manufacturer, offers pro-deals to any Juneau resident who wants to use the company's gear.
"They do it because there is no retailer in town," said Sanderson, who acts as the representative for Dynastar in Juneau.
Sanderson, a former ski instructor and rental shop employee at Eaglecrest is the Dynastar representative. Bill Hodge, manager of the lodge and ski shop at Eaglecrest, recommended Sanderson for the position, Sanderson said.
Having access to the pro-deal means Juneau residents pay $700 for a pair of high-end skis that would sell for $1,500 retail.
Sanderson also is authorized to sell Lange boots and Look bindings. A setup of mid-range to high-end skis, boots and bindings from Sanderson would run a Juneau skier around $750 to $800 - half of what it would cost in a shop, he said.
The disadvantage is that no purchases can be returned, for any reason, Sanderson said.
"It's pretty much if they buy them, they keep them," he said. "I'm selling a really high-end brand, so avid skiers tend to know whether they'll like (the gear) or they won't."
Buying boots without trying them on can be difficult for skiers, especially beginning skiers, Sanderson said. Most of his customers already have skied in Lange boots, so they know exactly what they want to buy and in what size.
In exchange for outfitting Juneau residents with Dynastar skis, the company supplies Sanderson with about $3,000 worth of gear.
He began selling skis in Juneau at the beginning of last year's dismal ski season. Luckily, ski equipment companies understand that bad snow years happen, Sanderson said. Dynastar let him keep the dealership this season.
If skiers don't know exactly what kind of skis they want to buy, they can rent "demos" - nearly new high-end performance skis - from Eaglecrest to find which ski is right for them.
"I would say that my performance fleet has the finest skis in the world in it," said ski shop manager Hodge. "People who want to try the high-end stuff can certainly find it in town."
If a skier wants Rossignols, Vocols or K2 skis, Hodge can order them. Eaglecrest's goal is to get as many people outfitted with ski equipment as possible. But the ski area is not a dealership, Hodge said.
"We encourage people to go to the local dealers, most definitely," he said.
Terri and Darin Fagerstrom sell Atomic alpine skis from their home.
"We're doing this just to fill a void," Terri Fagerstrom said. "We don't have a burning desire to have a full-fledged ski shop, but nobody's selling downhill gear and this is a product we know and believe in, so we're just trying to fill a gap."
Because trends in downhill ski gear come and go so quickly, and because downhill ski conditions in Juneau are so variable from year to year, selling alpine equipment is a tough business here, said Betsy Fischer, who co-owns the Foggy Mountain Shop.
In the 30 years that it's been open in Juneau, the Foggy Mountain Shop has never sold alpine gear.
"We've always been a Nordic shop and we kind of pride ourselves on that," Fischer said.
The Nugget Alaskan Outfitter hasn't totally ruled out selling downhill ski equipment, but hesitates because of the popularity of snowboarding and the inconsistent ski conditions, said Ron Flint, who owns the store.
"If the season isn't in full swing by Christmas time, you've pretty much missed a major sales opportunity," he said.
The Fagerstroms sell basic beginner packages, high-end performance skis, and equipment for skiers of all levels in between, Terri Fagerstrom said.
The couple doesn't sell boots except in special orders, mostly because of the risk involved in properly fitting the finicky ski footwear.
The Fagerstroms call their business Alaska Hydro Sports, to reflect their original intention to sell water bikes in the summer months. They started selling skis when Adventure Sports closed, but kept the name.
"It's pretty wet snow around here, so it's fairly true to form," Terri Fagerstrom said.