Going for gear

Snowboards abound, but ski equipment in short supply in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2001

Ed Hansen, a 30-year downhill ski veteran, used to buy his gear in Juneau.

Since Adventure Sports closed last January, Hansen has had to search the Web for the lowest prices and contact stores by phone. He admits the biggest problem is fitting for boots.

"Have you ever tried shoving your foot into the Internet?" he asked.

Locals planning to snowboard this year will have no problem finding gear in Juneau.

But downhill skiers will need to get on the phone, surf the Internet or find a good catalog because there's no retail outlet for most alpine equipment in town.

The Foggy Mountain Shop sells ski accessories and apparel, but not the downhill skis, boots and bindings to go with it.

"We've been a Nordic cross-country ski shop since 1974," said owner Betsy Fischer. "It's what we do well, what we've stayed with, it's our main interest and we're sticking with what we've done for 30 years."

Nugget Alaskan Outfitters also supplies clothing and support gear for alpine riding, but has stayed away from stocking equipment because someone else always provided it.

Eaglecrest Ski Area has a full-service ski and snowboard shop and can mount and tune and repair most gear. It has an extensive demonstration fleet of skis and boards and helps people fine-tune the kind of product they're looking for.

"We can fit you with boots and skis and direct you to a variety of retail outlets," said Eaglecrest ski shop manager Bill Hodge. "Our job at Eaglecrest is to promote snow sliding, and part of that is helping people find gear."

Eaglecrest hesitated to sell ski equipment in the past because it didn't want to compete with local ski shops, he said. In the past, one or two local shops have sold downhill equipment.

Once a year the Juneau Ski Club and the Juneau Ski Patrol sponsor the Ski Sale, offering affordable, used and new mountain equipment in a one-day sale at Centennial Hall. Buyers stand in line for hours before the doors open at 10 a.m. and in the mad rush, the best gear and the best deals usually are snatched up by noon.

Jan Rutherdale and Jeff Bush shop for their family at the ski sale.

"We buy for four people, including downhill skis, cross-country skis, poles, boots, bindings, snowboards and whatever else you see in there," Rutherdale said. "As the kids get older we're always getting the next size up, upgrading, trading in the old, bringing in the new."

The family prefers to recycle rather than buy the newest gear every year.

"We buy what we need and if there are still holes, we go find it new somewhere else," Rutherdale said.

One downhill equipment retailer, Seattle's Alpine Hut, set up a concession at this year's ski sale.

Ron Fisher of the business said he sold 25 ski packages and filled 10 to 15 more orders after the sale. He hoped to set up a permanent representative in Juneau, but just sells over the phone.

"We can sell skis, poles and bindings," he said, "but fitting boots requires some guesswork and a little more effort."

He's devised a form that evaluates shoe size, foot size, height, weight, arch, size of calf, general physical characteristics and skier ability. Using the information, he can recommend a boot and ship it Juneau via FedEx. So far his success rate has been 100 percent, but he offers no guarantees.

Every year, Juneau skier Nancy Peel buys her gear from World Cup Sports in Girdwood, near Anchorage, because, she says, "they sell top stuff and the people who sell it know what they're talking about."

Owner Rene Requa said his staff is some of the most experienced in the country - one of his technical advisors is the lead technician for the U.S. Ski Team.

"We specialize in excellent customer service, expert custom boot fitting, impeccable quality in the back room," including ski tuning, mounting, custom work and custom grinds, he said. "We love taking care of the people in Juneau and have been doing it for years."

Finding snowboarding gear in Juneau is easier with two fully stocked snowboard shops.

Poseidon downtown and Boarderline in the Valley keep a full line of cutting-edge snowboards, boots, bindings and outwear for Juneau riders. Their walls are lined with an array of multi-colored boards, displaying many sizes, strengths and designs from setting suns to abstract art. Boots offer the newest inner-lacing systems or step-in technology. Racks of jackets, pants, and bibs show what is flashy and current in snowboard outerwear.

Both shops have experienced riders on the floor ready to help customers find the gear that suits their needs and abilities.

Some Juneau snowboarders don't buy their equipment in Juneau, nor do they shop over the Internet or from catalogs. They've gone a more adventurous route and found sponsorships.

Chris Currier used to buy all his own equipment, but now he gets it for free. He's a sponsored rider for the Nitro, Quicksilver and Spy manufacturers, which provide him with snowboards, boots, goggles and outerwear. He began as a test rider, offering comments and public exposure for the equipment. Now he has full sponsorships, with paid travel to and from events, and plenty of free gear.

In return, companies get good public relations and advertising when Currier wins a competition or is featured in magazines and movies. He said he's grateful for the opportunity - and the gear.

"It's the funnest job I could think of having and I don't want to pay for it, so I'm just going to keep riding my best," he said.

Free-lance writer Teri Tibbett can be reached at tibbett@alaska.net.

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