By freelance ski writer, author and blogger Louise Hudson
With many ski resorts diversifying their employment opportunities by attracting business relocation, the resulting homegrown brands are helping to define and differentiate ski areas.
‘Made in Canmore’, ‘Made in Fernie’, ‘Made in Telluride’ – these are all attractive labels for today’s experience-caching tourists hoping to take a lasting mountain memento back home for themselves or a gift for a friend. From Canmore, this could be a Silver Tree Studio mountainscape, or from Fernie Beanpod Chocolate, or from Telluride a homemade trinket from Telluride Naturals, a bottle of Telluride-branded wine, or a coveted pair of custom Wagner Skis.
But this ‘place-of-origin’ collaboration is also working in reverse: more products and services are emanating from beautiful mountain towns and their brand names are attracting a wider-ranging, multi-skilled workforce, more year-round employment and even encouraging different types of visitation from the seasonal ski or summer traffic. Canmore used to be a gas stop en route to the more magical destination of Banff. However, nowadays there’s Grizzly Paw craft beer, Wild Life Distillery, Rocky Mountain Soap Company, Canmore Ammonite Factory, Le Chocolatier, unique cafés, bakeries, one-off boutiques and dozens of art galleries which have turned Canmore’s Main Street into a shoppers’ paradise, eclipsing even beautiful Banff Avenue. At Golden, near Kicking Horse Resort, recent ‘trendification’ is gradually turning the valley town into a destination in its own right, spearheaded by Tourism Golden which is attracting innovative business relocation.
Telluride has proactively gone after this kind of ‘brand-of-origin’ marketing, with the Telluride Venture Accelerator. This ‘bootcamp for start-ups’ offers grants of up to $30,000, attracting over 30 new businesses so far from all over the US. Other resorts have developed shared workspaces to attract the mobile workforce, including Heavenly where the ski in/ski out Tahoe Mountain Lab offers enviable offices with staggering views from the top of the California Tram. There’s also Tahoe Mill Collective, the Mountain Coworking Alliance, Entrepreneur Assembly Incline Village, and Elevate Blue in the Lake Tahoe area. In Colorado, Breckenridge has been a longtime exponent of coworking spaces. Elevate Breck has desks, phone booths, Wi-Fi, coffee bar, and a conference room a few steps away from the slopes. And, back in BC, Revelstoke has a similar set-up with open plan space, private areas, and meeting rooms a few minutes’ drive from sensational skiing.
North American ski areas have spawned ski wear companies since the 1940s when ski instructor Klaus Obermeyer set up Aspen-based Sport Obermeyer – still going strong with Obermeyer, now aged 99, still turning up for his five-day work week. Steamboat is the home of Smartwool, merino ski sock specialists since 1994, which expanded into base wear in 1999 and, later, technical but trendy mid-layers. More recently, Stio set up shop in Jackson Hole, producing outdoor wear for men, women and children. And just last season, Lynne Harrison expanded her art gallery and bike gear shop in Canmore’s Main Street into a skiwear boutique, selling high-quality ski outfits festooned in wild prints from her multi-coloured mountainscapes. “Skiing at the beautiful ski areas in Alberta like Sunshine Village and Lake Louise allows me winter access to view peaks like Mt Assiniboine and Mt Temple in their winter splendor,” says Harrison. “So grateful to access these wild places which inspire my paintings and Alchemy of Ride clothing.”
Locally-made skis are attracting the Millennial market in particular, lured by the promise of organic, sustainable materials, trendy top sheets and designs perfectly suited and customized to the local terrain. Skevik Skis was launched from Vernon, BC, near SilverStar Resort where Gregg Anderson apprenticed in the ski repair shop. Having designed a prototype, his brother Glenn was able to spend ‘co-op’ work terms through the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Victoria on his and Gregg’s start-up ski company. Ten years later and the company sells in shops throughout Canada and Europe, helping to spread the SilverStar name.
An all-women team from Lake Tahoe and Reno make skis, boards and apparel under the label Coalition Snow. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is also home to Arcade Belts, founded in Olympic Valley by three friends, one of which is pro-skier and Squaw Alpine athlete, Cody Townsend. “Our stretchy belts are ideal for ski pants as well as everyday use, says Arcade Marketing Communications Manager, Kasey Wiese: “Arcade Belts was founded on the belief that belts could be designed to function better, last longer, and be more comfortable. Developed from the ground up with materials that are built to go everywhere and anywhere, each Arcade belts provides a custom fit, sturdy hold and the right amount of flexibility to move with you.” Particularly necessary for skiing Squaw Alpine’s rugged and racy terrain.
As well as housing Rossignol’s US headquarters at Park City, Utah was home for decades to Smith Optics, famous now for goggles, helmets, accessories, and sunglasses. Originally though, back in 1965, founder Dr Bob Smith sold the world’s first thermal goggle lens out of the back of his van. The whole operation is now based in Sun Valley, Idaho.
With the increasing emphasis on local and organic food and drinks, micro-breweries, distilleries and food companies are springing up in ski areas. Many resorts sport their own branded beers – such as Bohemian Brewery’s Brew Ski at Solitude, Utah, award-winning Backside Stout at Purgatory Resort, and Pow Day IPA at the Waldorf Astoria Park City. In BC, Revelstoke has Mt Begbie Brewery and Fernie Brewing Co is a very popular craft beer maker, selling at Fernie’s famous Griz Bar, at bars around town, and throughout BC and AB. Après Lager is a spin-off from Joey Gibbons’ Bravo TV docu-series Après Ski, one of many Gibbons products and services identifying with Whistler Blackcomb. Kicking Horse has ski-themed craft beers from Whitetooth Brewing including Blower Pow IPA, and Truth, Dare and Consequence Imperial Stout named after local ski runs. And Big White hosts Elevation 57 Brewing Co, the highest micro-brewery in Canada, making a name for itself with 12 unique craft beers on tap.
Customized cocktails from local distilleries are springing up everywhere, notably High West Distillery in Park City with creative cocktails designed to complement its whiskey-pairing menu. Also in Utah, Ogden’s Own Distillery and New World Distillery are giving Snowbasin’s cocktails local flavour. The Breckenridge Distillery was one of the first, recently celebrating its 10th anniversary. In Canada, Canmore’s Wild Life Distillery is open for tours and sells craft spirits to the nearby SkiBig3 resorts. Distiller and Co-owner Matthew Widmer says, “Keith and I grew up in these mountains, skiing, hiking and biking. These businesses were our home away from home in the winter months attending numerous racing camps and countless powder days at the SkiBig3 resorts. Having them now pouring our products is a great full circle story, and we are truly proud to be associated with such tremendous brands. A big part of our company is the lifestyle piece, and SkiBig3 falls directly in line with the #WLDlifestyle.”
A focus on food finesse in resorts is generating celebrity chefs who are also publishing ski-inspired cookbooks which in turn further promote their ski areas. For example, there are Cristina Cook’s recipes in Cristina’s of Sun Valley, Whitewater Cooks, Ski Town Après Ski by Jennie Iverson from Vail and Whistler Blackcomb is reflected in several cookbooks by James Walk from Araxi Restaurant. Squaw Alpine’s poster pro, Jonny Moseley is the inspiration for a new high protein ski snack: organic sunflower kernels marketed by his wife, Malia Moseley, under the Iota brand.
Artists have always been ‘drawn’ to the misty and majestic mountains, leading to dozens of galleries and studios in ski areas. Pat Bavin’s art adorns the walls of the Elkhorn Hut at Panorama Mountain Resort where skiers take an hour or so off to enjoy cheese and bison cooked on Swissmar’s sociable tabletop raclette grills. Raised in the area, Bavin started out in 1968 running the ski rental shop and ski school. After a diverse career including coaching and heli-ski tenure planning, Bavin moved out of the ski industry to focus on the business of local art. From 2004-2014 he had a concession contract at Panorama for Bavin Glass Cabin, an art gallery, glass bead-making and teaching facility which is now run by a former staff member as Saffire Bead and Flameworks. In Rossland, BC, there’s landscape painter Stephanie Gauvin whose creativity is helping to define and immortalize Red Mountain ski area. Scenic Route Jewellery is doing the same for Big White, where Brittani Buettner carves mountain scenes onto silver and gold necklaces and bracelets – meaningful jewellery that inspires an adventurous life, she says.“Quite often people buy my jewellery as a keepsake of their time in the mountains. It could be someone’s first trip to the mountains or a reminder of a place they hold close to their hearts such as a mountain from their hometown, their first hike, favourite ski resort and more.” She sometimes snowboards completed orders to the Big White post box, getting substantial social media feedback for her pics.
The ‘Made in the Mountains’ two-way marketing momentum is getting so comprehensive that some ski area DMOs are packaging local products into events, markets and website promos. For example, Canmore has a whole section on its site about home-grown products. Breckenridge has its own Arts District which houses BreckCreate co-op artists and artisans, creating everything from apothecary to candles and ceramics, and open to the public for events and workshops. And Ski Vermont has linked all its ski areas to coordinate the release of Ski Vermont Wine, a limited-release cab sav made by 90+ Cellars, dubbed “the ultimate après ski essential”.