Ski Haus has become a fixture for outdoor equipment throughout the years. The store is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend. Owner Rod Schrage, top left, opened the store when he was 19.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Ski Haus has become a fixture for outdoor equipment throughout the years. The store is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend. Owner Rod Schrage, top left, opened the store when he was 19.

Ski Haus celebrates 40 years

Ski Haus history

- 1962-63: A small Ski Haus store at the base of Mount Werner is struggling and "near the end of the line."

- 1969: With financial help from "the most wonderful father in the world," 19-year-old Rod Schrage buys Ski Haus, keeps the name and opens his store three doors down from the longtime location of Dos Amigos restaurant. Lange boots and Rossignol skis are the big sellers early on. Ski Haus remains at that location through the 1976-77 winter, before moving downtown.

- 1978-79: After a tough period of sparse snowfall - with no snowmaking on Mount Werner - Ski Haus continues business at 845 Lincoln Ave., near the current location of the White Hart Gallery.

- Spring 1980: Ski Haus moves to a one-story space at 1450 S. Lincoln Ave., where Schrage soon adds a gas station and liquor store to boost year-round business. In ensuing years, Todd Fellows, who would take a job at Ski Haus in about 1990, forms fond memories of the little store with the red door. Although cramped, Fellows said, the store "smelled like wax and burning wood - it had a pretty cool feel."

- 1990: A second story is built onto the South Lincoln Avenue store.

- Fourth of July, 2001: The current Ski Haus store opens at Pine Grove Road and U.S. Highway 40.

- October 2009: Ski Haus and Schrage celebrate 40 years in business. Schrage shows no signs of slowing down, saying, "I'm a lifer - I've been doing this too long to quit."

Source: Rod Schrage, Ski Haus owner

Giving back

Ski Haus is celebrating 40 years in business with sales today through Sunday. Customers who donate lightly used gear and clothing can receive an additional 5 percent off purchases.

Donated items will benefit charitable organizations including Soles for Souls, Bicycles for Humanity, Coats for Colorado, LIFT-UP of Routt County, Everything Outdoor Steamboat, Stagecoach State Park, Patagonia's Common Threads recycling program and Eco-Cycle.

— Rod Schrage said he didn't have a long-term plan when he took over a struggling little business called Ski Haus at the base of Mount Werner 40 years ago.

"I don't think when you're 19 you have a long-term plan for anything," Schrage said Wednesday, standing in the outdoor gear and clothing store at U.S. Highway 40 and Pine Grove Road.

A lack of planning may have been for the best. There's probably no way Schrage could have foreseen in 1969 the four decades to come. Those decades included the winter drought of 1976-77, when Steamboat Ski Area closed for much of January; four locations for Ski Haus; the addition in the early '80s of a gas station and liquor store to the shop at 1450 S. Lincoln Ave.; the switch to running year-round from winter-only; the explosions of snowboarding and mountain biking; the diversification of ski equipment and styles; and more waxes, tune-ups and boot fittings than anyone could count.

Schrage's Ski Haus started with a parental gift.

"I had the most wonderful father in the world," Schrage said when asked about the initial purchase of the store. "He was willing to take a chance on a 19-year-old."

Schrage said that sometimes in those early years he wouldn't tell his father the entire truth about the store's finances, to preserve his father's faith in the business. The toughest time, Schrage said, was that long, dry winter of 1976-77. There was no snowmaking at the ski area, and the clouds were barren.

"It was devastating, both financially and just sitting around in the winter without a ski area," Schrage said. "That was a time when you really questioned whether the ski industry was the way to go."

Longtime employee Todd Fellows, 39, didn't miss a beat after hearing that comment Wednesday.

"Is that when you decided to open the liquor store?" Fellows asked Schrage with a grin.

Not quite - but that winter definitely planted a seed for additional revenue sources.

"When you only can make your living in four months, and the ski area closes, that has a big impact," said Bob Dapper, director of mountain operations for Christy Sports and a Steamboat Springs resident since 1971. Dapper said he was an instructor at the ski area that winter and remembers well the seasonal nature of Steamboat's economy.

"When you got shut out in the winter, you were really shut out," Dapper said. "We all took such a hit that year. : We were shoveling snow onto the slopes."

Dapper said he has nothing but respect for Schrage, a longtime friend.

"Rod's a great guy, and he's done a great job with his business. Anybody that can be in the ski business for 40 years and survive is doing something right," Dapper said. "He should be applauded for being able to make it through some of the lean, lean times."

In it for life

Sitting at a computer amid boxes of stored gear on Ski Haus' top floor Wednesday, employee Todd Givnish said trends in skis and snowboards this winter are all about new variations in camber and reverse-camber - whether the ends or middle, respectively, of a ski or snowboard touch the ground.

Givnish said reverse-camber styles, with the front and back ends curving up off the snow, provide "more of a surfy feel and better flotation" on the mountain.

Sales manager Murray Selleck, who started at Ski Haus in 1984, said advances in equipment technology continue to fuel the ski industry.

"Winter sports are a lot more accessible," Selleck said. "The learning curve is much easier."

Helping customers find the right gear to learn and enjoy their sport has been a foundation of Ski Haus' success, Selleck said.

Rick DeVos has seen that customer service firsthand. DeVos is executive director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

Ski Haus staff "have had a very long and involved relationship with the Winter Sports Club here," DeVos said. "They are supportive in many, many ways, from equipment needs to waxes and boots and skis, all of that stuff."

DeVos called Schrage a "true Steamboat local."

"He's definitely hooked into the valley, personally and with what he allows his business to do," DeVos said. "He's just big enough in what he does that, boy, he can solve a lot of different problems and needs for folks - they're obviously a well-stocked, broadly based kind of store."

Office manager Connie McCormick has worked at Ski Haus since 1992. She noted the fun and flexibility of the store's environment.

"It's like a big family, the people I work with," McCormick said. "Rod's a great boss. If you work hard for him, he really appreciates it."

Schrage said that after 40 years, he has no plans to slow down.

"I'm a lifer - I've been doing this too long to quit," Schrage said. "As long as it's still fun and I'm still healthy enough to do it, I'll be here."

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