Ending a day on the mountain with sore shins, crushed toes, and frozen feet is the fastest way to ensure a first-time skier never returns to the slopes.
Sure, the gear is to blame. But whose fault is it? The rental shop employee, the shop manager or owner, or the skier?
Some shop owners say it’s all of the above.
Scott Foster, owner of Lone Mountain Sports in Big Sky, Mont., says it’s a combination of rental shop employees not being trained well enough-which stems from shop managers and owners not training them-and skiers wanting to ski, not stand in line.
“They just want to get the getting of equipment over with,” Foster says.
Quick-moving rental lines are both good and bad, he acknowledges. It gets people skiing sooner, and the shop can fulfill more rental orders, and make more money. But with a fast turnaround, skiers don’t always get the service they need, which can result in a painful day on the hill.
“If the customer has a bad experience, there’s a good chance, especially on the rental side, that they may be one and done,” says Steven Richter, manager of the Ski Stop in Plainview, N.Y. “I certainly have seen some folks turned off by a bad rental experience.”
But even those shop owners and managers who think rental shops could be more renter-friendly know that, ultimately, they serve the industry.
“It’s kind of a cattle call, but they get you in and out,” says Denny Sachen, owner of Doc’s Ski and Sports in Santa Monica, Calif.
Sachen’s shop stopped renting skis in the ’80s, but he knows the business side of renting and says that rental shops help attract new skiers to an expensive sport. Rick Holliday, owner of Ski Frisco Sports in Frisco, Texas, agrees.
“The exact role of a rental shop is to bring new skiers into an expensive family sport,” Holliday says.
The biggest failure in the rental industry, he says, lies with bootfitting, because many rental shop employees don’t take the time to properly fit a renter. That means the shop is sending out already-anxious first-timers who don’t know they’re doomed from the start.
“That’s why the concierge boot people are doing so well,” he says.
One of those concierge companies, Black Tie Ski Rentals, is capitalizing on the stresses of renting gear and making sure new skiers and experts alike want to come back.
“Our whole model is based on a great experience,” says Joe Sternberg, Black Tie Ski Rentals’ co-founder. “My whole philosophy has always been bringing people back to the sport. If you lose sight of that, I think you’re in trouble.”
To ensure that customers are happy, Black Tie relies on quality gear—including boots—and a well-trained staff that caters to clients.
Sternberg says a vast majority of revenue from many ski shops comes from the rental department, so it’s worth investing more time and money into serving customers better.
Some shop owners and managers recommend having an experienced bootfitter in or near the rental area during busy times to help with hard-to-fit feet. Others say starting inexperienced employees in the rental department does them and the renter a disservice and is the equivalent of the blind leading the blind.
Foster feels there’s still some work to do, but focusing on the need of new skiers is a fine start.
“That’s definitely a good approach: trying to get more people involved by making that first experience or the first handful of experiences way better,” he says.