The footbridge was installed under the cover of darkness. Ski area management was actively blocking people from patronizing their foundling business. The resort closed off access to their ski shop with fencing and walls of snow. The diehard skier clientele had to ford the river to reach their newly opened shop in Taos, New Mexico. But soggy boots were worth it. The gear knowledge and foot-saving skills of the two Bobs—Gleason and Remiger—was legendary. When the bridge’s last piece of hardware was set into place, the Bobs looked at one another, flipped their feathered mullets from side to side, yelled in perfect two part harmony, Righteous!, and sealed the celebration with a John Hughes-worthy high-five. It was 1986.
This is not the plot of a slapstick Reagan-era ski movie. This is how the ski, snowboard, and bike shop BootDoctors began.
The Bobs previously worked at the Taos Ski Valley Pro Shop, where the queue for boot-fitting typically spilled out the door every day. They understood that the first line of defense against a crummy ski experience was good pair of boots, but if the fit was off even the best boots couldn’t save the day. The Bobs figured they could help more skiers by opening their own shop. “Collectively, they’d worked for various ski shops, ski boot companies, and as ski instructors,” explains Gleason’s daughter Galena. “Through their various jobs in the industry, they both noticed a glaring issue among almost every skier they encountered. Ski boots were uncomfortable and most ski shops didn’t have the first clue how to fit boots. They wanted to change that.”
Following a yeah, sure business agreement on a ride home from work one day, the Bobs borrowed money from family, sold possessions, and convinced some suppliers to back them. They scraped together enough cash to open in November 1986 at the base of the Taos Ski Resort. Business started slowly but word of mouth and unwavering commitment to customer service helped immensely. “That first year was tough but we enjoyed steady growth for the next ten years,” Gleason explains. “Our customers would tell their friends, and they would tell their friends, and the news got out. We’ve been lucky enough to never go backwards in revenue from year to year.”
Acclaim for BootDoctors’ high-level of service spread throughout mountain towns. Telluride, Colorado’s ski school brought Gleason to town for boot fitting and biomechanical work for their staff and special client groups. As so many do, Gleason fell in love with Telluride and relocated there with his daughters, Galena and Kelli, in 1996. The first BootDoctors’ Telluride store opened in the fall of 1997. Today, BootDoctors has two stores in Taos and three in Telluride. They operate year-round, catering to mountain bikers, river runners, skiers, hikers, climbers, and every other form of mountain athlete.
In both communities, BootDoctors serves as more than a gear supplier and outfitter. “Brick and mortar shops are critical to maintaining the authentic ski town experience,” explains Galena, who is BootDoctors’ head everythinger. “What is a core ski town without a core ski shop? Local shops support the community in less than obvious but vitally important ways, like donations to fundraisers, sponsorship of ski competitions, ski movie screenings…it’s a place to foster the stoke, to talk about rocker-magnatraction-sole compatibility, to fix that broken buckle, and get core shots filled. It’s a place to reminisce about that over-the-head day. Our customers, staff, and our community are family.”
Online bargain basement gear stores have hit brick and motor shops hard, but BootDoctors is holding steady, though it hasn’t been easy. As they celebrate 30 years in Telluride this fall, they’ve been pondering sustainability over the next three decades. Everything costs more in a resort town, rent, wages, shipping, ski passes for staff, gas for company vehicles, the list goes on. It is often assumed that because of this shops mark prices up. BootDoctors does not. “Skiing is becoming way too gentrified of a sport,” says Galena. “We want the local kid to afford a new set up and still have some money saved for college. But, we will almost always be beat out on price somewhere on the internet. The future of retailing is really in the hands of the consumer. The local ski shop is a dying breed. Our future is dependent on loyal customers who make the conscious decision to shop local.”
Along with Galena, Bob’s youngest daughter Kelli, the furious five-footer and a tie-dyed tutu wearing mountain crumbling skier boss, also works in the family biz as a chief buyer and shop manager. “We offer things that the dot coms can’t. Our staff talks the talk and walks the walk,” says Kelli. “They spend months testing new equipment and selecting the right mix for our customers and our terrain. We offer a unique demo ski program that gives the customer an opportunity to try the ski before they buy it. We have a year boot fit guarantee so any tweaks or adjustments that need to be made are on us. We love skiing and so should our customers.”
Sure, the Google machine can easily find discounted skis, but Internet.com is not going to mount bindings 1 cm ahead of chord center or analyze your stance or set a 2-degree base bevel on your edge or give up the goods on the local pow stash. Online customer service techs are trained on how to translate the in-store experience and culture to cyberspace. But no amount of training has ever made a conversation behind a spacebar feel like the in person honey hole chat with the avid local angler or the informative, casual convo with the friendly resident river rat-mountain bike-climber-ski bum.
When founded, BootDoctors set out to enhance the skier experience through translatable gear knowledge, accessibility and inclusion, passion, and customer service. With the help of their fanatical staff, the Gleason family continues that tradition today and has expanded to include every type of mountain sport, every type of consumer. There’s just something about the gratification of buying from a small homegrown shop that will never translate to the dot com experience. There’s a coziness to the service, a fervor to the excitable gear talk, and a feel-good of supporting a small town economy. Yes, it may cost a couple extra bucks to shop at BootDoctors, but the internet has never high-fived and hugged someone on a powder day.