Ski Haus celebrates 50 years in the Steamboat Springs community, lifestyle | SteamboatToday.com

Ski Haus celebrates 50 years in the Steamboat Springs community, lifestyle

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Friday, Ski Haus owner Rod Schrage sat behind his desk upstairs at the iconic Steamboat Springs sporting goods store sifting through old photographs and remembering how he got his start.

“There is no business plan,” Schrage said. “I’ve always felt like, with a little patience, things will fall into line. What you don’t see today might be there tomorrow, you know, and I try to not be overwhelmed by any one thing. … I try not be overwhelmed by things, so you can step back and look at what’s going on and maybe figure out a path that you want to take — a lot of times the path appears if you give it a chance.”

In the 50 years that have followed, Schrage’s path has taken more turns than an Alpine slalom ski racecourse.

He stepped into the starting gates shortly after arriving in Steamboat in fall 1968 to take classes at Colorado Alpine College, a four-year college nestled in Northwest Colorado.

That fall and winter, while taking classes at the college, Schrage started working part time for Merle Sandefur at a local ski shop called Ski Haus that had locations downtown and on the mountain. The store sold ski equipment in the winter and hunting rifles, Yamaha motorcycles and boat motors in the summers.

When the school year came to an end, Schrage went home to Iowa. He and his father returned that summer to camp and fish in the area. Schrage said he stopped by the store to pick up some camping equipment that he had stored, and that’s when he discovered the doors had been closed. He would have to go to the local bank to get keys to retrieve his gear.

It was during that trip that Schrage came up with the idea of buying and running the Steamboat stores, but at 19 years old, he could not do it on his own. That’s when he decided to bring up the topic with his father.

“I told him that this is a great opportunity, and that we should buy the stores,” Schrage said. “My father, being a much wiser man than I, said ‘OK, but you have to stay in school.’”

Schrage agreed to go back to college and enrolled at Colorado State University the following year. His dad hired local building contractor Tom Burnham to run the store during the ski season, and Schrage would return when he had a break to work at the store and to learn from Burnham.

Luckily, Colorado State University was on a quarter system, allowing Schrage to go to school in the fall and spring sessions and work at the store under Burnham in the winter.

If you go

Pleasant Valley Fall Trail Run
10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 6
This benefit for the Trail Maintenance Endowment Fund. Event takes place at Lake Catamount. Register at Ski Haus.

Movie night featuring “Shelter”
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15
Organizers are asking for donations for Protect Our Winters. Ski Haus parking lot, 1457 Pine Grove Road.

Ski Haus 50th Anniversary Super Sale
Oct. 18 to 20
Homemade chili and pie contest is set for 2:15 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19. 

Patagonia Worn Wear Repair Days
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19
Bring your favorite items in need of repair to Ski Haus. Patagonia will repair gear that’s busted from any brand on a first come, first served basis, and all fixes are free.

“My first year and the first winter went really well,” Schrage said. “Tom was a true mentor for me and the perfect guy for me to work with.”

But by the following summer, Burnham started to get busy with a lot of construction projects and told Schrage’s father that he wasn’t going to manage the store anymore. Schrage told his dad that school wasn’t for him, and convinced his dad to let him come run the store.

Bumps in the snow

Looking back, Schrage said it would be easy to say that it was all smooth sailing, but he admits there have been plenty of ups and downs. 

He had already overcome plenty of hurdles, including losing his lease on the Ski Time Square location and living through a rough 1976-77 ski season in Steamboat.

“The ski area opened like the day before Christmas, and then closed again like the second of January with two runs,” Schrage said. “I was broke. I couldn’t pay any of my bills, and the ski industry was hurting.”

In spring 1980, Schrage purchased a one-story gas station at 1450 S. Lincoln Ave. and moved Ski Haus to a new location in the back of the building. Before that, the store had operated out of locations at Ski Time Square and at 845 Lincoln Ave., where the store did business until 1979.

He continued to run the gas station in the front part of the building and added a liquor store to boost year-round business at the new location. Business was good, and in 1990, he added a second floor to the store that helped him expand operations. In the mid-1980s he also purchased a lot across the street at the corner of Pine Grove Road and U.S. Highway 40.

He didn’t have the money to build a new store across the street at the time, but he got approval to build in the late ’90s. On July 4, 2001, he opened the doors on the new retail space where his business has been located for the past 20 years. He also still owns the building across the street.

He faced and overcame the recession in 2008 and, more recently, the rise of online retail that has impacted many brick and mortar stores across the country. But Schrage said his store offers a great staff of knowledgeable employees who provide top-level service and has a solid reputation for providing high-quality ski, snowboarding, camping, hiking and biking equipment and everything needed to enjoy the outdoors. The store also offers a wide selection of clothing, shoes, maps and outdoor literature.

“It’s a great place to work because, you know, ultimately we work here because we love doing the sports and the activities that we sell,” said Murray Selleck, manager and buyer at the store. “You hear about folks that get involved in the ski industry who never have any time to ski anymore. They wind up kind of hating the job or losing the passion. In that regard, we get lots of ski time, we get flexible time to get out and backpack and enjoy the summers and mountain biking. The employees are able to really maintain a high level of passion and dedication to those sports, and then that kind of comes back to the store.”

But, while there have been challenges, there has also been a chance to build a strong business, filled with lots of long-time employees who have become family to Schrage and valued members of the community.

It’s a story that began 50 years ago, and one that Schrage doesn’t want to see end.

“You know it’s been a blink of the eye. I can still remember coming to Steamboat to go to school,” Schrage said. “Everybody wants you to have an exit plan and all that, but I don’t want to exit. I enjoy what I do, and this is my family. So, we’ll see. It’s going to be an evolution from here on out, but I don’t see any major changes anytime soon.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.


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