Chicago based contributor, Eliot Hellman recently caught up with Jeff Magnusson, the owner of Scandinavian Ski Shop and Steve Olson, the manager of Viking Ski Shop and brings us the inside scoop on the unique offerings of these two long-time, family-run Chicago shops.
With the winter holidays upon us, skiers and snowboarders are looking at their gear and suddenly realizing that the “I’ll fix it next season” moment has finally arrived. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by holiday stress, COVID fatigue and the gift-giving season in full swing you might be tempted to reach for your smartphone or keyboard and call it a day.
While online retailers offer convenience for gearheads, patrollers, instructors and other industry professionals with enough experience to evaluate product choices independently, this is more challenging for recreational skiers and riders. With so many gear choices, this group will benefit from the expertise, experience, services, and product selection that is available at your local shop when buying gear. Below are our top four reasons to shop local this season.
1) Unrivaled Experience & Expertise. For many people the abundance of technical jargon for each ski, snowboard, boot or binding can be bewildering. Maybe you’re just getting into the sport and don’t know the difference between rocker and camber. Or maybe you're returning from a long hiatus and wondering whatever happened to tall, skinny skis.
Since we’re all spending enough time online these days, try heading over to your local ski/snowboard shop to get answers from someone like Jeff Magnusson, the owner of Scandinavian Ski Shop. His father started the shop in 1964, and Jeff worked there throughout high school. During college Jeff worked at two other shops in Colorado, and then eventually came home to run the family business. “I just always enjoyed it,” Magnusson says. “I’ve been skiing all my life. It’s just something I’ve always done.”
The personal experience built over decades is priceless when trying to match a customer with the right gear. Few sports require such perfect harmony between multiple pieces of highly technical equipment with a wide variety of specifications that not only have to match with each other, but also match the unique individual.
The staff at local shops also stay up-to-date on current trends by attending manufacturer demo events where they get to actually try the skis and snowboards that will be offered. “You go out and spend anywhere from a day to three days just trying different skis so you know how it performs,” says Steve Olson, the manager of Viking Ski Shop. “Someone has skied everything in [the store] so we can tell people how it skis instead of just a blank review.”
Like Scandinavian, Viking Ski Shop has been a family business for more than five decades. Bob Olson, Steve’s father, started the shop and Steve has been selling skis for 22 years. He is now a manager for Viking’s second location, and Bob continues to run the original location.
2) Outstanding Service. In addition to the standard waxing, tuning, and sharpening services that need to be done in person, local shops like Scandinavian and Viking are also providing a customized level of service that is almost impossible to replicate. “We’ll look at somebody for skis and try to figure out what the best size is because there are multiple sizes depending on your skiing level, and your performance, and what types of turns,” Olson explains. “When you’re not looking at somebody it’s pretty hard to have that discussion.”
Service is especially important when it comes to ski boots. If you’ve ever cursed your ski boots for being uncomfortable, plastic clown shoes, they probably weren’t fitted correctly. “They need to be molded to your foot,” says Olson. Using special machinery, both the hard plastic exterior and the soft padded interior can be molded to a person’s body. “It’s a great advantage as far as comfort and performance.”
Scandinavian Ski Shop also adds layers of personal service by allowing customers to schedule a one-on-one appointment that caters to their specific needs. “We have an appointment schedule for anything, whether it be boot fitting or talking about skis or rentals,” Magnusson says. “We don’t have customers waiting in front of the store while we’re waiting on customers that came in five minutes before.”
Originally conceived as a social distancing measure to address COVID, the system has allowed Scandinavian to ensure better customer service. “We wanted to do it primarily for rentals. Now it’s if you want to make sure you have personal attention,” Magnusson adds.
3) Even with better service, products and pricing are competitive with online rivals. Although COVID has caused industry-wide delays on deliveries, customers can still expect a competitive selection of products because the retailers already placed their orders from manufacturers back in January and February. “There’s some stuff that’s a little bit slower,” Olson admits. “For the most part everything’s rolling in pretty good.”
When it comes to pricing, customers can expect to find their local shop competitive with online retailers. “On skis and bindings, we’ll always match internet pricing,” Olson mentions. Although Viking can’t price match on boots, there’s a very good reason. “We’re fitting it,” Olson explains. “You’re molding the boot to the person’s foot. If you need fitting or any adjustments it all comes with the purchase of the boot.”
In some cases, local shops like Scandinavian can even beat larger retailers by staying flexible and selling through a variety of channels. “Our prices on eBay are typically lower to get the customer to buy from us,” says Magnusson. In addition to the eBay operations, Magnusson aims to set up Scandinavian’s online store that will be price competitive and offer standard perks like free shipping.
Finally, local shops also offer a product that can’t be found anywhere else; seasonal rentals. For a fraction of the price of buying or renting on a daily basis, customers can pick up a complete set of skis, boots, and bindings to use all season long. In a COVID world, the ability to avoid long rental lines at the resort may be priceless. “I think daily rental is going to be a dinosaur,” Magnusson notes.
If you’re thinking about a long term rental, however, now is the time to get over to your local ski shop. “By the time we get to January we’re probably not going to have any daily rentals,” Magnusson observes.
4) COVID operating procedure are top priority. Local ski shops are taking COVID operating policies seriously. “We require face masks in the store, we’ve got hand sanitizer all over the store, letting fans run, getting fresh air brought into the store,” explains Olson about Viking’s procedures. “We’ve got separate areas to keep everybody distanced.” At Scandinavian, Magnusson echoed the same policies. “We’re sanitizing on a regular basis. We’re making sure that we’re masked up and that all of our customers are masked up.”
The response from customers has been very positive. “For the most part everybody’s pretty at ease walking in,” Olson says. “A lot of people are thankful with all the extra cleaning.”
In talking with their customers, both Olson and Magnusson have noticed that COVID has not dampened the spirits of the ski and snowboard community. “People seem to be more enthusiastic about going and getting out of their houses and getting outdoors,” Olson noted.
And while customers still want to go skiing, there seems to be some preference for staying a little bit closer to home than in the past. “People are looking to take more regional trips for the most part,” according to Magnusson.
Visit Avant Ski's Complete Guide to Skiing Near Chicago. We share suggestions for day trips and weekend trips. We have all the details on nearby resorts including Wilmot and Alpine Valley and longer trips too — Granite Peak and the Wisconsin Dells
Want to receive the latest updates right to your inbox? Subscribe to the Avant Ski mailing list!