LIVE THE DIFFERENCE
at the Alpine Sport Shop
I TYPE THE ADDRESS, 399 CLINTON STREET, into my GPS. I’ve never been to Saratoga’s Alpine Sport Shop before but have heard plenty from folks who’ve shopped there.
This adorable building reminds me of a Swiss Ski Chalet, and sits off to the left, welcoming me to step inside for a look-see.
I’m met at the door by Terri-Lynn, a longtime employee who tells me she loves working for the owners, Jack and Cathy Hay. She walks me around the sales floor, where I find all sorts of jazzy clothes, jackets, hats, and gloves to help me face the colder weather in style.
We wander through a side room, where I feast my eyes on the latest in downhill and cross-country skiing equipment, snowboards, and a variety of snowshoes – one of my favorite winter sports.
“Dealing with generations of customers is probably my favorite part of working here – over time, they all become like an extended family.” Terri-Lynn has been on the floor of Alpine Sport Shop for 25 years, and her smile of welcome is an easy, contagious one. She grins as I touch the warm fabrics, ask her about gift cards, and lament that I’m not a skier myself.
Cathy and Jack lead me to a couch and comfy chairs arranged around the fireplace. Explaining how ski pioneer Ed Taylor and his wife Jo started the Alpine Sport Shop in 1941, located on Spring Street back in the day, gives me a delightful glimpse into the past.
IN 1966, Cathy’s parents, Thurlow and Dorothy Woodcock, purchased the business from Taylor and envisioned the building as it is today.
I ask the couple how they met. The two chuckle and hold hands before they answer. “My family started skiing in 1956 at Darrows Ski Tow on Locust Grove Road in Greenfield. We all loved the winter sport.” Cathy tells me. “Jack and I met in 1969 when we were both competing on the Saratoga Springs High School ski team.”
“Within two years, we were married,” Jack chimes in, face beaming. “Best decision of my life.”
When I ask Jessica, one of Jack and Cathy’s daughters, how she felt growing up in the world of skiing, snowshoeing, and the love of snow in general – she has a lot to say.
“Honestly, I didn’t know anything different than growing up surrounded by snow sports.” She tells me with a smile. “I know, times have changed, but I was one of the only kids I knew who downhill-skied. Eventually, I realized how lucky I was to be exposed to skiing in so many different places with my family. By the time I’d reached high school, I had met other kids who were skiers, and I’d begun teaching friends who were not skiers. It’s always been the absolute best thing about winter!”
Her eyes twinkle when she talks about her early memories of the shop. “Some of my favorite memories began with getting off the school bus each day. I’d walk into the shop-which was next to our house. I loved seeing my grandparents and other family members who worked there. It was our home away from home, I guess. My clearest recollection is of my grandfather, always smoking his pipe and whistling a tune.”
Jessica shares that she worked in the family business during high school, and anytime she was home from college. She had fun helping customers and was excited to see new gear and clothing come out for the new season.
I’m impressed when I learn about the ski trips her parents hosted over the years. I picture the local community – all these snow-lovers, traveling worldwide, enjoying nature and the outdoor sport. They must have been thrilled about the opportunity.
Cathy and Jack explain how they got a phone call out of the blue one day from someone asking if they’d be interested in becoming hosts for international ski trips.
THE FIRST ADVENTURE would be taking 85 skiers to Austria – a trip that would snowball into more – changing their lives for the better.
“Alpine has been running ski trips since 1994 – except for 2001, due to the 911 tragedy. Ski trips are a fantastic way to take our customers around North America, South America, and Europe. We’ve hosted as many as 100 travelers and as few as 24. Cortina, Italy is one of the most popular; however, Colorado and New Mexico are also a great draw. At this time, we don’t have a trip planned for this season because of the pandemic. Hmmm... perhaps Chamonix, France is in our future. Who knows!” The couple laughs.
“I was a sophomore in high school when my mom and dad started to organize these trips,” Jessica tells me. “So, from my Junior year, I began to travel with them – right up till the time I was a mom with three kids of my own. I’m lucky and so grateful – I’ve been to some stunning mountains in Europe, as well as skiing trips out west and in British Columbia.”
Julia Lee, another daughter, grins when she talks about how the winter sport has always been a big part of her life. “The beauty of snow and skiing have always felt magical to me. I learned to ski when I was around three, so I can’t imagine not being on the mountain,” she shares with me.
“I cross-country skied as a kid, but my husband and I got into snowshoeing about ten years ago. It’s an excellent way for us to get outside, regardless if we’re working a lot. We even bought headlamps so we could go out after a busy day. Sometimes, those were the only hours we had – we didn’t want to lose them.”
Julia’s daughter just turned four, and she has her first pair of snowshoes. “We can’t wait to get out as a family this season!”
Julia has worked in the family business for 17 years and loves to watch generations of shoppers come into Alpine. “People who shopped with us when they were kids themselves – starting with their 1st pair of skis, now come to have us outfit their children in the same way. Honestly, it’s all about supplying local families with everything they need to get them out in the fresh air – out on the mountains to enjoy the winter weather.”
HER FIRST AIRPLANE jaunt was to Innsbruck, Austria, on one of her parents’ ski trips. Julia shares how grateful she is to have enjoyed several ski-cations when she was a teenager. Later, she hosted a few with her sister and brother-in-law. Most recently, Julia and her husband guided a few groups to Europe for the shop.
And speaking a little more about generations of family skiers brings me to Charles V. Wait – a longtime friend and loyal customer of Alpine Sport Shop. His memories go way back, and I’m excited to hear them.
“My grandfather was a close friend of Ed Taylor, the man who’d started the ski area in Greenfield Center – known as Alpine Meadows back then. Ed began work clearing the land after returning from World War II,” Charles shares.
“Sometime in the late 1980s, I was part of a community effort to reopen Alpine Meadows. I was busy clearing a trail on the mountain. Uphill from me, I spotted Ed Taylor and caught up with him. When he saw me, he looked down and said, “Charles – the last time I worked on clearing this trail, it was alongside your grandfather!”
Charles tells me his grandfather gave Ed his first loan to open the Alpine Sport Shop, then located on Spring Street, near the old Skidmore College campus. He also remembers the first item purchased by his family – a pair of aluminum skis just after the end of WWII.
Charles laughs at the memory. “They were solid aluminum and had the old bear trap bindings,” he recounts with a grin. “My father gave them to me, and I used them during one of my Saratoga Springs High School ski meets.”
Charles looks away for a moment before continuing with his story. “It was toward the end of the season, the course was a wide-open giant slalom, and it was early spring – very warm, with soft, wet snow. I put liquid detergent on the aluminum skis, and, man, they flew down the mountain. I placed the highest I’d ever ranked in a ski race that day.”
When we talk about the shop’s success, Charles quickly points out that Jack and Cathy are the ideal business team. Jack is one of the best skiers he’s ever known – unequaled in his knowledge of the equipment, local ski areas, and people throughout the industry.
“But, Cathy? Well, she is an accomplished skier in her own right, of course. Besides that, she has the best knowledge of ski fashion trends out there. Her ability to buy just the right combination of clothing brands for quality and style are unequaled in any shop I have visited – whether in the United States or Europe.”
He continues with this last – most telling statement. “I’m happy to say that five generations of my family have purchased their ski equipment at the Alpine Sport Shop, my grandchildren the most recent.”
I don’t wonder why.
Another valued customer and friend of Alpine Sport Shop, Sue Barg, took a few minutes out of her busy day to talk with me.
She began shopping here in the early 90s when she started spending more time on the slopes.
Skiing has always been her favorite winter sport, and now that she’s retired, Sue spends even more time skiing.
“The Alpine Sport Shop is a great place to purchase quality equipment and clothing,” she tells me. “I appreciate the knowledge everyone is so willing to share with me about the products they sell.”
She’s also been on several ski trips over the years, starting in 1994, when she traveled to Austria. So far, Sue has taken part in over 20 exciting adventures headed by Alpine Sport Shop and looks forward to more.
“And can we talk about their women’s bus trips? We refer to them as ‘Chicks on Sticks trips,’ goodness, they’re so much fun!” Bromley Mountain in Vermont hosts a day that they call “Moms Day Off” and Alpine has taken as many as 110 women to join in the fun. All the proceeds of lift ticket sales purchased for that day are always donated to a woman's cancer organization.
Lee Burns, another longtime customer and friend of the shop shares many stories about her experience there over the years. “I came to Saratoga in the early ‘80s as a college student and discovered Alpine Sport Shop at the bottom of Clinton St. At that time, I had a pair of skis that required tuning, and Alpine was in walking distance of the campus,” she tells me with a smile.
“AFTER GRADUATION, I remained in the area and bought a new pair of skis from them…. Since that time, I can’t begin to count the pairs of skis and boots I’ve purchased from Alpine. Suffice it to say, LOTS!” Lee also states she has been part of 25 delightful skiing excursions and looks forward to more.
I find it fascinating – I have not heard one bad thing about the owners, the community ski trips, or the shop itself. I think it speaks volumes.
Everyone I speak with talks about the pandemic. None were surprised that folks spent 2020 getting outside more. Nature is wide-open, great for both mental and physical well-being. The Alpine Sport Shop saw quite an uptick in business during this trying time.
And everyone I interviewed said the same thing about the shop; There was not one single customer that stood out in their minds. “It’s more the way people light up when we talk about the shop, owners, or family of employees. Their kind words about how we greet and treat them during a visit say it all.”
Both Jack and Cathy agree, “Something in the forefront of our minds is the gratefulness we have for our employees. Each one brings a personal perspective, talent, and enthusiasm needed to operate a small “brick and mortar” business. We depend on each other for being a unique, strong team. They’ve never let us down.”
To learn more about the Alpine Sport Shop, visit their website here; AlpineSportShop.com
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