Retailer Spotlight: PERFORMANCE SKI

Few American ski shops can match the tradition, heritage and experience that European skiers expect from their ski retailers. The Alps boast hundreds of shops run by multigenerational families with skiing roots deeper than Zermatt’s record-breaking snowpack last season. But in our home of Aspen, Colorado, one of the most historic ski towns in the country, discerning skiers can find old-world hospitality and craftsmanship in shops lining cobblestone pedestrian streets every bit as picturesque as the promenade in Gstaad. One shop in particular defines the Aspen shopping experience, and you’ll find it on a high-profile, sun drenched corner directly across the street from the Aspen Mountain gondola.

 

Performance Ski, Calm Before the Apres Ski Storm.
 

Performance Ski, Aztech Mountain’s exclusive Aspen retailer, enjoys a reputation as one of world’s best ski shops, but its sleek, light-filled, modern interior also houses one of Aspen’s storied gathering locales. “It’s an incredible cocktail party without cocktails,” says co-owner Lee Keating. “You walk off the mountain and right into our store. During the holidays, it’s the greatest après-ski scene you can imagine.”

Tom Bowers Racing Lauberhorn World Cup Downhill in Wengen Switzerland, 1985

 

In the 80’s, Tom Bowers, a former U.S. Ski Team athlete who raced World Cup speed events, and a partner started a hardgoods shop that would evolve into Performance Ski. When he met (by fixing her boot in his shop) and later married Lee, the duo grew the small shop into what’s now, 31 years later, a major retail player in the ski industry with three locations in Aspen, Snowmass and Vail.
 

A style maven of Aspen and an owner/designer of Italian ski brand Authier, Lee’s direct, honest approach to styling her customers has cultivated a loyal following from around the world. “All our Yelp reviews are either a five or a one—there’s no in between,” says Lee. “I don’t like to send people out looking foolish. People know I’m going to be brutally honest.” Whether that’s suggesting a woman try on a size 6 instead of size 2 or telling someone they don’t need new pants when the only update to the style is a new zipper pull. Her photographic memory is the stuff of legend—she knows what’s in the closets of her longtime clients, as well as the names of their wives, ex-husbands, children and grandchildren. Lee skis Aspen Mountain every morning, testing everything sold in the shop and catching up with friends and clients over lunch at Bonnies. After three decades, Lee and Tom are still, for the most part, in the shop seven days a week during ski season; Performance Ski’s clientele expects to walk in door and see one of the owners. “Some people wait and say I’m not going to shop until Lee is here,” says Tom. “It’s not uncommon that she goes running out of the store and grabs someone and says: ‘You have to see this!’ or ‘Something came in just for you!’. They love that.” 

When Aztech founder Heifara Rutgers launched his brand in Aspen, Performance Ski was the obvious retailer of choice. Heifara’s father, Tony, a builder and ski instructor, is a close friend of Lee and Tom’s who built their home and worked on two Performance Ski locations. As she’s done with every new brand to hit her shelves, Lee offered feedback right away, but appreciated Aztech’s quality, the versatility of its pieces and the brand’s clean look. “It’s different from a lot of men’s ski wear in its simplicity,” says Lee. “In general, men don’t like to draw attention to themselves. The don’t want their jacket overbranded or covered in stripes and color blocking—they want something timeless. Plus, they only want to bring one or two jackets on a ski trip and wear it for everything. Aztech is beautiful, exclusive and very wearable.” 

“For me, Performance is a jewel of a retail store,” says Heifara. “I have been working in the retail business for my entire adult career, and I can count on one hand the number of stores that offer fresh, compelling, relevant clothing season after season. Lee and Tom’s knack for finding the coolest gear on the planet is revealed each September when the shop shelves are full once again.” 

It’s a deep understanding of their customer base (when Lee and Tom shop tradeshows in Europe, they’ll often place an order with a single client in mind), on-point style intuition, an unwavering worth ethic and unmatched customer service that reassures everyone coming into Performance Ski that they’re in good hands. 

Words by Tess Strokes