Eclec­ti­cism col­lared

Pop­u­lar ski brand go­ing to the dogs – and just about every­thing else

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Ja­son Blevins

For years, Mike Waesche has fought to es­tab­lish his ski brand. He ped­dled his hand­crafted Rocky Moun­tain Un­der­ground skis in a mar­ket sat­u­rated with bou­tique ski mak­ers, fight­ing for shelf space and a sliver of the $5 bil­lion ski in­dus­try.

But busi­ness “re­ally ex­ploded,” he says, “when we said, ‘You know what? Screw it, let’s just do what we want’.”

Sip­ping from a craft beer in his new, very crowded bar-ski shop on down­town Breck­en­ridge’s snowy Main Street, Waesche walks a vis­i­tor through his com­pany’s evo­lu­tion from skis to, well, what­ever he needs. The trans­for­ma­tion, he says, was all about chas­ing a so­lu­tion.

Af­ter grow­ing weary of haul­ing a quiver of skis to far-flung re­sorts, his team at Rocky Moun­tain Un­der­ground crafted the Apos­tle, a util­i­tar­ian ski that floats on pow­der, carves on hard­pack and pow­ers through crud. That time he crashed his bike into a creek on the way to work, dous­ing his com­puter and mo­bile phone? That led to a wa­ter-proof com­mut­ing back­pack. When he for­got his dog Charlie’s wa­ter dish on a bike ride? That led to the Gr­rowler, a col­lar that un­zips into a wa­ter bowl. (That col­lar — un­veiled last sum­mer to a cho­rus of praise — is out­selling his skis.)

“We are about to be­come a dog col­lar com­pany that makes skis,” Waesche says. “Our pur­suit of so­lu­tions has gone into every­thing. This life­style we have here in Colorado pro­vides that niche for so­lu­tions.”

Af­ter search­ing the state for a show­room and ware­house space, Waesche en­vi­sioned a so­lu­tion in his home­town of Breck­en­ridge. He con­tacted the prop­erty owner of a Main Street build­ing that most recently was home to a cloth­ing shop and ice cream par­lor. (Be­fore that it housed the lo­cal tele­phone provider, a ski shop, ar­cade, snack bar, deli and record store.)

The owner skied a pair of Rocky Moun­tain Un­der­grounds. He quickly em­braced Waesche’s plan to tear down a wall be­tween two shops and open the state’s first ski shop and bar, a lo­ca­tion cer­tain to find it­self on up­com­ing “top 10 must-visit” lists.

Even though it’s only been open a month or so, the show­room and bar sport a weath­ered look. The ski brand’s old show booth from the SIA Snow Show was dis­man­tled — as was the deck out­side Waesche’s home — to give the place a well-worn feel. The tap­room boasts a host of Colorado-made beers and whiskeys. The show­room mir­rors the made-in-Colorado vibe, with Fritz Sperry guide­books, SubQ De­signs avalanche airbag jack­ets, Zeal Op­tics gog­gles,

Strafe out­er­wear and, of course, a dis­play of RMU skis. Out­side on the curb, the fel­lows from Min­turn’s We­ston Snow­boards have set up their rolling cabin show­room.

“We def­i­nitely Colorado’d up the place,” Waesche says.

In the back room, one of his old ski presses has been recom­mis­sioned for cus­tom-ski cre­ation. Soon, Waesche imag­ines ski-mak­ing clin­ics show­ing po­ten­tial buy­ers what goes into Rocky Moun­tain Un­der­ground ski de­sign and con­struc­tion.

“You can sit at the bar and we will walk you through the con­struc­tion process and at the end of the night, we can cut out the skis and ship them to you,” he says.

Last sum­mer, Waesche piv­oted his busi­ness plan af­ter a suc­cess­ful Kick­starter cam­paign launched his Gr­rowler. Sud­denly, he was in the pet sup­ply busi­ness. Now he’s send­ing his dog bowl-col­lar to pet sup­ply chain stores around the coun­try.

“I can’t take any credit for that. That’s one be­longs to Charlie,” he says of his dog.

In the first few weeks of op­er­a­tion, Waesche’s shop­bar has been a hot spot, draw­ing stand­ing-room only crowds who min­gle in the dark bar and in the show­room, fondling skis and gear.

That’s the kind of en­trepreneurial vi­sion that at­tracts lo­cals and visi­tors in Breck­en­ridge, said Scott Fort­ner of the Breck­en­ridge Tourism Of­fice. It’s the same blend of re­tail and man­u­fac­tur­ing that makes Bro­ken Com­pass Brew­ing and Breck­en­ridge Dis­tillery so pop­u­lar.

“It’s part of the vibe and scene here. It’s cool they are mak­ing it more of a brand be­yond some­one mak­ing skis, and peo­ple are con­nect­ing with that,” Fort­ner says. “It fits well in Breck. Yet another unique, weird and in­ter­est­ing thing in our town.”

Rocky Moun­tain Un­der­ground co-founder Mike Waesche and mar­ket­ing man­ager Jessie Un­ruh talk in­side the com­pany's new show­room on Main Street in Breck­en­ridge. Phil Lin­de­man , Sum­mit Daily News

Phil Lin­de­man, Sum­mit Daily News

Skis are dis­played on a wall in the new Rocky Moun­tain Un­der­ground show­room on Main Street in Breck­en­ridge. The show­room is at­tached to a soon-to-open bar.

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