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