Editor’s note: This story initially ran in the Roaring Fork Weekly Journal, our sister paper covering the midvalley. For more, visit www.rfweeklyjournal.com.
The old wooden skis with the pointy tips that Richard Allen says are circa 19th century and were discovered on Aspen Mountain’s backside, may not be the most interesting piece of memorabilia in Vintage Ski World’s collection, which is housed in a Carbondale warehouse and a freestanding store in downtown Frisco.
The contenders for “most interesting” reflect one’s personal choice, of course, but during a recent visit to Vintage Ski World’s digs at 1676 County Road 100, unit N-2, in Carbondale, there were welcome surprises around every corner, in the shelves that reach high in the building and on the floors where literally every nook and cranny overflowed with collectables.
From Sept. 20–22, everything is on sale during a three-day celebration of ski equipment and memorabilia that includes live music by Wade Waters, refreshments from The Back Door Catering and special presentations by Dave Durrance and Robert Chamberlain.
There, one can find the always popular and sexy Lange boots advertisements that were steeped in 1970s culture among its poster reproductions. They are mixed in with Allen’s collection of ski history that’s manifested in original paintings and prints, skis and boots, and an early snowboard called a “Snurfer.”
Allen, the consummate collector, has amassed an impressive amount of skiing’s physical history; he bought the bulk of Steve Knowlton’s array of memorabilia from the defunct Cafe Kandahar, including 10th Mountain Division soldiers’ uniforms. He also acquired the old Aspen Mountain boat tow, that was subsequently donated to the Aspen Historical Society.
“He’s been collecting forever,” said Mary Roland, Allen’s business partner in the venture, who will soon be stepping away to pursue her own passion, which remains to be determined.
Both Allen and Roland are Minnesota natives who relocated to Colorado, though Allen’s local roots hearken back to a Snowmass Village home his parents bought in the 1970s. It was there that the family also hosted renowned artist Cecile Johnson, whose original ski paintings and prints are also included in this weekend’s sale.
Vintage Ski World operated in a retail space on the Cooper Avenue mall in Aspen from 2004-06 until the rent proved prohibitive.
“It was the heartfelt connection with these old time Aspenites, they would just start crying,” Allen said.
That connection endeared him to the retail side.
“Their kids would be like, ‘Grandpa, is that your skis?’” he recalled.
Similarly, Allen also remembered one year during the X Games that a group of kids and teens wearing hoodies were captivated by an early Burton snowboard video playing in the store.
“All of a sudden, the kids started laughing. Dad, is that you?” they asked of a customer who was revealed to be snowboard pioneer Jake Burton.
While the two winter seasons Vintage Ski World hung its shingle in Aspen were almost enough to sustain the $15,000 per month rent, “summer just killed us,” Allen said.
Kick starting the business
Allen credits Lou Dawson, an author and backcountry enthusiast, with providing the nudge to start selling reproduced vintage posters. Offering an initial $50,000 in funding for the project was George Stranahan, he said, and paying back Stranahan’s loan came after just a few years due to the popularity of the products.
For a while, Vintage Ski World was also a constant presence at local farmers’ markets and the Carbondale Mountain Fair.
“At one point we were doing headboards and trunks” that were decoupaged with reproductions of the ski area patches, Roland recalled.
Allen no longer has time for that work, as curating, selling and shipping the thousands of pieces both in Carbondale and through the Frisco Emporium store, has proven to be time consuming.
Roland said the once “effortless online” store has become a more arduous task given the preponderance of “scammers.”
“We love our online customers, but it’s now less rewarding,” she said.
Still, business is up about 35 percent this year over last, Allen said. Despite that, Vintage Ski World’s collection just seems to keep growing in part because “everybody finds us” when they want to shed collections such as 20,000 worth of ski patches from the 1970s, wooden Northland skis or Cebe vintage sunglasses, he said.
At this weekend’s sale, which begins at 3 p.m. on Sept. 20, items start at $2.25 for vintage postcards and stickers and run all the way to $1,200 for handmade Norwegian alpine skis from the early 1900s.
While vintage by nature, the appeal has transcended into the present day. Allen said he’s thrilled that Vintage Ski World was able to outfit the now-retired ski racing superstar Lindsey Vonn for an upcoming cover of Snow Magazine.
For more information, go tovintageskiworld.com or call 970-963-9025.