Bud Heck was a little frustrated over the holidays. He counted on a few days on the slopes, per usual at this time of year. But the discomfort of bone spurs in his ankle limited him to just a couple of runs, and he’s about to leave for a few weeks in Florida.
Now, a trip south in January is not seen as a bad consolation prize by most people. But Heck isn’t most people. He’s a skier’s skier. Since 1964, he been’s a principal in Alpin Haus, and for 50 years his primary activity in winter has been outfitting area people for a winter on skis and other seasonal recreation activities.
Heck, an Amsterdam native and Siena graduate, was working as an accountant for New York state in the early 1960s. He was already a long-time ski enthusiast, earning his stripes as a teenager on the slopes of Silver Bells, the local area in Wells. One day, an after-ski conversation turned to the topic of ski shops and while there were some like Fox and Murphy’s and Goldstocks in Schenectady, Andy’s in Troy and Moe Engleman in Albany, there were none in Amsterdam.
By the next year, there was Alpin Haus, a 24×48 shop on Wallins Corners Road, off Route 30, about a quarter mile from the present Amsterdam location. Heck, with childhood friend John Daly, a truck driver, was now in the ski business. But it wasn’t just wooden skis, cable bindings and lace-up leather boots. They also sold Christmas trees at the store. And when the weather turned warm, selling sno-cones from a truck was what paid the bills.
Don’t look for Christmas trees or sno-cones at Alpin Haus anymore. Skis and the gear that goes with them are still there. But you can also purchase a hot tub, or a recreational vehicle, or a boat, or have a swimming pool built these days. The business is broadly diversified. And that is a key ingredient of a business that is celebrating its 50th year this winter.
The original 1,200 foot space? The main store on Route 30, north of Amsterdam, opened in 1987, and is now more than 18,000 square feet with a second ski shop in Clifton Park and locations for other Alpin Haus operations in place in Saratoga Springs, on Route 5S in Amsterdam and Port Jervis, plus a growing retail presence on-line
Heck’s three children are all in the business. Son Andy, who was a certified public accountant before joining the business in 1992, is now the president; son Greg is in charge of the boat and snowmobile sides of the businesses; and daughter Katie is in charge of marketing for the whole group. It has been a single family business since a buyout in 1994.
It was a good year for the ski retail business in 2014. A recovering economy has been a large part of the reason. But trends help, too. For instance, take what the national trade organization Ski and Snowboard Industries of America calls the popular “urban outdoorsman” look. While you don’t need to ski to wear the clothing, you may need a ski shop to find the fashions you want.
But like any specialty business, not every year is that good, Heck recalls. Take the gas shortages in the early 1970s, for example. “People couldn’t buy gas to get to the ski areas. If you can’t get to the hill, then you don’t need the gear,” Heck said.
“I remember when Bromley bought gasoline by the tanker load and promised to fill up skiers who would make it to the mountain.”
STAYING THE COURSE
But through it all, Heck never considered packing it in.
“That is where our business diversification has saved us” said Andy Heck. “There are a lot of variables to having a good ski season. If we do have an off year, chances are one of our other businesses will have a good year and it will all even out.”
There is also another benefit to have a broad-based, year-round business, Bud points out.
“Because of our different businesses, there is an opportunity for employees to work 12 months a year. That means we have skilled people who know their business no matter what the season,” he said. “For instance, Dan Canton, who has been selling skis to three generations of customers now, was winning local races in the 1960s. He knows ski gear. When the snow melts, he digs swimming pools for us in the summer.”
Bud is now 73, and with operations now in capable hands of other family members, he can take time away from work.
“I come in now only about five days a week” he said. “But usually not for the whole day.”
But you can’t ski in Florida.
“I’ll just be gone a few weeks.” he said. “I plan to be back for skiing mid-February through March. The weather and conditions are generally better then.”
After more than 50 years of skiing and now a half-century of taking care of the needs of skiers, who can argue with that kind of experience?
SECTION II SEASON
SET TO GO
With temperatures finally more seasonal, ski areas can open up with the snow guns and get back to full operation. For Section II Alpine racers, the first New Year’s test will be the Queensbury Invitational, a giant slalom completion at West Mountain on Wednesday starting at 5 p.m. Julia Smith of Shenendehowa is back to defend her sectional title, while the boys’ side will crown a new champion to succeed Kieran Mottau of Saratoga Springs who graduated last spring.
On the Nordic side, the Saratoga/Shen Invitational is scheduled for Tuesday at Crandall Park in Glens Falls. This competition will be will be pursuit format, where time in the first heat determines the start order in the second heat.
This year, the sectional championships in Alpine will be Feb. 10 at Gore, with the Nordic to be held Feb. 11 at Lapland Lake.
The state championships for both will be Feb. 23-24 at Lake Placid.
SKI COUNCIL SCHEDULE
The Capital District Ski Council has been sponsoring a winter race series since the 1960s, and this year the competition begins with the Albany Ski Club sponsored race on Jan. 10 at West Mountain.
The format will be two runs of giant slalom. Other races are set for Jan. 24 at Magic Mountain, and Jan 31 at Pico. For more details, check www.NYCDSC.org.
Former World Cup racer and University of Vermont coach Tiger Shaw took over from Bill Marolt as head of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team after the Winter Olympics, and he has to be pleased with what he has seen so far in the post-Olympic year.
On the men’s side, with much of the attention still on the return of veteran Bode Miller later this season, team veterans Steve Nyman and Travis Ganong have come up with their first World Cup victories in downhill events. Andrew Weibrecht, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist in super-G, is earning World Cup points in the discipline regularly and slalom gold medalist Ted Ligety continues to score in the technical events.
With Lindsey Vonn just two wins away from the all-time record for World Cup victories for a woman, and Mikaela Shiffrin winning her 10th World Cup victory to go with a Olympic gold medal, the U.S. women are doing very well too. This gives the U.S. Alpine team the most depth of international race contenders in the World Cup era.