Ski season is upon us!
Editor's Note: This story was updated on October 15, to reflect the closing of the Ski Chalet in Beaverton and Bob's Ski and Snowboard Shop in East Portland.
Dexter Hill grew up working on Mount Hood, back when lift tickets were $3.50 and Meadows did not yet exist. He opened a ski shop in 1976, and he's been rolling with the changes since.
Hill and his staffers at Hillcrest Ski & Sports in Gresham have adapted to and embraced everything the snow sports industry has sent their way over 37 years, from snowboards to parabolic carvers to twin tip rockers and all board varieties in between, not to mention helmets with built-in headphones, $200 Rasta goggles, ski crampons and splitboard kits.
Reclining in an office randomly decorated with stacks of folders, sticky notes and bumper stickers with slogans like "ride more txt less," Hill reflect on the challenges Hillcrest has overcome, and the biggest challenge in the business today: low-price competition on the Internet.
"A lot of the small shops have gone away," says Hill. "They're disappearing."
Unfortunately, he is right. The Ski Chalet in Beaverton, one of the region's oldest independent ski shops, shut down in the summer of 2013. Another independent shop in East Portland, Bob's Ski and Snowboard Shop, has also closed.
Hill blames low-ball pricing on the Internet for up-ending the retail side of the snow sports industry. Make that the illusion of low-ball pricing.
"People find something on the Internet and they just assume it's cheaper, so they go ahead and buy it without even coming in to see if it actually is cheaper."
Hill says Hillcrest will match Internet prices. "All people have to do is give us the website where they found it," he says. "In most cases we'll match it. There's nothing I can't match, unless it's a stupid typo."
Hillcrest and other small-scale shops operate in national buying groups so they can receive lower prices on gear. Hill says he expects buying-group prices to be the same as the prices for large-warehouse Internet retailers, and when he senses a discrepancy, he goes straight to the source. "I've called sellers and let them know that they come and take it all back if they are selling cheaper to some groups than others," he says. "They can take it right back because I won't pay for it."
Hill has reason to worry. He operates in a town of more than 100,000 people without a major book store as a result of Amazon.com's thrashing of Border's. Internet commerce is only going to grow with time, and Hillcrest and other independent shops are doing more of their own business online.
Hill and other shop owners say that there is still no substitute for coming into a shop in person, whether it's for custom boot fitting, pre-race tuning or just to soak up information from a staff of hardcore riders who know the mountain scene inside and out.
"We just have to keep plugging away," says Hill. "We have to keep letting people know that our prices are good and our products are good too."
For an extensive list of independent ski and snowboard shops on and around Mount Hood, click here.