A 40-year Buzz: Vail’s beloved ski and snowboard shop celebrates 4 decades in business | VailDaily.com

A 40-year Buzz: Vail’s beloved ski and snowboard shop celebrates 4 decades in business

Buzz Schleper takes a minute away from work at his Vail ski shop on Friday. The shop is celebrating 40 years in business
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Once upon a time, skis were called boards, and snowboards did not yet exist.

Minnesota native Buzz Schleper, after years of managing a ski shop in Vail, decided to start his own business, and named it Buzz’s Boots and Boards. The year was 1982.

Craig Arford worked for Schleper at the ski shop he managed, and said he wasn’t at all surprised to see Schleper’s new business begin to flourish.

“I knew right off the bat he was going to succeed,” Arford said.

The shop was located near the Covered Bridge in Vail, where it remained for 12 years. Upon moving to his current location in Mill Creek Court on Gore Creek Drive, Schleper lost his high visibility but retained his clientele.

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Max Batzer was one of those clients. Visiting from New York, Batzer said Schleper has always made him feel at home in Vail.

“Sticking with him was easy to do,” Batzer said. “Buzz’s has some of the highest levels of service we have seen in this valley. You come into the store in the morning, and the skis you dropped off the night before are outside waiting for you.”

Batzer started coming to Vail when his eldest son Lucas, now 39, was 5 years old. The family started coming two weeks at a time and now spends four to seven weeks in Vail each winter.

“Whether you’re here for two weeks or two months, he makes you feel like part of the town,” Batzer said. “A lot has changed in Vail, but there’s a lot of things that haven’t changed at Buzz’s in terms of attitude, service and friendliness. One of the only differences is now instead of little kids running around the store all the time, there are dogs running around the store.”

Batzer said one of the things which has impressed him the most about Schleper’s shop is the fact that he keeps seeing the same faces every time he visits.

“His store has very low turnover, and that’s because he treats his employees like he treats his clients,” Batzer said. “He treats them with respect and they share a love of skiing.”

Buzz Schleper works at his shop Friday morning in Vail Village before enjoying his 99th day skiing on the mountain. “It’s my daily routine,” he said.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Daily shred

Schleper says he makes sure all of his workers get a chance to ski every day during their shift.

Local snowboarder Ethan St. Germain has worked at the shop for 25 years and has helped the shop stay ahead of the trends, stocking the latest in snowboards and snowskates, and pivoting into backcountry gear during the advent of splitboards.

Skier and mountain biker Neil Conroy has worked in the shop for 20 years and helped turn the shop into a mountain biking destination location in the summers.

Local snowboarder and musician Dave Pleshaw said he always felt honored when the shop tried to recruit him; he finally gave in three years ago and started working there and has been loving the shred-first work environment.

“It’s the only shop in the valley that I would work at, because Buzz is a local legend and the crew here is like family,” Pleshaw said.

Buzz says he only hires expert skiers and snowboarders, a business approach that has served him well over the years.

“They have to have the love that we have for skiing,” Schleper said. “That’s why we all moved here, to ski. Skiing every day keeps everybody happy and healthy with a good attitude.”

Arford said Schleper’s shred-first attitude has always been the case at Schleper’s shops, even before he had his own business. Racing together in the Vail town series locals’ races back in the day, Arford said they enjoyed many weeks atop the podium.

“We used to win just about every week,” Arford said. “Back then you would win gift certificates to restaurants, so we always won our dinners.”

Schleper said he always had the town series in mind when hiring new employees.

“We hired to win races,” he said with a laugh.

Buzz Schleper says he only hires expert skiers and snowboarders to work in his shop, which has been one of the keys to his success over the last 40 years.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Board legend

While many people know the business as Buzz’s Boards, Schleper makes sure to point out that it’s actually two businesses — Buzz’s Ski Shop and Buzz’s Boards.

Old slang for skis included terms like “boards, planks and barrel staves,” Schleper said, so in calling the shop Buzz’s Boards, it actually referred to skis.

It was made more confusing by the fact that Buzz’s sold snowboards before they were a recognizable piece of equipment.

“We brought snowboards in two years before they were legal on Vail Mountain,” Schleper said. “We used to send people to Vail Pass or Dowd Junction on the sledding hill.”

Then one day a passerby made a comment that got the Schleper’s shops to where they are today.

“I heard someone walk by and say ‘We need rental skis, but that’s a board shop,'” Schleper said. “So then I split it up — Buzz’s Ski Shop and Buzz’s Boards.”

Conroy said Schleper’s ability to keep his ears open has been another secret to his success.

“You definitely have to watch the trends and see where the industry is going and see what people are liking and talking about,” he said. “When you’re out to dinner in town or having a drink with some friends, listen to the table next to you talking about a brand.”

Neil Conroy, a 20-year-veteran at Buzz’s Ski Shop, works on a pair of boots on Friday. Conroy said the family vibe of the business has kept him around all these years.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

‘Family vibe’

On Friday, Schleper enjoyed his 99th day of skiing this season. He said he had not yet missed a day and wasn’t planning on it.

Conroy joined him; they both wore blue jackets and could be confused for members of a national ski team with their impressive angles.

Schleper’s daughter, six-time Olympian Sarah Schleper, is currently racing at the World Championships in Meribel, France.

“I always say, if you get your kids in sports, it may cost a lot of money, but it will save you a lot of money in rehab in later years,” Schleper said.

Conroy, himself a father, said after growing up in Illinois and spending a lot of time at his family’s mechanic shop, he knew Schleper’s shop would be a place he would fit in well.

“As soon as I got to Buzz’s, you had the family vibe right away,” Conroy said. “He’s always been like a second father figure to me and taken very good care of me, so I always want to take good care of him.”

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