Colorado Rockies’ new sunglass partner, Optic Nerve, has deep Vail roots
EAGLE COUNTY — Bill Cotton and Tom Fox have for decades been in a shady business. That business has just scored perhaps its biggest success.
Cotton and Fox are the partners in Optic Nerve sunglasses, a company started in Vail that was recently named as the official sunglasses provider for the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball team.
The Optic Nerve story starts in the 1970s, when Fox’s dad, Ken, started the first Mountain Shades store, providing sunglasses to people in mountain resort towns.
Mountain Shades filled a need, Cotton said. In those first few years, Mountain Shades started working with designers for its own styles and filled a niche between high-priced products and discount-store specials.
Taking it regional
Mountain Shades started first in Colorado’s ski resorts. Cotton went from Vail to the west and south, selling in Aspen and Crested Butte, among other resorts. Fox went east and north, selling in Winter Park and Steamboat Springs.
Mountain Shades eventually sold its products in Colorado, New Mexico, California and other western states.
The company took its next step just as snowsports evolved from riding skis to snowboards.
“We decided to start a brand called Optic Nerve, something with a little more edge,” Cotton said.
The company spent its formative years in Vail, with headquarters at spots near the Vail Golf Club, in Minturn and in Avon.
But in the mid-1990s, the partners moved the company to Denver.
“Shipping products to the mountains is hard, and keeping staff is hard,” Cotton said.
But while Optic Nerve has been on the Front Range for about 20 years now, the partners never left the Vail Valley.
Cotton and his family live in Singletree, and Cotton spends about three days a week in the big city.
“It’s been a long journey, but I wouldn’t trade it,” Cotton said. “I get to own a sunglasses and goggles business on the Front Range and come up here to snowboard, golf and bike.
“It’s in our blood to do the action sports,” Cotton said. “We all snowboard, ski and golf. … It’s really the DNA of the brand.”
The deal is done
As most gear companies do, Optic Nerve has several sponsored athletes, including local endurance athlete Josiah Middaugh. The company also participates in the nonprofit SOS Outreach and the state’s high school mountain bike league. Company officials and employees help build and maintain trails.
The biggest sponsorship opportunity came earlier this year, when the Rockies went looking for a sunglass partner.
As the team’s owners, the Monfort family, was looking, they found a Colorado company — Optic Nerve.
“We got the email on a Wednesday and had the meeting on Thursday,” Cotton said. The deal was done soon after.
In a release announcing the deal, Rockies Vice President of Corporate Partnerships Walker Monfort said, “The Optic Nerve brand speaks to Colorado, and here at the Rockies, we’re excited to sponsor with another Colorado company.”
Rockies players will wear Optic Nerve gear during games, and the company’s products will be available in the team’s stores at Coors Field.
Perhaps most important, though, is the big Optic Nerve sign in left field.
During a phone conversation on Wednesday, April 11, Cotton said two home runs have already flown right over that sign.
The exposure adds up to an estimated 11 million consumer impressions this season.
That exposure will grow if the team does well and earns a trip to the postseason.
“If they win a pennant, we’ll give them goggles to wear while they’re spraying champagne in the locker room,” Cotton said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 and firstname.lastname@example.org.