For more than 30 years, Lee Quaglia and his shop, Aspen East, have been welcoming skiers and boarders to Killington with a huge inventory of top-of-the-line products, expert technical know-how, great customer service, and for the last 20 years, GOODE carbon fiber ski poles.
We recently had a chance to talk with Lee about his shop, how the 2012/2013 season is shaping up, why he’s carried GOODE products for so long, and what his customers like about them. Here is our conversation:
GOODE: Killington has been open for a few weeks, how’s the season looking so far for Aspen East?
Lee: So far it’s OK. It started out very well and every two to three days we’ve seen new trails open. Killington has made a commitment to snowmaking this year that they have not done the past three or four years, so it’s really a much better early season effort.
GOODE: Are the long-range forecasts calling for more snow at Killington this year?
Lee: Well I think the best forecast would be to check back with me in April and I could tell you how it went. The Weather Channel and National Weather Service seem to say that we’ll have an average snow year. That would certainly be better than last year, which was the worst year I’ve seen in 40 years of doing this.
GOODE: A lot of shops had tough times last year because of poor snow totals, but not many also had to deal with a tropical storm that cut you off from the rest of the world for a period of time. How did Irene impact you last year?
Lee: It was a disaster in the beginning because we had no road to the west for 2-1/2 miles and to the east there was a gap of about a quarter mile, so we couldn’t have any tractor trailers or deliveries for 19 days until that opened and even then it was a single-lane, makeshift road.
At first, people thought Vermont was completely closed, and then we had a resurgence around Thanksgiving. But then the season went down the drain and it really never snowed. There is nothing you can do about that.
GOODE: You’ve carried GOODE carbon poles for more than 20 years now, why have you been so loyal to them?
Lee: We ran into Dave Goode when he just had one or two different types of poles in the very beginning at a trade show at Stratton Mountain. I picked up the pole and I went ‘wow this is totally different than anything out there.’ Basically the pole game is either that it’s a high-end pole that only a few people buy, or it’s a down-and-dirty-pole that someone buys with a package or it’s just something they need at that moment.
GOODE poles really address an overview of everybody who can appreciate the feeling and quality of a high-end pole and they last forever. Nothing ever goes wrong with them. The only reason anybody would probably buy another set is because theirs got stolen.
GOODE: What are the poles’ key benefits?
Lee: The No. 1 benefit, especially with the higher-end poles, is that the grip is adjustable. It goes up three or four inches, which is basically the depth of the physical grip itself. For example, if you buy a 50-inch pole, it’ll go down to 47 inches. So you spin it down to 47 inches and then you say, ‘you know it’s too short, I want it at 48 inches,’ you haven’t committed to cutting the pole. You can just thread it back up, lock it off and away you go.
And especially when you go into the higher-end poles, there is a much lighter swing weight and easier throw to them. So for someone who is really a skiing purest, or is looking for something that’s certainly better than the average aluminum pole, GOODEs stand out. And because they are made of carbon, there is a flex to the shaft of the pole that really takes some of the shock you’re your elbow and arm. If you are an Eastern skier who is planting that pole over and over again on hard pack or icy conditions, anything that takes the shock out of your arm and wrists is a good thing.
GOODE: What kind of feedback do you get back from customers who’ve bought GOODE poles?
Lee: I think the best feedback is that they continue to buy GOODE poles and don’t switch to another brand. When they do buy a new pole, they either go for the same one they’ve had or maybe upgrade to another GOODE pole.
GOODE: Your shop has really embraced internet retailing. How much of a part of the business is it for you?
Lee: Here at Aspen East we have two online stores: AspenEast.com and SurftheEarthSnowboards.com. Surf the Earth is the snowboard section and Aspen East is ski. We’ve been doing this for over ten years and each year we’ve seen increases with them. It’s kept us moving forward as opposed to either just hanging on or losing market share.
GOODE: From a retailer’s standpoint, what are the challenges facing the industry right now?
Lee: One major challenge is the weather, because it didn’t snow in the big cities last year, Boston and New York, so out of site out of mind. You always think that if they are blowing snow the skiing is good, and that’s true if you are here locally. But if you are the guy sitting there in New York City and it’s 55 degrees, you are not getting that heads up to go skiing no matter how much advertising is being done.
Also, with the immediacy of smartphones and all the new technology that is out there, people are just not committing to that two to four, six-week ahead of time reservation that they did even a few years ago. They are waiting for the optimum last minute to pull the trigger to come on a specific weekend or when they have the time off. It’s a challenge at best.
GOODE: You’ve twice been named New England Shop of the Year by Skiing Magazine. What’s your secret to success?
Lee: First of all we are very fortunate to be in a highly populated ski area and have a lot of people that come in and out of here, as opposed to being maybe only a very good shop without a lot of people coming in and out. We have a population base going for us. Second, we’re on the main east/west corridor of Vermont, Route 4 and Route 100 and we’re in Killington which is the major ski area centrally located in the middle of the state. It’s very easy to get here, five hours from New York, three hours from Boston.
We try to offer as many things as we can to basically a higher-end person, not necessarily money wise, but someone who is committed to the sport because they are a snow lover and we understand that. Everybody who works here either skis or rides or both and they are out there five, six, seven days a week enjoying their sport.