The Startingate Ski Shop in Bondville, Vermont is one of those great finds – a family owned and operated ski shop, steeped in ski racing tradition, that showcases some of the snow sports industry’s finest wares. From specialized racing-specific hard goods to elegant high end outerwear, this shop has many hard-to-find brands and niche items that set it apart from the rest. The Startingate has a prime location at the base of the Stratton Mountain access road. Stratton has a long-standing reputation as a northeast ski-racing hukb, being home to the Stratton Mountain School – a high school prep school focusing on winter athletes that has churned out 33 Olympians (four of them medalists) since its opening in 1972.
Gary and Dede Longley opened the Startingate in the 80’s and have been serving up expert ski tunes, equipment and luxury ski wear ever since. I recently met with owner and buyer DeDe Longley to talk about their business and, of course, the resurgence of stretch pants.
The Startingate opened in 1980 as a hard goods shop only. Starting out as a small shop was difficult as they struggled to secure ski lines that weren’t available due to distribution limits. In turn Gary aimed to carry smaller, harder-to-find brands – a strategy that has played to their advantage as a truly specialized destination resort store – and to differentiate themselves from their competitors in the area.
In 1990 they expanded and decided to sell soft goods. Dede knew she wanted to apply the same philosophy to the soft goods as they did to the hard goods. Ignoring what friends and colleagues advised – essentially to buy “safe” brands that would provide reliable sell through – Dede sought out harder to find, coveted luxury European brands – some that she discovered while skiing out west. These were brands that she loved and knew no one else was carrying. The Startingate’s impressive soft goods offerings include brands Mountain Force, Kjus, Authier, Postcard, ParaJumpers and Toni Sailor, to name a few.
“I bought what I liked – what I myself would buy,” explains Longley. And it has paid off with countless loyal customers amassed over the years that make the trek to Vermont largely from Stratton’s core market – the tri-State areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Additionally Dede often travels to Europe to attend ISPO and seeks out brands like Austrian luxury sportswear company Frauenschuh, which has a cult following in Europe but is not readily available in the U.S. This allows her to create a truly unique and specialized shopping experience for her customers. As a result the store has a European feel to its merchandise and merchandising.
A family friend who spent some time at ski resorts in Europe helped to conceptualize constructing the expanding shop in 1990. In 2004 they expanded again, this time building up. All displays are custom designed, and the store has a warm, easy to shop, “open feel” to it. Daughter-in-law Lauren does the merchandising. Daughter Bond (and former ski racer) works the floor and has begun to do some buying along with mom.
Husband Gary is a master boot fitter and runs the hard goods section, which includes brands such as Faction, Atomic, Head and Fischer. Son Chance has been racing since he was five years old and manages operations downstairs in the rental and tune shops. The tune shop is equipped with both Montana and Wintersteiger machines, plus other racing specific tuning equipment. They also teach kids how to do race tunes on their skis, offering them 30% off future tuning supplies.
The Startingate is open from October to April. They open during the summer months for three tent sales – July 4th, Labor Day and Columbus Day weekend. Then they close their doors, pack up sale items and set up for the new ski season. Dede says they have started to bring in a few price point brands to attract more local residents to their store. “We have a reputation as a very expensive store, and I would like to expand our offerings a bit.” When I ask about the abundance of beautifully tailored women’s ski stretch pants, Dede declares, “I will always carry them. Stretch pants put me in business!”
If you find yourself near Manchester, VT, make the short trip up Route 30 to Bondville and visit the Longley’s at The Startingate Ski Shop. It’s a little slice of ski luxury tradition that seems harder to find amongst specialty retailers these days.
The Startingate Ski Shop
1011 Vermont 30, Bondville, VT 05340