Since its inception in 1999 Pro Ski and Mountain Service has been able to survive and thrive as a small specialty retail store in the foothill town of North Bend, WA, and has slowly prospered into a refreshing option to the increasingly “pasteurized” retail environment.
By Martin Volken, founder and owner
When I immigrated to the United States in 1990, skiing and all things that were part of the ski industry was what I knew and was interested in. So opening up Pro Ski Service in a tiny location in Seattle in 1991 seemed like a good idea. As the name implies, the original store focused on ski sales and service. While continuing to grow the ski shop I earned my Swiss IFMGA mountain guides license in 1996. The combined knowledge acquired in the mountains and in the retail store left a mark on how we do business to this day. In 1999, I founded Pro Guiding Service and opened up another retail location closer to the mountains in North Bend, WA. In 2005, I sold the Seattle store to focus on the North Bend store in conjunction with the guiding office.
Pro Ski and Mountain Service
One thing that has made Pro Ski Service different from the start was our belief that there was no need for separation between a ski shop and a backcountry shop. We always thought that the two “sports” combined were mutually beneficial. Our store has attracted a certain “authentic” employee who seems to enjoy a more personal and diverse work environment in and out of the mountains. Since its inception in 1999 Pro Ski and Mountain Service has been able to survive and thrive as a small specialty retail store in the foothill town of North Bend, WA, and has slowly prospered into a refreshing option to the increasingly “pasteurized” retail environment. In serving the upper Snoqualmie Valley as well as the ski community of the greater Seattle area, it is quite common that we have a very young person trying on their first Park and Pipe boot next to a ski mountaineer who is getting ready for one of our international ski mountaineering trips. It is all mountain culture to us. We have become a well-known name for all things skiing, ski touring, hiking, and climbing. We stand by the brands we carry and feel confident we are providing the consumer with high quality products and excellent customer service, while staying competitive in our pricing. Our new retail venture into e-commerce will provide convenient shopping for our customers in the modern retail environment, but we will still be able to provide the service of a “brick and mortar” store.
Pro Guiding Service
Pro Guiding Service proudly offers the most diverse ski touring and ski mountaineering programs of any guiding service in the Northwest. However, as our tagline “ski-rock-alpine” indicates, we do a lot more than just ski touring, as we have steadily expanded our offering for rock and alpine climbing. Having our guiding office in North Bend gives us immediate access to one of the largest sport climbing areas in the state of Washington. We also guide incredible day objectives for ski and alpine climbing on Snoqualmie Pass, which is located about twenty minutes from our headquarters in North Bend. We currently guide on four continents, 8 countries, employ 10 guides, and hold permits in The North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Snoqualmie Pass, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Mount Baker Wilderness, parts of Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest, the Cle Elum Ranger District, the Summit at Snoqualmie, several Washington State Parks, and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Much of our guiding work is spent in the North Cascades and it is safe to say this mountain range is the most diverse, high alpine mountain wilderness in the lower 48 states. We feel fortunate to be able to call the North Cascades our backyard. Because several of our guides are IFMGA certified we have access to guiding in the Alps, Canada and many of the other IFMGA member countries. All of our guides are AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) certified in the discipline in which they are guiding or are actively pursuing certification. Several of our guides are involved in the instructor and examiner team of the AMGA or AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education). This assures that our own guide’s training and our instructional program curriculums remain at or above the current industry standard. If one of our scheduled programs does not exactly fit your needs, please don’t hesitate to contact us for a private arrangement. It makes up a large portion of our business and we love doing it.
Product Development and Consulting Work
The above-mentioned elements have led to product consulting work for K2 Sports, Outdoor Research and others. We are proud to say that some of the design ideas have been used to build successful products such as the K2 Shuksan, the K2 rescue shovel, the OR Trailbreaker Pant and much more. More importantly it gives us a glimpse into what will come on the market in the next couple years as well as in depth knowledge of materials and construction methods. This of course influences our buying decisions for the retail store.
Books We've Written
In 2000, I published my first guidebook about ski tours and ski descents around Snoqualmie Pass called Backcountry Skiing Snoqualmie Pass. This book was later followed up by an instructional book, Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering, published by the Mountaineers. It was co-authored by Pro Guiding Service guides, Marge Wheeler, Scott Schell and myself. Last year Pro Guiding Service was commissioned by Mountaineers Publishing to write a guidebook featuring the top 75 ski tours and ski traverses in Washington state, scheduled for publication in the fall of 2013. Check them out here http://www.proguiding.com/books.html
I feel lucky to have been able to have come to the North Cascades when there was still a bit of route pioneering on classic alpine and ski objectives to be done. It was simply a lot of fun and allowed me to profile the guiding service in a meaningful way without spending hard earned cash on expensive adds in magazines. Some of the routes that have come from this are the now classic ski traverses, “The Forbidden Tour”, the “Snoqualmie High Route”, first descents of the Mount Buckner, Spider Mountain and Mount Torment North Faces, alpine traverses of Bonanza and Formidable Peak and more. As of late some of our young guides; Forest McBrian, Trevor Kostanich and Aaron Mainer, have also completed some high caliber traverses of the Picket Range, the North Central Cascades and a new descent of the iconic Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier. More information here.
In all my years working in this industry, I have learned it is all about the people who work for you as much as it is about the products you are selling. The employees of Pro Guiding Service and Pro Ski and Mountain Service range from IFMGA guides who work in the examiner pool, create course curriculums for AIARE, put up new routes, write guide books themselves, retail employees who build their own skis, understand retail and generally love being involved in the outdoor industry. We all have one thing in common; we all love the mountains in a very authentic way and that is what keeps this business driving forward.
This is our Mountain Culture and we hope you will enjoy it with us in our store, on-line, with our books or on one of our trips or courses. Welcome to the Mountain Culture of Pro Ski and Mountain Service and Pro Guiding Service