Anyone who has traveled to the mountains, regardless of where, has at least driven by a small, stickered out gear shop. For those who stop, they can testify to the helpfulness of a staff who loves the mountains and all that comes with them. There are plenty of reasons to take the detour to visit the shop, but in our minds, we have placed the top nine below.
1.) Incomparable knowledge of the area
There is no better information than that given by a passionate and knowledgeable person that lives in the area. No amount of research done personally via the Internet will ever come close to the pure overflow of information you will find at a local mountain shop. The staff there will be able to recommend rock and ice better than Mountain Project and hikes better than Alltrails. These people live and breathe the outdoors 24/7 and have unmatched knowledge of the local activities you are looking for.
2.) Gear Knowledge
Many large outdoors store chains have shifted their sales towards apparel because it is thought to be more profitable and enables them to not always have to hire staff members that are highly educated in technical gear. The employees who work at the local small town mountain shops likely have used all the gear their store sells in their personal time. Many times, employees will guide you to their personal favorite, even if it costs less than the leading brand.
3.) Knowledge of Activities
Many of those who work in the small town mountain shops, also guide in their spare time for a little extra cash. They are the perfect people to seek advice on buying gear, and on which routes are best for beginners and experts regardless of the activity. Most of the time, they even know the spots that are well kept secrets with the provision of brilliant climbs and views without the crowds.
4.) Trail Conditions
Not everyone has a weather observatory on a local peak to know the accurate forecast where they will be adventuring. Most people look up the weather online for the nearest town, which doesn’t always accurately reflect the weather in the mountains and certainly does not tell you the condition of the trail. The staff at your local mountain shop can give you a better idea of what the conditions could look like once you hit the trail since they have either been out there themselves or have spoken to someone who has. If the place you wanted to go is looking less than ideal, they will be glad to suggest another area to explore.
5.) Forget something?
Everyone has experienced that dreadful feeling of showing up to the trailhead and realizing you’ve left a vital piece of gear at home. It’s okay. Make a quick stop over to the shop and get back out there.
6.) Rent/Demo gear
Gear rentals and demos are an incredible opportunity to save money and try out new gear. If you’re visiting a park that has different regulations than you’re home spot and only need bear canisters for your short visit, it is much more cost effective to rent for a few days. Have your eye on a new pair of ice axes and want to make sure you like them before dropping $600 on them? Demo the gear you’re interested in purchasing before you’re stuck with your very expensive decision.
7.) First Line of Defense
Small mountain shops see a lot of first-time visitors, making them the first line of defense for safety and Leave No Trace. Individuals who come in looking for advice on something that could be harmful to themselves or the environment, staff will kindly inform them. Most of the time it is due to lack of education and the staff is glad to be there to help.
8.) Customer service
Small specialty gear shops sustain because of their customer service. If you feel pressured to buy something, are patronized, or received bad information, odds are you will not going back there. Alternatively, if you walk into a shop thinking you are going to spend $50 on an item and an employee tells you that a $25 item will work perfectly for what you need it for, that is something you will remember and you will likely return to the store for future purchases. So go ahead, ask them their opinion.
9.) Local events
Some mountain shops put on awesome events like trail running/ skimo races, winter festivals, and Reel Rock showings. It’s a great way to get involved and connect with like-minded individuals in the local mountain community.
Special thanks to “The Mountaineer” in Keene Valley, NY for your years of support and friendship.