Workplace Design

2003/2004, Summit County, CO

2003/2004, Summit County, CO

Years ago, in a previous life so to speak, we were ski/snowboard bums in Breckenridge, CO. I had been working in the ski and snowboard industry for six years prior to this job but this was unlike anything I had encountered before.

Snow, blue skies, and barreling down a mountain side making our own turns is what we thrived on. Exploration and sitting on a mountain side where the silence and stillness is deafening is not an experience I would trade. It was cold, windy, and sometimes scary; this is what we wanted.

I was assistant manager of a small snowboard shop at the Breckenridge Ski Area. We were a flow blown rental shop and measured 900 sq. ft. or so. My manager had run this store previously and learned a few lessons in employing and maximizing space.

We were a full-blown snowboard rental shop. We had a strong fleet of equipment, we had a full tuning set up with phenomenal tuning equipment and an accessory area where we would sell goggles, gloves, hats, lip balm, sunglasses, sunscreen, and other things that might be necessary for your day(s) on the mountain. Here was challenge number one; we had to staff it with snowboard bums like us.

The snowboard bum, like the ski bum, likes to have a good time. They have little responsibility and moved for the mountain life for one reason, the mountain life. What is the mountain life? It could be a lot of things. Riding (snowboarding), partying, early mornings, late nights, hamburger helper, 3 for $1 microwavable burritos, more riding, and surviving.

How were we going to find the right hires and then motivate them?

The Ground Rules

Imagine having a month to find a job, get trained, and ready to be swamped for the next five months. The window of opportunity is slim and if one doesn’t find a job, they may start packing. We had to fill 12 positions and had at least 50 applicants.

The hiring process can be hell. Hell. We are looking at our applicants and anyone that had retail experience earned an interview. That’s right, all of them. We were also hiring one full time and one part time tech to service equipment. This heavy equipment is dangerous and being qualified to operate it is necessary.

We developed a simple rule. You will never be late. If you are late once, you are fired. Sounds a bit harsh, right? Try to imagine living where the weather might not have any predictability and you could wake up to a foot of snow, your car froze, maybe lost power, or were arrested the night before. Too bad. Plan ahead.

It is imperative to maintain the best service and behavior in a resort town. Staff must engage with the customer in conversation beyond the greeting. In those conversations with customers we would recommend restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and so on to insure these people enjoyed coming to Breck. One bad experience and it spreads like wildfire. The only reason we could exist there for was tourism.


Incentives are one of my favorite things about being in management. Not only does it give your crew something to work for, but it also gives them a chance to feel success. In order to achieve both, we kept a positive atmosphere. We played our favorite music, let staff cut out for breaks (unpaid) to hit the mountain, but we also would hang out after hours and kept the door open for significant others and roommates.

Our focus was add-on sales. This was the incentive that helped pad the pockets of our crew. We did not adopt the ‘Do you want fries with that?’ approach, per se, but we qualified the customer by asking if they had certain items that were vital to their safety or well-being. We encouraged people to consider safety by renting helmet, wrist guards, a lock (anti-theft), all while engaging with the customer and sharing stories of the mountain. Each add on worked like commission which added to the staff members paycheck.

Our accessories person was selling goggles, hats, and gloves for the most part. Here is where the add-ons added up in a huge way. In the Rockies you will sunburn easily on the mountain, you need sunscreen. Scary stuff. You also need lip balm for the same reason but also because it is DRY up there. We up-sold all day long.

Everyone is worth it

No matter the applicant’s background, everyone is worth looking at. We had a few applicants with either reputations or even a poor track record but we planned on giving all the applicants a chance.

My boss was hesitant on one hire in particular, he had hired him before but in a different shop. He was wild. He liked to drink. That’s all I will say, use your imagination. We ended up hiring him because we needed the body. It wasn’t long until he came in wreaking of a hangover and telling stories of the night before.  We believed in him and that he could do a good job. One morning he showed up with minutes to spare and he said, “Jason, I spent the night in jail after trying to walk home when the bar closed. Cops picked me up, I told them I had to be here on time or you’d fire me. I made it.”

Would we have fired him? Yes. His roommate wasn’t so lucky. He overslept once, then was fired. Our crew knew the rules were strict, but they liked working with us. Work hard, get paid, ride your board. We had a good time.

In five full months of being open, we managed to bring in over $440,000 in a 900 sq. ft. space. Each sq. ft. was worth at least $489. Not bad.