Ski shop has equipped people to play outdoors for decades
IRON MOUNTAIN — The Bittingers have outfitted winter sports enthusiasts for almost four decades at Pine Mountain Ski Shop.
The shop’s history goes back even further.
After Lavern Trepp founded Pine Mountain Resort in 1939, his wife, Gloria, started selling skiing equipment there the following year.
Joanie Bittinger came in more than 40 years ago as the shop’s first and only employee. “Women were not equipment buyers years ago; it was not easy,” she said. But once the women gained respect and earned their credibility with the suppliers “it was fun,” she said.
But when Gloria Trepp was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984, Bittinger purchased the business from her friend and employer. Jim Bittinger was surprised when he came home from the paper mill in Niagara, Wis., to learn his wife now owned the shop. He’d take on the role of shop technician.
Although they are inside the lodge, the shop now operates as a separate business co-owned by the Bittingers’ son, John, and his wife, Betsy, who moved back to the area with their daughters, Brooke and Megan, in 2011.
Betsy Bittinger grew up in Kaukauna, Wis., and has worked for Thilmany Paper Mill, Miller Electric, Gilbert Paper Mill and Mead Paper. She has a business degree from Fox Valley Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
John Bittinger graduated from Kingsford High School in 1986 and earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire while participating in Division 1 NCAA alpine ski racing. He works full-time as the engineering manager at Verso Corp., coaches the Pine Mountain ski racing team and assists Ted Fornetti with the Norway Co-op High School ski team.
Dick Ring has been a technician with the business for more than 40 years. He also worked as a ski instructor and as a member of the Pine Mountain ski patrol.
The expert technicians sharpen and hot wax skis and snowboards, repair boots, ski and snowboard bindings and carry an array of spare snowboard binding parts. They have three mechanical engineers working in the shop, so typically they can figure out how to fix almost any problem.
“I am not too sure any other shop in the country can offer that type of engineering support,” Jim Bittinger said.
“We have a lot of experience up here,” said Betsy Bittinger, who manages the business. “When you have a passion for business, your number-one concern is the customer. You want to have something that works for everyone and make sure they are happy,” she said.
Bittinger said the store carries high-end technical clothing and equipment as well, but they also stock regular winter fashion.
“We carry pieces that serve the functions, like a soft-shell jacket with an insulator built into it. So you can wear it every day around town,” she said. Some of the suppliers include Helly Hansen, Spyder, Descente, Sun Ice, Alp-N-Rock, Obermeyer, Quicksilver and Roxy, she said, “so it’s fashionable, but you have the warmth.”
The store sells layering pieces, base layers, full-on jackets, coats, pants, hats, mittens, gloves, goggles, helmets, neck warmers, sweaters, sweatshirts and hoodies as well.
“A lot of people don’t come to us because they think, ‘Well, I don’t ski,’ but we are a lot more than that. We are your every-day function, living in the U.P., helping you survive the cold store,” she said.
Then, there’s the boots. “Boots are everything,” she explained. “If your boots don’t make your feet feel happy, you’re not going to have a great experience. We are not a custom boot fitter but we pride ourselves that we can help you find the right boot that will fit your foot and calf the best.”
Customers can choose from Head, Dynastar, Blizzard, Volkl, Atomic and Roxi equipment and the store will professionally mount bindings and snowboards for free with every package purchased.
They perform a binding safety release test for all bindings mounted in the shop and can also adjust or remount your existing skis to match your new or different boots.
“We like to put the right skis and boots on our customers,” Ring said. “It’s important for them to have fun. We try not to oversell. We are not going to sell you something that you don’t need or you can’t use the way its supposed to be used.”
He added, “I can’t tell you how many people have come in with previously owned skis that they have purchased online through Amazon or eBay and it’s the wrong equipment.”
Finding the right match for the customer is crucial, he said. “The first question I ask is what kind of skier they are. Are they beginners, are they good, are they indifferent, and what do they want to get out of it? Do they want to ski with their kids, do they want to go fast, do they want to go slow and how much they want to spend? Then we go look at stuff. We sell them what we think they will enjoy and not more than they need,” Ring said.
In addition to the Bittingers and Ring, Pine Mountain Resort also has part-time employees Connie Jacobson, Michelle Menard, Rich Menard, Michaela Sweig and Julie Santi.
Jacobson said of the job, “I’ve been working for the Bittinger family for over 14 years and they have become family. I love how the customers appreciate us being there. I have met so many new people working there that have become great friends. It’s a fun place to work.”
Betsy Bittinger said she knows the importance of shopping local and keeping it local.
“A lot of people know we are here, but it’s still easier to sit at home and click on the internet and that has started to affect business,” she said. “We believe in shopping local because it comes back in the grocery store, in the restaurants, everything.”