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New Winter Park ski shop is all in the family

by Stephanie Miller
Sky-Hi Daily News
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Dan and Denise O’Connell were a couple of ski bums when they first moved to Winter Park in the mid-1980s.

They met at the Mary Jane, married, and eventually had two children ” Patrick, 13, and Elizabeth, 11, who began to ski when they were 18 months old.

Now the O’Connell’s are the new owners of Grand Sports Shop in downtown Winter Park, formerly known as Grand Sports, which caters to skiers and bikers year-round. They plan to run the shop as a family business and use their experience in the sporting industry to provide a personal, local touch.

After all, they too were ski bums once. Dan, who is a member of the original Jane Gang, managed the children’s center at Winter Park Resort in the ’90s, and was on the regional demo team for the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA).

Denise worked in marketing at the resort, and received her Level III from PSIA.

Together they created new programs at the children’s center by gaining input from customers and helped create a one-stop shop experience for guests, said Dan, who still teaches for the competition center at Winter Park Resort. They hope to incorporate that type of service at their own shop.

“We want to create a sense of familiarity,” Denise said. “We want to be the first stop when people come into town, see what’s new with the community. And we want to make the rental experience a nice experience ” not a cattle call for rental.”

By hiring employees they know will return year after year, the O’Connell’s hope to create that familiar environment.

Peter LaDue, who once managed the Winter Park Ski Shop, will be handling the orthopedic sector, such as boot fitting and specialty foot beds.

Woody, another longtime local, is the master tech tuner.

Justin Bontrager, who is a former employee of Grand Sports, is the shop’s “right hand man,” Denise said.

Amelia Musgjerd, who is currently in Alaska and is also a former employee of Grand Sports, will be returning to work for the new owners.

“That’s what is going to make it strong and help people have a great experience here,” Dan said, referring to his employees.

“It’s like a family,” Bontrager said.

And speaking of family, the ‘junior’ O’Connell’s will also be put to work. Elizabeth and Patrick, who both ski on the resort’s freestyle team, will be in charge of merchandise and clothing when they’re not in school or doing other activities (like homework, assured Denise).

Patrick has been e-mailing companies and inquiring about children’s merchandise along with his sister, Elizabeth, who also helped set up the store’s window displays.

Both children agreed there’s worse things in this world than working with your parents in a ski shop. But leave it to the parents to make a learning experience out of it.

“There’s something to be said in giving kids the benefit of a strong work ethic,” Denise said. Her husband nodded.

“It teaches them people skills,” he added. “That’s an important skill that’s not always easy (to learn).”

The Grand Sports Shop plans to be a fun environment too, Denise pointed out. By offering hot chocolate and coffee (Grand Sports Shop will have its own coffee label through Rocky Mountain Roastery), the O’Connell’s encourage customers and locals to come in and relax, watch TV in their sitting area and have a “stress-free” renting and shopping experience.

The exact date for the shop’s grand opening is yet to be determined, but a full-on blow-out sale is in the works for Thanksgiving weekend, Denise said. She also plans to offer local discounts and services that cater to residents.

The store will offer lines similar to last year, including Spyder, Oakley, Solomon and Obermeyer. The store rents out Dynastar skis and Lang ski boots.

The O’Connell’s hope to expand their equipment and merchandise selection in the future. Dan is working on providing snowboard equipment, and Denise hopes to offer more of a higher-end variety of clothing.

“There’s a huge need for that full-season, full style type of clothingware as well as giftware, along with being sports-oriented,” she said. “And I think locals are looking for something else.”

It will be a learning experience for the O’Connell’s, they admitted, as they figure out what customers are looking for. Denise is handling the marketing side of things, while Dan handles the employees and the tech and merchandise side.

The store has been remodeled, rearranged and repainted, to provide a “better flow,” Denise said, but most importantly, “We’re having a lot of fun,” she added.

“By next winter it won’t be so stressful ” that’s what Elizabeth tells me. As I empower my employees, my children ” it will be a really great experience for all of us.”

” To reach Stephanie Miller, call (970) 887-3334, ext. 19601 or e-mail smiller@grandcountynews.com.


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