In an otherwise unassuming storage facility on Catherine Road lies one of the largest and most incredible private collections of vintage ski memorabilia in the country, if not the world.
As you watch owner guy Richard Allen stroll through the meticulously organized racks of merchandise, it doesn’t take long to realize this is not an Alpine equivalent of the TV show “Hoarders.” This is a well-oiled juxtaposition of passion and astute entrepreneurism.
Collecting ski memorabilia has been Allen’s passion for more than 30 years. Though it has taken some time to iron out the business wrinkles, Vintage Ski World is now his full-time gig.
The warehouse-sized storage locker holds hundreds of pairs of skis — from antique to classic — poles, boots, snowshoes, early-era snowboards and posters, the latter of which have remained Allen’s bread-and-butter since he first started getting serious about collecting in 2000.
His skiing roots grow back to childhood.
“My dad was a ski bum and brought us all out to Colorado to ski from Minnesota,” Allen says. “My first year coming to Aspen was 1959. We made the drive every year in a big Ford wagon with nine of us — six kids, my mom and dad and usually a friend. It was all two-lane roads. We had to chain up now and again. No Eisenhower Tunnel. We had to go over Loveland or Berthoud Pass, because we skied Winter Park, too.”
The Allen’s relationship with the Roaring Fork Valley became more institutionalized in the early 1970s.
“My folks built a house up in Snowmass,” he says. “By 1975, I left home and spent the winter in Baja and came back through Snowmass on Wintersköl Day in 1976. I spent the winter in Snowmass, then went back to Minnesota. My family manufactured vacuum cleaners, carpet cleaners and floor buffers. When I was home, I cleaned all the neighbors’ carpets and made enough money to buy a Ford pick-up truck with a $150-a-month payment and came out and started Alpine Cleaning up in Snowmass. I did that for 18 years.”
Allen had already become a ski collector.
“I started collecting my family’s ski gear because they had some good stuff in the house up at Snowmass,” he says. “In 1989, I became aware of a sporting goods store up in Portland, Ore., that was full of original, brand-new what we call ‘new/old stock’ of complete ski outfits from head to toe. Everything in the boxes, like White Stag clothing. It kind got me started.
“Then, Steve Knowlton, who was a 10th Mountain Division soldier, had this restaurant down in Denver and one day Dick Durrance calls me and says ‘you should go down and look at Steve’s collection and see what you think.’ So I went down there and looked at his collection and ended up going back a few days later with a U-Haul and buying his whole collection, the day before it was going to auction. Included in there was the boat tow that was built by the Aspen Ski Club in 1936 to haul skiers up the hill over on the Lift-1 side. That really got my collection going.”
It was at that juncture that Allen started seriously thinking beyond ski equipment.
There was also a bunch of posters,” he says. “I hadn’t thought as much about ski art at that point.”
But Allen wanted to do more than hoard. He wanted to bring his collection into the public arena. And maybe make a few bucks.
“I supplied a couple of antique ski races in Aspen,” he says, “but I wasn’t yet thinking big.”
Allen moved to Pagosa Springs in 1992 and spent seven years teaching skiing at Wolf Creek.
Out of the blue, he got a call that reoriented his life.
“I got a call from the Aspen Skiing Co. because it was their 50th anniversary,” he says. “This was in 1996. After doing those antique ski races before I moved to Pagosa, one of my dreams, something on my bucket list, was to do Aspen’s 50th anniversary with my collection.
“Before I even legally started the business, I had been coming up to Aspen to do these theme parties, so I had experience,” Allen continues. “I mortgaged my house in Pagosa for 30 grand and put together a package of some business cards and a logo. I came up and did seven events for Aspen’s 50th anniversary all on my own dime because they didn’t have any budget for it. We did two antique ski races, two fashion shows and we did a thing at the skating rink. I dressed up a bunch of ladies in 10th Mountain Division outfits with the skis and everything and put lights around them all at the entrance of the 50th anniversary grand party at the St. Regis.”
All of the equipment Allen supplied for that soiree that was from the era when Aspen Ski Area first opened.
The event was a hit.
“That kind of kick-started my business, but I still was in Pagosa,” Allen says. “In 1999, my son wanted to go to Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, so I moved back here.”
Not long thereafter, Allen found himself talking with noted Roaring Fork Valley philanthropist George Stranahan.
“I had all these original posters from the Knowlton collection and I knew George was doing giclée printing,” Allen says. “So I approached George and he agreed to reproduce seven posters we picked out, and he shot them with his Hasselblad and then digitized them. George delivered me 4,000 posters. I had all this stuff and no way to sell it. I ran into Lou Dawson at a block party in Carbondale. He said ‘I build websites,’ so he built me a website.
“Then we were at the Carbondale Mountain Fair selling posters and based on that, I got invited to go to the Aspen Farmers Market,” Allen continues. That really launched my business. We were killing it at the Farmers Market.”
Allen was eventually convinced to open a retail establishment in Aspen, right next door to the Red Onion.
“It was a great store and we were voted the best store in Aspen two years in a row by Skiing magazine,” he says. “I loved it because it was so heartfelt. At that point, we were selling mainly posters and skis and some ski-related furniture. But we were paying $15,000 a month in rent.
“We lasted a year-and-a-half there and had a great time, but it was too expensive to keep the store going,” Allen continues. “I bought a house up on Missouri Heights and moved everything up there. We cranked up our website and really did well, until the crash of ’08. I’m still trying to recover from that.”
Allen eventually bought three printers and started printing his own posters.
“We had a lot of my collection up at my house in a big garage, but we would only get a handful of people a year go up to Missouri Heights,” he says. “And I had this huge mortgage. I was forced to sell the house and rent a place in Carbondale.
“I found this spot at Carbondale Mini-Storage because I have storage lockers right next door, and I thought, ‘oh, man, I could put my whole collection in here for the first time ever’,” he continues. “Now we get people in here daily to shop, which is super cool. We have a big Amazon presence, a retail store in Frisco and this is a retail space. Our sales are really starting to increase and people love to just walk around and look at this stuff.”
Allen says his collection is unparalleled.
“I have thousands of pieces of vintage ski clothing,” he says. “ I’ve got this awesome collection of old ski poles. We sell old snowshoes, including 10th Mountain Division snowshoes from World War II. We have snowshoes made by Native Americans. I have like 800 pairs of skis, many of them brand-new, unmounted, never-been-drilled, from old Northland jumping skis to the early metal skis, the early Heads. I have a whole stack of 10th Mountain Division undrilled skis. We have lots of the last of the great wood skis.”
Allen restocks his inventory from a variety of sources.
“I bought out the inventories of three ski shops that closed back in the ’60s,” he says. “All their inventory went into storage. Pretty much, though, it all finds me. I have a reputation and people call me. I do have one picker out of St. Paul, Minn., who comes two to three times every year with a big load. He’s an estate planner, appraiser and auctioneer.”
Customers cover the gamut.
“We sell to people who want to decorate with our products,” Allen says. “They put our stuff in a corner, up on the wall. We get a lot of business from interior decorators. We had one yesterday who bought skis, poles and a photo.
“The boots have always just come along with the skis,” Allen continues. “They make great flowerpots, bookends and door stops. We have a whole series of Lange boots, the first classic boots. We have an old Lange poster that was done by long-time local resident Norm Clasen.”
Allen has also worked with the movie and advertising industries.
“We supplied all the clothing for ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’,” he says. We’ve done a few other movies. Our products were used for decorating 20 Abercrombie and Fitch stores all over the world.”
Business is really starting to take off.
“We are selling a lot of skis these days,” Allen says. “We sell a few hundred pairs a year to hotels, restaurants, decorators and ski lodges all around the world. There are a few other businesses that are similar, but not to the extent we of what we do. We have 1,000 products on our website.”
Vintage Ski World is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 1676 County Rd. 100, Unit N-2.