As shop owner Andrew Drummond will tell you, Ski the Whites happened purely by accident. “I never envisioned becoming a retailer,” Drummond said of founding his year-round ski, bike, and run shop with two locations in Jackson, New Hampshire.
What he did want to do was ski. Specifically, in the White Mountains. After getting a job as an environmental consultant that took him around the world—including to San Diego, where he spent much of his time surfing—Drummond was unsatisfied with the trajectory of his career and felt pulled back east where he grew up.
“That was a pivotal moment for me. I asked myself, if you could start over and do anything you wanted, what would you do?” Drummond said. “I knew that if I was out there and doing what I wanted to do in the White Mountains, it would work out.”
For him, that meant taking the next two winters, in 2014 and 2015, to showcase the region’s skiable backcountry terrain through a multi-media project called Ski the Whites. It wasn’t long before he acquired a reputation as an expert not only on the best lines, but on the best gear, too.
“No one was selling the backcountry gear that I was using. As more people came to me for gear advice, I built the ski shop out of necessity,” he said.
An accidental gear shop
In the winter of 2016, his "accidental gear shop" was born, thanks to a dealer agreement with Fischer and rumors among the community that Drummond was slinging demo gear out of the back of his truck.
“A friend of mine who worked at Fischer walked me through the process of demoing and explained that I didn’t have to pay until the end of the season,” Drummond said. Drummond would be able to use Fischer gear for free for months at a time.
That gave him time to make ends meet while he skied, without any big upfront costs. At the end of the season, he would sell the gear, pay Fischer, and come out ahead. Eventually, the idea took hold to transition Ski the Whites from a personal project to a specialty shop.
Drummond admits he was reluctant to go into retail at that point. But when a local ski patroller told him about an empty backroom available at a property called Black Mountain—a laidback mom-and-pop ski hill in Jackson, New Hampshire—it all clicked. The vacant space was a former employee lounge and nursery that the owners of Black Mountain allowed Drummond to use for a modest price.
“I thought, here’s a spot near a ski resort that will give me free rein to do what I want, and that’s when I went all in on opening a shop,” he said.
Expanding the business
At this point, the backcountry ski scene was exploding, and Drummond found himself at the center of the action in the east. After opening the shop, his longtime girlfriend and US Ski Team alum Hilary McCloy had the idea to expand the shop's offerings beyond just gear. She helped Drummond start a weekly uphill ski racing event at Black Mountain called Friday Night Lights, which drew over 800 participants of all ages.
Thanks to McCloy’s passion for group events and community engagement, Friday Night Lights and similar gathering became a central part of the shop's business model over the next few years. Ski the Whites' calendar is now full of activities that bring the community together for adventures of all types—5Ks, 10Ks, ultramarathons, ski endurance races, conditioning classes, and more. The shop even has its own podcast featuring interviews with outdoor icons.
That didn't fully solve one of the business's core challenges, however: the ups and downs of running a seasonal shop. During the store's first off-season, Drummond anticipated that challenge and quickly pivoted to sell running gear, temporarily renaming the store Run the Whites. The shop focused on trail running equipment while continuing to foster a sense of community among adventure-loving outdoor enthusiasts.
Run the Whites became popular with the community too, and soon it became clear that the shop would outgrowing the tiny room where it started. Drummond needed a second location, but he was wary of an expansion.
“Black Mountain has something you can’t replicate. It’s a gem of a mountain,” he said.
Luckily, he was able to find a desirable commercial space in Jackson just five minutes away, a 15-minute drive from Tuckerman Ravine. The location made it a cinch for skiers to grab rental gear and pick Drummond's brain on their way to the mountains. He moved in and eventually expanded that operation to include other high-end gear in the skiing, biking, and running categories, including brands like Dynafit, Blizzard, Tecnica, Mammut, Yeti, and Scott. The shop also has a rental fleet of alpine touring gear, nordic gear, and splitboards.
“We aren’t salespeople. We walk the walk,” Drummond said. “I’m always thinking, how can I make things better for the community? To me, that means being a resource. Whether it’s gear, beta, or helping people find touring or running partners.”
At the end of the day, that’s the secret sauce that makes Ski the Whites great. Drummond’s success hasn’t come from exponential growth or massive brand recognition. It’s centered on unifying what was a fragmented community of backcountry skiers—getting them geared up and ready to spend more time doing what they love.
“We can figure out the gear you need and push you right out onto the mountain,” Drummond said.
What about the pandemic?
In a time when many gear shops are closing their doors, fortunately Ski the Whites has been able to ride out the storm through its e-commerce efforts.
"The outdoor industry has seen a large uptick in business during this period," Drummond said. "Even though a large percentage of my customer base can't come and visit the new shop, they have been extremely supportive through online sales."
Drummond has been able to move forward with his store's scheduled plans even as the economy has been unpredictable. He keeps a skeleton crew working at the shops to support the customers that have come in for in-person service.
As for what people are buying, Drummond said he's trying to stay ahead of the curve.
“There's a concern about alpine touring inventory, and rightfully so, after seeing the bike market get depleted,” Drummond said. “We're starting to take deposits on next season's gear already."
Asked what he thinks the industry will look like a year from now, he was nothing but hopeful.
"We're crossing our fingers. We're hoping for this pandemic to pass—and we're hoping for a great snow year."