Phil Leeds and Scott O'Brien at Skinny Skis in Jackson Hole.

Phil Leeds, left, and Scott O'Brien currently co-own Skinny Skis in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Celebrating 45 years in business, Skinny Skis is a Jackson Hole institution. It first specialized in Nordic and cross-country skis, but has since expanded to serve runners, mountaineers, and other high-endurance and high-performance athletes living in and visiting the resort town.

"Being in a destination resort area has its pluses and minuses," Co-owner Phil Leeds said. "There’s no easy scenario these days for outdoor specialty retail. It makes it a really rich environment and certainly one we enjoy being fully engaged with."

Founder Jeff Crabtree retired three years ago and left the business to co-owners Leeds and Scott O'Brien, who run a team of about 15 seasonal and full-time employees highly committed to specialty retail. One employee just celebrated her 20th work anniversary and another just retired after 30 years. Many employees have gone on to lead companies, such as Steve Sullivan, who founded Cloudveil and Stio, and Dave Simpson, a partner at Verde Brand Communications—both still living in Wyoming.

The community support, sharp buyers, unique products, and stream of tourists all keep the middle-aged shop in ship-shape.

Skinny Skis was selected by SNEWS editors as the ninth featured #CoolShop, as part of the new #CoolShop Awards. Nominate your favorite specialty outdoor shop to be featured and voted as the best shop at the end of the year.

Skinny Skis, a specialty shop in Jackson Hole, had a crowd roughly 500 strong at its avalanche awareness event. Photo courtesy of Phil Leeds.

Skinny Skis had a crowd roughly 500 strong at one of its avalanche awareness events. 

Supporting more than the outdoor community with $300K and counting

For 20 years and counting, Skinny Skis hosts an Avalanche Awareness Night, which draws hundreds of people and has raised $200,000 for Teton County Search and Rescue and other avalanche-related services. The event features speakers, clinics, demos of the latest technology, raffles, and more. "For a small community, it’s made a difference," Leeds said.

But Skinny Skis also supports causes that aren't core to the outdoors because its owners' hearts are big for the Jackson Hole community.

Two decades ago, Skinny Skis founded a support fund to help families going through cancer and struggling to meet financial obligations. 

"A close friend and colleague saw the need through her therapeutic work," Leeds said. "People are coming to this valley and camping out while they're going through oncology treatment, which is brutal."

Oftentimes, the local St. John's Medical Center can't fully treat a cancer patient, so families travel to Salt Lake City, Utah. Expenses not covered by insurance add up, Leeds said. In its 20th year, the Run and Ride For the Cure has raised $100,000 and has helped close to 30 families.

Pack wall at Skinny Skis

Skinny Skis can't just sell any pack. Buyers find out what competitors carry and know what their customers want.

Curating a shop that's just right for the Jackson Hole shopper

During its first three years, Skinny Skis was a seasonal shop only open from October through March. In the summer, the 500-square-foot space turned into a different business. Without much room to spread out, staff used every square inch of the space. And its still that way today, even though it has grown to 3,500 square feet.

"There were a couple other sporting good stores in Jackson when we started," said Leeds, who joined the store after college in 1977, the same year the business became year-round. "Some of the more popular brands at the time—Chouinard Equipment, Kelty, Sierra Designs, and The North Face—were already spoken for."

Marmot, Gregory Packs, and Moonstone were a few newer companies just getting into retail back then and Skinny Skis was excited to carry something different than its competitors, Leeds said.

With extra competition on the Internet today, Leeds said they're still super selective about what they sell. "We’re still small. I would consider us to be pretty nimble as a result of that," he said. "We have to adjust quickly, we don’t have the luxury of a lot of room to merchandise."

The buyers have recently made smart buys. Forsake, an all-weather travel footwear brand, has exceeded sales goals in its first month. Icebug, non-slip studded shoes, are getting picked up by a younger-than-expected crowd. And We Norwegians, a Scandinavian apparel brand, has also resonated with customers.

"We really have to hone and curate probably more than the average store," Leeds said. "It makes it a lot more challenging, but I think it makes it more interesting."

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