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Father-son duo strive to share their love for snow sports

Jan. 19, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

BARBOURSVILLE -- In today's retail world, the Ski Loft in Barboursville is an aberration.

One could start with what has always made the business, which started in 1978, a bit different -- it's a ski shop that is nowhere near a ski resort.

The shop has had a few different locations, but all of them have been along U.S. 60 in Barboursville, with the current location having served as home to the business since 1981.

Other things that tend to put the business a bit outside the norm is that it's not a chain, it's dedicated entirely to skiing and snowboarding and it doesn't compete online.

The last part, well, the Ski Loft has never had to worry too much about all of that.

"It gets harder for city shops to operate all the time," said Ron Newman, who co-owns the store with his son, Tony. "The difference is, none of the big boxes, or the online retailers or even the manufacturers want to service what they sell. We provide that service and maintenance."

The business also offers some services other retailers can't, like a lease program for children that allows them to lease gear from the store and then upgrade as they outgrow or out-skill their older equipment. The shop also rents boots, skis and boards the same way an on-site resort shop would.

The Ski Loft is open from the beginning of October until the last Saturday in March. Another reason the shop survives is that it's not Ron Newman's only source of income. He also owns a haircutting business next door.

He readily admits there have been seasons where the Ski Loft hasn't made any money at all.

"If you're in this business for the money, you're not going to be in it for long," he said. "You have to be in it for the love of the sport."

Tony Newman doesn't even remember learning how to ski, and has been around the shop since he was a boy, working there on and off while growing up until he became a co-owner with his father about 10 years ago.

Ron and Tony often chuckle about how the store is a bit of a "showroom," in that many people come in and try out equipment they've been considering purchasing to see if they like it, then buy it from somewhere else.

"They come in and they pick your brain and see what they like," Ron Newman said. "Then they go home and order it to have it delivered to their front door."

One piece of advice Tony Newman offers up freely is to learn to ski before learning to snowboard.

"It's easier to learn initially," he said. "Your first day of snowboarding is going to be brutal, because when you fall, your whole body falls. You're going to be bruised all over. Hopefully you don't fall backward and hit your head on the ground."

Snowboarding started trending big in West Virginia in about 1987, Tony Newman said. For a while, it did more business than skiing, but he said the trend is starting to go back toward skiing in recent years.

"Part of it is that skis are being made differently now, and it's a bit easier," he said. "Part of it is that things like the X Games are getting more skiing events in there. You're seeing skiers in the half-pipe doing amazing stuff just like the snowboarders."

Father and son don't mind giving out free advice at the Ski Loft, and say the joy they get out of the business is in helping spread the love of skiing and snowboarding.

"I want people to have as good a time as I do," Tony Newman said.

"It's almost like a religion," his father added. "You've got it, and you just want to bring more people into it."

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