Paul Exley enjoys offering beginning skiers a little lesson, and there is no snow required.
“We do it right on the shop, and it can be 80 degrees outside. It doesn’t matter,” said the owner of the Alpine Skis and Boards at 268 Bethany Pike. “You have to keep your feet shoulder-width, your knees forward, and when you want to go to the left, you roll your right knee, and vice versa when you want to go to the right,” Exley explained. “That’s all you need to do, and the ski does the rest of the work.
“Skis now have a new shape to them, and the skis are much lighter now than when I started,” he said. “They are much easier to maneuver now, and people are doing half the work they used to have to do.”
That lesson is a small part of his passion for the sport and for guiding his customers to an experience that is as safe as possible. He and all of his employees are certified as far as bindings are concerned, and Exley is certified each year as a “snow expert” during the annual Snow Show in Denver.
“What is very important to everyone here is that when a customer comes in and buys equipment, we make sure that it is all adjusted the way it should be based on their height, weight, and their ability level,” Exley explained. “The industry struggles with that now because so many people buy their equipment on the Internet, and it’s not properly adjusted for that individual skier or snowboarder.
“When you buy something here, we do all of those services free of charge, and it’s also not built into the price of the equipment either. We do it to make sure you’re safe,” he said. “We can’t eliminate all of the risks involved, but we can make sure that, as far as the equipment is concerned, you are ready to go.”
Exley estimated that his customers reside within a 100-mile radius of the Alpine Ski shop, and he credits the snow resorts that are located in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Those clients range as far as age and skill levels are concerned, and Exley said he battles the big boxers by offering quality products and dedicated customer service.
“We have a diversified customer base that includes folks who pretty much stay here locally and also many who go out to Colorado, Utah, and all over the West Coast,” Exley explained. “The core of our customer base visits Seven Springs, Snowshoe, Timberline, Canaan, and Wisp, and those are all great resorts.
“All of those resorts are close enough to visit for a day or two, so they really help support our business,” he said. “These kinds of shops, though, have really gone away over the years because of the big-box trend that we have seen take place in the retail business. But we think we do a pretty good job here, and we really take care of each and every one of our customers.”
In the shop alone Alpine is stocked with more than 50 snowboards and pairs of skis, and 100 pairs of boots, bindings, and poles, as well as all garments, goggles, sunglasses, gloves, and socks. Alpine also offers repair services, waxing, and tuning.
“We have every ski and every board here for all ages and ability levels,” Exley reported. “And if I do not have what a customer wants in-house, we can get it for them very quickly. We may be a small shop, but we are a total, full-service place any skier and snowboarder can come to.
“And we feature great prices and offer personalized service every single day,” he continued. “And we also offer quality rental equipment with great prices because if someone wants to try skiing or boarding, we want to help get them on the slope. If they enjoy themselves, hopefully they will come here when they decide to purchase their own equipment.”
For nearly three decades Exley was employed by Cardinal Health, and he retired from the company in 2000 as the regional executive vice president for the Mid-Atlantic Region. He has skied in every state possible, and was a competitive skier in college and for a few years after his graduation.
But in 2004 he made the surprise decision to enter a completely new industry by opening Alpine Skis and Boards.
“One day I went to buy my race skis over at Craig Bentley’s place that was called Belmont Ski & Golf. He had been in the business for 13 years, but he had decided to get out of it,” Exley explained. “That’s when we were just getting Oglebay started again with skiing, and I was just getting ready for the season. He told me he could still order my skis, but he told me then that he was getting out of the retail business.
“A few hours after I had left, I called him and told him that I had decided to open a new shop,” he continued. “I wanted local skiers to have a shop since Oglebay was finally opening back up after it had taken us about five years to raise enough money to do it.”
Initially, though, Alpine did not offer the many lines of clothing available now inside the Greggsville area ski shop.
“But we quickly learned that this business is all about the hard goods and the soft goods. Skis, snowboards, boots, bindings, those are you hard goods,” Exley explained. “And the soft goods include the pants, jackets, and anything you want to wear while skiing or snowboarding, so we sell a lot of different garments now.
“In the beginning a lot of people told me that I shouldn’t try to sell the apparel items because they didn’t think we could compete against the others,” he continued. “But then the next year I worked very hard to be able to sell North Face clothing, and I was successful with doing that. And then I realized we needed other brands, and today we sell for all of the major ski and snowboard companies.”
He admits this winter has been a frustrating one this far, but Exley, who has skied since the age of 3, recalled a few other years when the snow has failed to fall until January.
“But I’ve skied as often as possible for most of my life, and if you are in this business, you know it happens some years. This same thing took place back in 1984, it happened in the 1970s, and in the 1990s, too,” he said. “But the weather will change. That’s the good news, and it is really coming.
“All of our customers are a little frustrated, but they are chomping at the bit to go skiing and boarding,” Exley added. “We all know that not every winter can be like it was in 1978. That was the greatest winter ever because the Oglebay slopes were open for more than 100 days.”
There are far more skiers and snowboarders in this area than what many imagine, Exley said, and he has witnessed the number of snowboarders fluctuate since he opened Alpine.
“When we first opened in 2004, snowboarding was really, really popular here in this area. In the beginning, our business was probably 80 percent snowboarding and 20 percent skiing,” Exley recalled. “But now it’s probably more like 50-50 between snowboarding and skiing, so it’s obvious to me that more people are going back to skiing, and the kids are doing both. This year, it does seem as if snowboarding is making a little comeback, but it’s still very close percentage-wise.
“I attend a conference each year in Denver because it’s always my goal to meet with all of the vendors because my goal every year is to get the best equipment at the best possible value for our customers here,” he continued. “The big thing that we do here is to make sure we get the person and their ability level into the right equipment. We’re not going to oversell anyone. We just want to make sure they have fun and that they are as safe as they can be.”
His favorite thing to do, Exley said, is scaling the Aspen Highlands Bowl, and he will do just that this week. The hike, he says, is as beautiful as the skiing. Here in Wheeling, Exley was instrumental with re-establishing the two sports at Oglebay Resort because of his love for the sports and because he believes they offer the region’s children a healthy and safe activity.
Along with assisting with the five years of fundraising, he and his family also donated the fire pit located on the exterior of the small lodge.
“One of the biggest reasons why I chose to be involved with bringing skiing back to Oglebay is because there is a long, long fabulous tradition of skiing at Oglebay, and it all started in 1939 with a tractor and a rope tow near where Wilson Lodge is today,” Exley said. “When I went up there at the age of 3, I started skiing, and it was all natural snow because we didn’t have the snowmaking equipment that long ago. To get warm, the parents would sit in the car with it running, and then we would get in to warm up.
“Then skiing moved to the driving range, where it is now, in 1962, and they built that mini-lodge with the fireplace and the concession stand. But then it closed in 1997,” he said. “The big thing about Oglebay, though, is it’s where everyone from around here got their start with skiing. That’s where I got my start, and I would not have gotten into this business without Oglebay and those experiences as a kid.
“Now that it’s open again, the kids can gather there in a safe environment and have a lot of fun. And when they reach a certain age and skill level, they can go to one of the resorts in this area, and that means all of those places feed off of Oglebay. That’s why I was so involved.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)