If there is one thing everyone in Mammoth can agree on, it is that busy holiday weekends tend to be anything but relaxing—for residents and visitors alike.
Just look at any family in line trying to get the entire posse outfitted with skis or boards and boots for a day of fun on the mountain.
Then watch the frantic fleet of employees running a slalom course in the fitting area trying to get the right gear to the right person before their toddler has a meltdown.
Now, imagine if you could get geared up with the perfect setup—all from the comfort of your own home, condo, hotel room, or wherever, really.
Colin Fernie and Jeremy Goico started Black Tie Ski Rentals in Mammoth to provide just that service.
“I think everyone has had the experience of getting into town late when the rental shop is closed,” Fernie said.
Black Tie Skis schedules appointments for gear rentals. They say they will arrive with a van full of boots, skis, and boards to match their clients’ specific needs, and get the whole family geared up.
No lines, no crying babies; and their prices are still comparable to slopeside rental shops, he said.
Fernie said the company has three package-levels available depending on a client’s desires, although they encourage renting higher-end demo gear because it makes a big difference in the quality of a guest’s experience.
“It’s a custom fitting process in the comfort of your living room—beer in hand,” Fernie said.
They will also come to the rescue if you break a pole or have a gear issue; and, he said, they sell goggles, socks, sunscreen, chapstick, and hand and toe warmers. They even rent jackets and pants.
“Our vehicles are essentially a ski shop on wheels,” Fernie said.
“It’s shocking how many folks arrive in flip flops and board shorts saying, ‘Man, it’s cold!’”
The Black Tie story began in the most unlikely of places.
Fernie had finished a bachelor’s in psychology in New York, not exactly a ski Mecca, and was working for Black Tie Skis in Steamboat, Colo., home of the flagship branch, when he decided to start up his own licensed branch.
“I loved Steamboat,” Fernie said, “but I wanted to start a career.”
He called up Goico, a college soccer team buddy, who was just finishing his Master’s degree in Spanish Literature in Wisconsin, and pitched his idea.
“Yeah, big business background for us,” Fernie said, laughing.
Black Tie would provide support, branding, and some marketing, but the business would otherwise be entirely their own, from the ground up.
That network provides continuity with other resorts where Black Tie is present as well.
“We can get a client’s info from when they skied at Park City, and see what skis they were on,” Fernie said, citing an example.
The two considered Jackson Hole, Banff, and Sun Valley, but quickly settled on Mammoth.
“The visitation here is huge,” Fernie said. “The length of the season, the quality terrain, consistent snowfall—all were strong here.”
The airport was also a major consideration, Goico said. A resort with mostly driving traffic is not ideal for Black Tie, as it is easier to bring more equipment in a vehicle.
“But ultimately,” Fernie said, “we fell in love with being here. It was a lifestyle choice.”
“It’s a nice perk being in California,” Goico said, “where you’re close to the coast, Yosemite, and Tahoe. It’s pretty unbelievable.”
At first, it was just the two of them, Goico’s sister, and another college buddy packing vans and meeting clients. Now going into their fifth season, Black Tie keeps 20 employees busy during the winter high season.
Currently spending more time in managerial roles, Fernie said the two entrepreneurs strive to create an enjoyable work environment for their employees.
“We recognize we’re running a ski shop,” he said.
“We want to be sure the staff gets time on the hill so they’re educated about gear and know the conditions.”
He said Black Tie also incentivizes staff with a higher pay rate and perks.
“We firmly believe you get what you pay for,” Fernie said. “Our staff is what makes this business run.”
This season, all eight of their new hires were referred by another one of their returning staff members, Goico said.
“We send employees out in a van, we’re not looking over their shoulders. We hire good, qualified people and let them do their job,” Fernie said.
And Christmas is trial by fire, he said.
“It’s insanity for three weeks, so we have to trust that our staff is out doing a great job.”
No matter how busy it gets, Goico said, “we’re usually able to take care of everybody, even if they’re in Bishop and going to be here in 30 minutes.”
“At the last minute,” Fernie said, “you just might not have your pick of time slots.”
Both Goico and Fernie have gone well beyond the mere necessities of running a business in Mammoth.
Goico is a member of the Board of Directors for the Mammoth Chamber of Commerce, and Fernie is the vice chair of the Planning and Economic Development Commission. He also helped form the Mammoth Lakes Young Professionals Group, which provides networking opportunities for young professionals and encourages involvement in city government.
“There needs to be a younger generation coming in to run the town, to help get us through the debacles,” Goico said.
“We want to help move the town in a better direction. We’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he said, “[but] we want to thrive.”
Goico said they constantly hear Mammoth is a difficult place to run a business—in spite of its third highest visitation rate of any resort in North America, after Vail and Whistler, he said.
There are lots of highs and lows, Goico said, but Mammoth Lakes Tourism is aware of that and is trying to bring more year-round tourism.
“We’ve experienced success in our business,” Fernie said, “but the business environment in Mammoth Lakes overall is not strong.”
Despite all of this, the two were floored by the response when they came to town, Fernie said.
“Local businesses welcomed us with open arms.”
Black Tie often meets clients at various local lodging venues lacking onsite rental shops.
“We like to package ourselves as an amenity to local properties,” Fernie said. In turn, he said, “we owe our success to a lot of the good relationships we have in town.”
“A lot of ski towns have the attitude that you have to earn your stripes—you have to operate your business for two or three years before you’re accepted,” Fernie said. “But we didn’t feel that.”
Fernie said that by putting customers first and paying attention to detail helped them earn more business.
Goico said he attributes their success to being upfront and honest with local properties and delivering on their promises.
“And we’re handsome and friendly!” Fernie said with a grin.
“The potential of Mammoth is tremendous,” Goico said, citing the airport as a key component.
The bottom line, Fernie said, is that people come here for nature and the town should make sure the man-made side complements the natural.
Goico said he wants to see sidewalks and crosswalks on Main Street, and be a part of making that happen.
Fernie said he is blown away that Mammoth’s Main Street has as many as eight lanes at some points, and thinks potential customers are lost as they fly by at 35 (or more) miles an hour.
Mammoth often pits the local against the guest, Fernie said, but he said the two do not have to be at odds.
He said he thinks people come to visit and stay to live in Mammoth for the same reasons, and as the town improves, so will the experience for locals and visitors alike.
“It’s a young resort,” Fernie said.
“The Town of Mammoth Lakes is younger than we are.”