When 19-year-old alpine skiers and newlyweds Ken and Kay Paton opened a small ski shop in a simple A-frame building in 1958 in Wenatchee, they had no idea that 54 years later, it would be an anchor business in downtown.
The entrepreneurial couple named their new ski business Arlberg Sports after a skiing technique developed in the Arlberg Mountains in Austria. Over time, the business grew to become one of the best custom ski boot fitting stores on the West Coast.
And it holds on to that reputation today.
“Custom boot fitting is what we hang our hats on,” said Scott Paton, the couple’s son and now second-generation owner of Arlberg Sports. “We take custom boot fitting very seriously. We have a one-year apprenticeship program for our employees, and I personally train all my staff. I want to be certain my employees are experts at custom boot fitting.”
In 1985, Ken and Kay Paton moved Arlberg Sports to 25 N. Wenatchee Ave., and expanded its stock to serve the needs of outdoor sports enthusiasts of all four seasons. It features complete bicycle and ski repair and service shops, water sports equipment, backpacking and camping gear, shoes and clothing and all the associated gear sports enthusiasts need for successful outdoor recreation activities.
Scott grew up learning the ins and outs of running the successful outdoor recreation business from his parents. He attended Washington State University where he met his wife, Nalini. Both graduated with business degrees. Nalini continued her education at Central Washington University and earned a degree in accounting.
The young couple, whose two children attend Cashmere High School, assumed the reins of the family business when they bought it from Scott’s parents in 2007.
Since its humble beginnings, Arlberg Sports has been a strong supporter of local sporting clubs and events.
“Arlberg Sports provides great support to Mission Ridge and the Mission Ridge Ski Team,” said Greg Mercer of Wenatchee. “They work hard at getting the best sporting goods for summer and winter sports for all of us who enjoy the quality of life we are fortunate to have in Wenatchee. Scott and Nalini and their entire staff are a joy to work with.”
One reason for that is the knowledge of the staff. The Patons ensure all employees receive the professional training they need to be experts in their fields.
“We send at least one person a year to the Specialized Bike University in Monterey, Calif., to learn how to properly fit a customer to a bike,” Scott said. “Dr. Andy Pruitt is one of the best known cycling doctors in the country and he teaches the course. We currently have two master bike fitters on staff.”
Arlberg’s also sends its bike technicians to classes to earn certification in all aspects of bicycle repair and maintenance. Its ski technicians go to Salt Lake City to learn from professionals how to tune skis. There they work directly with World Cup skiers.
“All our employees actively participate in many of our local outdoor sports, so they know what they are talking about, both personally and professionally, on the sales floor,” Nalini added. “Customers appreciate working with knowledgeable sales people.”
The Patons practice what they preach. The family puts a high priority on outdoor sports in all four seasons, and they know how fortunate they are to call Wenatchee home.
“The Wenatchee Valley is a mecca for outdoor recreation,” Nalini said.
Andy Dappen, content editor for WenatcheeOutdoors.org, agrees.
“I moved to this area by choice because I think it’s the outdoor recreation capital of the state,” Dappen said. “It’s got the best climbing, most diverse skiing, some of the best mountain biking, most easily accessed whitewater and the best out-the-backdoor hiking of anyplace I’ve ever lived.”
The Patons believe the family’s investment in outdoor sports activities will pay dividends over a lifetime.
“We like to promote lifetime sports to not only keep kids active now, but also for the rest of their lives,” Nalini said. “We’re firm believers in doing sports as a family. Families that recreate together have healthy kids who aren’t getting into trouble.”
The Patons also are excited for the future of outdoor recreation in the valley.
Arlberg Sports provides several specific events during the course of the year to connect with the community and promote the area’s outdoor recreational opportunities. Those events include:
Women’s bike rides. This ladies-only event has been going on for 11 years. During four rides each summer, female participants can enjoy a bike ride to a restaurant and winery, and in the end get picked up by a limousine.
“Blood, Sweat, and Beers” bike ride. This one’s for the guys. Arlberg staff joins community members for a bike ride culminating with a barbeque and beers.
Demo Daze at Mission Ridge. Held annually in March, this event features next year’s top ski equipment. Company representatives set up booths to demo their skis. The popular event is limited to 150 skiers. Pre-registration is required. Down payment guarantees customers will get the skis they want the coming winter.
Scott believes one of the region’s biggest economic development opportunities is in mountain biking.
“The Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance is working with the U.S. Forest Service to build a trail system up No. 2 Canyon,” he said. “If that happens, it will have a huge impact on the area.”
But Scott also sees an even larger potential for the area.
“Our ultimate goal is to make Wenatchee an International Mountain Biking Association ride center,” he said.
The IMBA has named only six such ride centers in the nation, only two of which are west of the Mississippi River (Park City, Utah and Oakridge, Ore.). Securing the IBMA Ride Center designation would be a boon for the local economy, as mountain bikers from all over the world would consider the Wenatchee Valley a destination, Scott said.
Local experts such as Dappen believe that when it comes to marketing outdoor recreation, it may be time for the valley to toot its horn a little more.
“Other places have more successfully marketed themselves as outdoor centers, but the raw quality of the natural resources surrounding this region surpass those of places like Bend, Ore.,” Dappen said. “The Wenatchee Valley may have been branded by the fruit industry, but the region also has the best quiver of easy accessed climbs, hikes, ski tours, mountain bike trails and whitewater runs.”
Is the Wenatchee Valley on a verge of a renaissance to becoming a bona fide outdoor recreation center?
“We have the ability to get there,” Scott said. “We have something to offer that nobody else in the state can offer, and we’re close enough to a big market (Seattle area) to make it work.”