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Vintage image of Skiis and Biikes founders tuning skis

1978

In the fall of 1978, while finishing a computer science degree at University of Guelph, I opened a small ski shop called the Caledon Pro Shop. I had worked part-time in a ski retail store since I was 14 years old and I really enjoyed the industry. The customers, the vendors, and everyone involved were so much fun, so alive, and so passionate about the sport. I connected with them right away and took on the mission to get families outside and having fun in the winter; a mission that has driven me ever since.

Caledon Ski Club

I set up my shop at the Caledon Ski Club, a private club north west of Toronto, in a 900 sq ft space and hired one part-time employee, my sister Sue. The Caledon Ski Club was very good to my little ski shop and me. I learned quickly that “service, service, service” was what would set me apart from the “big guys” in Toronto.

Fire

Only 2 short years into my slowly growing business, on November 24, 1980, my shop and the lodge at the ski club burned to the ground. Everything was lost except my determination. As it turned out years later, it was one of the best things that happened to me as I learned some very valuable business and life lessons. Four days after the fire we re-opened for business in my very small, very old house. With the community on my side, I sold more on that first weekend than the whole year before. One of my new life lessons was “when you’re at the bottom you find your real friends”.

That year the Caledon Ski Club members generously tried to buy everything from me to help support me. My friends and family rallied around me working for free, suppliers extended payments and sourced replacement product for me from all over the world. Within a year, with luck, community, and passion for sport on our side, we could see light at the end of the tunnel.

Vintage image of 1980 fire

Finding the Groove

In the fall of 1981 We moved the shop into an old A-frame building beside the new ski club lodge and business boomed. The building stank of mildew, the roof leaked, but it was my ski shop and my new team and I loved working in it. The team now consisted of one full time and five part-time employees and sales continued to grow. Every summer I would build an addition onto the old A-frame building or fix the roof or try and get rid of the raccoons.

Vintage image of Caledon Pro Shop

1984 - 1993

Between 1984 and 1993 we also built and ran the Beaver Valley Pro Shop at the Beaver Valley Ski Club. My father and mother had just retired from their real jobs and they agreed to run this shop for a year or two! That “year or two” turned into nine years! Distance, the expansion into Mississauga, and my mother wanting to actually retire were behind the decision to turn the shop over to a competitor. Our philosophy was, “If we can’t do a great job then don’t do it at all”, so the sad decision to leave Beaver Valley was made.

Vintage image of Beaver Valley Pro Shop

1986

Meanwhile in the fall of 1986, we opened our flagship store in Mississauga and changed the name of the stores to Skiis. (Why spell skis with 2 ‘i’s? You can trademark it!). The store was big, bright, and complete with the best ski tuning machinery; my dream. Because I came from “service, service, service” at Caledon, we put the service shop right in the front window.

Vintage image of Mississauga sales floor

With our shiny, new store, we now needed to be open in the summer to keep our passionate staff working all year. We wanted to give them the ability to make a career out of the sports industry. We tried water skis and tennis but our hearts weren’t there. One weekend, all the Skiis staff were out for our usual Sunday mountain bike ride near my house in Caledon when someone came up with the harebrained idea of selling bikes in the summer.

We all loved to bike, the bike business was service orientated like the ski business and it seemed like a good opportunity put our hearts into a new sport. So in 1988 we officially changed the name to Skiis & Biikes. Again we chose to use two “I”s and worked at being the most professional bike shop in Canada with the same philosophy as the ski side of the business: “service, service, service”.

Vintage image of ski tuning equipment

1989

Sunday December 24, 1989, our Mississauga store was closed so my 4-year-old and I went skiing at Caledon near our home. On our return, my wife, Sharon, met us on the road coming the other way and told me the store manager called and said that the Mississauga store was flooding. I left my son with Sharon and raced the 40 minutes to the store. There were no cell phones in those days so I had no idea what to expect.

When I arrived, I discovered that because of the -40 degree weather, a pipe had burst in our store and water had poured onto the floors and merchandise. So on Christmas Eve at 4pm, the store manager and I started getting rid of the 4-inches of water that covered most of the store. We worked hard and fast to get the product away from the water and literally shoveled the water into garbage bins.

We found a disaster cleaning operator who could bring over a machine that would pick up the water and clean the carpets. It was a very long night. I was still able to make it to Christmas celebrations in time but cut them short to get back to the store to reset it for the Boxing Day sale. Boxing Day morning we opened at 6am and the lineup was down the block. We had the biggest day ever. The staff didn’t even know that we had had a flood; only the clothing manager asked how the carpets got so clean.

Vintage image of Mississauga sales floor

1996

It was 1996 and Collingwood was starting to boom. We decided to open a Collingwood location in order to look after our customers while they were skiing in Collingwood. Skiis & Biikes Collingwood, was supposed to be a small pro shop servicing our city customers where they skied, but it quickly developed a clientele of its own.

In spring 2002, we built a brand new beautiful building for the Collingwood location right next door to the original shop. You can’t miss it; it’s right beside the Beer Store. The building is split level so when you walk into the foyer you can go up to the retail part of the store or down to the huge service shop and a wax room that customers can use for free.

I love this store. It has and amazing energy and there is always a buzz of excitement here. Customers are coming and going. You hear, “I need this fixed now”, or “it’s so cold on the hill, I need a balaclava asap!” or “my boots need an adjustment”. It’s what I love to be in the middle of; it is so similar to original Caledon Pro Shop, only bigger and brighter.

Vintage image of busy sales floor

2002

In the fall of 2002, we built an all-new store in the Don Mills area of Toronto. It was big and open and had an amazing selection, but with shift in retail towards e-commerce, the space started not to make sense for us. After being on Don Mills Rd for 16 years our lease was up and our landlord decided that she had other plans for the building. We moved out of Don Mills and over to 2063 Yonge St in May 2018. 2063 Yonge has had a long history of being a sports store as a Trek Bikes Store for 25 years. Barry, the Trek Store owner, decided last fall to retire and closed up, giving us the opportunity to fill the space with Skiis & Biikes. This store is able to service our customers that live in central, east and north Toronto, with less parking (sorry!) but with easier access to the subway. We have the same big Robotic ski tuning machine and great bike techs. Service, service, service.

Photo of Don Mills location

2008

In 2008, we made a bold move and opened a new shop at Whistler Creekside. My oldest, Devin, had just graduated from McGill business school and he was keen to take on this project. The store was small but had all the servicing tools including the most advanced ski/snowboard tuning robot. Then in 2009 we acquired Snowcovers, a well-established ski and bike shop in Whistler and Vancouver. This brought us up to 7 stores. I never realized how difficult scaling was especially when you add the 4,500-km commute.

For 8 years we struggled with making it profitable. We had huge obstacles, but mostly it was staffing. Finding the excellent long-term employees we had in Ontario proved to be the biggest hurtle, as many of the prospective employees of Whistler are transient and often only live there short-term. And if you’re living in Whistler short-term wouldn’t you just want to ski all day, every day? Me too.

Paul and son Devin in front of shop

2017

In the spring of 2017, we sold the final piece of the BC operation and moved back to Ontario to concentrate on our established four bricks and mortar stores plus focus our energy on building up our e-commerce platform.

Today

Skiis & Biikes was born on October 2, 1978 at the Caledon Ski Club, and since then we have endured two fires, two floods, the 80's with 23% interest rates plus 10%+ inflation, the stock market crashes of 1987 and 2008 with the recessions that followed. It has been an interesting journey. With all that, we still managed over the years to expand into two provinces with seven stores, then retract to four stores in one province, build and grow an e-commerce business, and trained and witnessed the growth of about 1500 employees. Our passion for skiing and cycling is growing every day despite what mother nature, the economy, and bad luck throws at us. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!

We built our winter business on ski boot fitting and ski tuning as I believe it takes commitment to the sport of skiing to perfect tuning and fitting. Our bike side of the business is congruent with this mindset with great bike service, bike fitting, and amazing advice by real riders and users of the product.

We built our winter business on ski boot fitting and ski tuning as I believe it takes commitment to the sport of skiing to perfect tuning and fitting. Our bike side of the business is congruent with this mindset with great bike service, bike fitting, and amazing advice by real riders and users of the product.

It won’t be long before I can sit down and just fit boots and bikes!

Montgomery family on ski lift

This is all interesting events and history, but the real success of our company came and comes from the great customers that have been instrumental in building Skiis & Biikes. Many families have shopped with us for three generations and we can’t express how much we appreciate them. They have been supporting our small business from the beginning.

Thank you to all our customers who have believed and continue to believe in Skiis & Biikes. We hope to continue to earn your business.

My personal philosophy in life is to wake up every morning saying, “yahoo I have to go to work” – working in this fun filled (sometimes wild) sports industry has provided a very happy and rewarding career - because the people and customers are the best.

Paul Montgomery, Skiis Ltd, CEO