Singular Focus

The Alpine Sport Shop in Saratoga Springs has been selling skis for 75 years.  By Phil Johnson

On Friday, February 5, the bus leaving the Alpine Sport Shop in Saratoga Springs, New York, will be filled as usual. It’s “Chicks on Sticks” day, and the Spa City gals will head for Bromley Mountain—just east of Manchester, Vermont—for the annual fundraiser that benefits a regional cancer center.

The outing marks a recent chapter in the long history of Alpine, which is celebrating four generations of skiers and its 75th anniversary this winter. The shop is all about winter sports: You won’t find bikes, tennis rackets, fishing gear or golf clubs here. When the ski season ends in early spring, the Alpine closes for three months and owners Jack and Cathy Hay do other things. The guy who once demonstrated good snow conditions in mid-winter by skiing off the roof of the store—“not difficult once you manage the mid-air turn onto the woodshed”—spent many years painting houses in the off-season. Oh, the glamour of owning a ski shop!

The Alpine Sport Shop was founded by ski pioneer Ed Taylor and his wife, Jo, in 1941. Ed had been skiing since the 1920s and by the time the store opened, Saratoga folks were venturing beyond their neighborhood hills to areas like North Creek Ski Bowl and Bromley.

Taylor served with the 10th Mountain Division during World War II, so the shop was up and ready when the post-war alpine ski boom began. He also founded Alpine Meadows Ski Area, which operated near Saratoga until the 1990s. In the early years, the shop was located near the original Skidmore College campus, just north of the legendary horse racing track and not far from the retail district. Women’s clothing was sold on the upper level, ski gear on the lower level. 

Taylor sold the business to Thurlow and Dorothy Woodcock in 1966, just as Skidmore was moving to its new campus, in a residential neighborhood at the north end of town. Thurlow thought being close to the college was important, so he designed and built a new shop on Clinton Street, adjacent to the new Skidmore location. 

By 1970, the shop was in full flower. The Adirondack Northway (Interstate 87) was being built and skiers were traveling past Saratoga en route to resorts in the Adirondacks and Vermont. Woodcock designed the interior carefully, creating a comfortable space with handmade banisters, benches, and a leather couch by a big stone fireplace. He also installed a Ski-Dek, where for $55 customers could get three lessons, plus one more on the slopes of a local hill. Newbies started out on 16-inch-long Plexiglas skis that Woodcock designed and built. More than 600 people learned to ski there, until Woodcock removed the deck to free up retail space.

Just about the time the new store opened, Cathy Woodcock met Jack Hay as teammates on the Saratoga Springs High School ski team. Cathy had worked at her family’s shop part-time as a teenager. Jack had learned to ski in Saranac Lake, New York, where his father, an engineer, was involved in the design and construction of the mid-mountain station at Whiteface Mountain. 

The two married in 1971 and, once Jack decided that becoming a lawyer was not for him, have been involved in the business ever since. Thurlow Woodcock died in 1988. Cathy’s sister, Lynn Pepper, has also been closely involved, and Cathy and Jack’s daughter, Julia, currently works there.

The Alpine Sport Shop is a Saratoga Springs institution. In addition to serving a strong local population of skiers, they cater to the college and to a nearby U.S. Navy training base. Both Jack and Cathy are in the store regularly, but love their time on the slopes when they can get away, “which is never enough,” says Jack. They get in about 30 days of skiing each winter, including weeklong trips that the shop sponsors. This winter’s destinations are Telluride, Colorado and Garmisch, Germany. They’ve been organizing the trips since 1994; their daughter Julia’s first airplane ride was on a ski adventure to the Alps.

The Alpine Sport Shop is a throwback on the modern retail scene. It is not a big box; it does one thing and does it well. “We’re just selling fun,” says Cathy Hay. And having some fun along the way.  

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