Few would argue that one of the most challenging aspects of a ski vacation can be renting the gear. Bryn Carey, a Sugarloaf, Maine transplant to Utah, has been changing that through his innovative approach to rental equipment delivery at Ski Butlers, a Park City-based company he founded in 2004. Today, Ski Butlers is in two-dozen locations in six states and four countries.
Carey grew up in the quintessential skiing family. His father, Chip, was marketing director at Sugarloaf. Skiing was a way of life for the outdoor adventuring family who lived in the remote outreaches of Maine. Then a warm, spring trip to Snowbird changed it all. With his older siblings off to college and dad weighing an opportunity to take over marketing at what would become Canyons in Park City, the family put the decision to Bryn, then a young teen. It was a no brainer! They were Utah-bound.
Bryn Carey’s interview on Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast is a story of passion for winter sport combined with business principles based on values. Sixteen years ago, Carey’s fledgling business was one of many experimenting with rental equipment delivery. Over time, Ski Butlers stood out based on its quality of service that is a direct testament to Carey’s leadership style, deep love for the sport and an innate sense of stewardship for the environment around him.
Carey’s business success in the sport he loves stems from the basics of entrepreneurship he learned from his family, going all the way back to his days as a young boy brewing root beer and selling it to friends.
Over his two decades in Utah, Carey has very much become a part of the fabric of Ski Utah and life in the Wasatch Mountains. He could have taken the Ski Butlers headquarters anywhere, but his love for the Utah outdoors made it an easy call. He’s channeled his passion into leadership roles within the region to protect the future of the Wasatch. His strong feelings about protecting the environment found him in France with his kids for the signing of the Paris Accord in 2015 and an active role in Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.
Most of all, though, he just loves being a part of Utah’s active outdoor lifestyle. He recalls his youth in Maine fondly, and wants to recreate that for his own family in the Wasatch Mountains.
Here’s just a small sampling of what you’ll find in episode 2 of Last Chair presented by High West. Take a listen, there’s a lot more to learn.
Nostalgia inside Ski Butlers World HQ
Yes, this was the old Nacho Mama’s (restaurant) and the funny story is, I used to work here, so I’ve spent a lot of time in this building. I don’t know if you noticed, but we did keep some of the famous murals from Nacho Mama’s up on the wall.
How have you and your family been handling pandemic life?
The good thing is we have three children under the age of five, and they keep us busy and they’re happy. So we’ve been very much entertained and having a blast spending so much time with our kiddos. They all ski. They love skiing. I was taking my five-year-old and three-year-old to school this morning in the snow. Guns were blasting and they are asking if to go skiing tomorrow. I said, ‘hey, you know, it’s still October. We’re so close to skiing, but be a little patient.’ I love their enthusiasm.
What was it like growing up on a big eastern mountain like Sugarloaf?
I look back at my time in Maine and thank my parents all the time for growing up there. Sugarloaf, Maine, is in the middle of nowhere. It’s about 30 miles from Canada. It’s four hours from Boston. It’s over two hours from the nearest city, Portland. And so you’re really, really isolated. But you learn to grow up hiking in the woods, skiing in the mountains, playing on the rivers, playing on lakes and just really enjoying the outdoors. That’s something I’ll always remember about Maine.
Skiing was a big deal for your family, wasn’t it?
We are a complete skiing family, my dad worked at Sugarloaf. I didn’t even realize that there were people in this world that didn’t grow up and ski every day. I mean, I just thought that was a part of life in the winter. Everyone gets snow and everyone goes skiing and enjoys the outdoors. So that’s something I’ve always done. And that’s what I do to this day.
How did you get to Utah?
We came up to Snowbird (on a spring trip) and it was like 50 degrees. So, the skiing at Snowbird, it wasn’t great, but it was beautiful. And you could just tell how much potential this place had. I went back to Maine and I had no idea that we might have an opportunity to move out to Utah. But my dad had had an opportunity when the American Skiing Company purchased Park West here in Park City and turned into the Canyons Resort. At that time, my brother was racing with the U.S. Ski Team and my sister was in college. And so it’s really just me (at home). And my dad said, ‘hey, you’re in high school. We’ve lived here for 30 years. Would you like to move to Utah?’ And it was just one of those moments where I said, ‘oh, my God, we can move to Utah with some of the world’s greatest snow, with some of the best mountains?’ I said ‘yah, let’s do this. Let’s go to Utah. Let’s do this new adventure.’ And again, skiing was the center of it.
What were your early memories of skiing in Utah?
I can remember the (Snowbird) tram to this day. You rise up in the tram and it overlooks all these bowls and you can pick your lines and you can see people skiing over here, over there. And it’s just a totally different experience than the east coast where, for the most part, you’re on a trail or very tight woods skiing. I just remember that openness and that fall line skiing. You get off the lift and you can hit the fall line. You can just go down the steepest part of the run that has the most vertical and just kind of float down. I have the same memories today. I go there and I have a very calm, peaceful feeling and just happiness and go, ‘wow, this is why’ I do what I do. This is why I live in Utah. And I just, I just love it.
How did your ski racing background help you with Ski Butlers?
The number one thing with ski racing is being competitive, but also being respectful. When we got into Ski Butlers, I took my racing mentality of being competitive and the team spirit of racing in college and being the team captain. I really took those things into the leadership and applied that to Ski Butlers and other things I’ve done in my life. Ski racing is an individual sport, but it takes ski technicians, it takes coaches, it takes your athletes training every day, your peers training every day to push you to a new level. All these different things that really go to your family life, your personal life, your school life, your business life. And in addition to that, just the skills of being able to ski and enjoy the outdoors and be outside. I mean, it’s a foundation of my life, like ski racing. I do not ski race today, but all those things I still do today. And it’s why I am so grateful that I did ski race.
What was the genesis of Ski Butlers in 2004?
I started asking questions and I spoke to my dad, who was a huge influence on my life. And said, there have been some people in Vail that have been delivering skis on the side for like 20 years. One of the biggest pains of a ski vacation is renting skis. And, of course, I’d never rented skis. So, I didn’t really know this. ‘You can make money doing it and it’s one of your passions.’ I literally thought about this for just five minutes. And I was like, ‘yah, I’m going to start this company.’ I’ve always been a part of skiing, something I was very passionate about with all this pent up competitive energy. It was just the perfect timing. And so we just started to do it. Because we didn’t have shops, people found us online. I just got through college. I graduated in 2004. I didn’t own my own computer. I didn’t have a cell phone. That was the start of Ski Butlers.
How did you sell this new concept to consumers?
When we started, people would call up and, because delivery was so new, we’d get the same questions. OK, you deliver and one of my boots don’t fit, we bring extra boots. What if I break a pole or it snows and I want to change the skis midway through my rental. We offer support. What happens when we’re done with the gear? We pick it up. And so there was this educational period where people were curious, would this actually work? Now, what really matters is the people that tried us, they absolutely loved it. I used to do tons of deliveries back in the start of Ski Butlers. I could not believe how happy our customers were! A ski vacation, as we all know, can be complicated. It can be frustrating. And one of the biggest things was always standing in line at a crowded rental shop, sweating in all your gear with your kids running everywhere knowing that ski lessons are in 15 minutes. We changed all that.
How do you manage ski selection?
One of our core values is simplicity. We try to keep this as simple as possible. Early on, we offered a lot of brands. Now we only use Rossignol. They’re based here in Park City, the North American operations. We have an amazing relationship. What we found is that our customer really wants a top-five brand. Rossignol is always top five. So we just simplified it down. And by doing that with Rossi, we have Rossignol across the board at every location. For the most part, someone will say, ‘I want this package and I want you to recommend the best scheme.’
How do you view the season ahead with the uncertainty of COVID-19?
It’s probably important to talk about skiing as an outdoor sport with a lot of space. And so we’re very fortunate that we’re not the NBA, perhaps, and we’re inside a tight building in the winter. Right? And so the skiing people are going to come and ski. There are some pinch points, of course, with restaurants, ski lodges, restrooms and what not. I think the ski resorts are going to make that safe. But people are going to come and ski. And so at Ski Butlers, the opportunity that we have, and we’re fortunate for, is that we deliver. So we are excited to offer visitors to Park City and other places the opportunity to get their ski rentals in a safer way.
You live in a ski town, Park City. What’s the comfort level of your community?
The good thing about these ski communities right now is that these businesses are so respectful and passionate about trying — wearing masks and keeping places safe. We’re respectful and planning that when people come here, it’s going to be a safe and enjoyable experience. Skiing’s an escape. You get on that chairlift, brush the snow off your skis, your feet are dangling and the cold air is going into your face and you just get this good feeling. People want that feeling. People want to escape to the mountains. These ski communities are going to be really respectful to provide a safe experience.
After two decades living in Utah, what makes it such a great ski state?
There are so many great things about Utah. First and foremost, why I’m here — the greatest snow on earth. You can wake up in the morning and say, ‘where do I want to go skiing?’ And there’s 10 world-class ski resorts I can choose from. The outdoors is not just skiing. We have all the Mighty Five national parks. What a great place to take your family. Like to go hiking, to go biking. We have a lot of rivers and fishing. And so the outdoors is OK. I love the passion, especially here in Park City right now. I love the passion in Park City towards the Olympics, towards all the young children. You go up to the Winter Sports Park and any visitor can come and do that. You can go down the bobsled people are kids are bobsledding. People are learning how to do ski jumping. People are cross country skiing. People are snowshoeing. People are backcountry skiing. The passion for all these young kids to take advantage of this and then all the tools and resources and that Olympic spirit. I love that Olympic spirit. It’s just you just don’t see that anywhere else. And I selfishly really hope we get the Olympics again one day. I think it’ll continue those programs on and on. And so I think those are the three biggest things for me, for you to.
You’re renting dozens of different ski models. What do you like to ski?
It has to be the Rossignol Black Ops. It’s hard to say which one. But the new Rossignol Black Ops series is, oh, man, they’re so good. And that’s the thing with the technology with ski’s these days over the past 10 years — it’s unbelievable how good the skis have gotten.
Don’t you just love the graphics package?
Yah, it’s like a panther or cat. It’s kind of wild on the front. My kids want me to see the cat — the cat skis, they call it.
See the original article and podcast here.