By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor
BIG SKY – Lone Mountain Sports has been in business since the opening day of Big Sky Resort in 1973. The original owners were Harry Ring and Russ Jones, both former ski instructors at Bridger Bowl. At the time, it was the only ski shop at the resort, and originally located in the Mountain Mall.
When their 10-year lease was up, they moved the shop off the mountain for one year. Lone Mountain Sports moved into its current location in the Arrowhead Mall when the retail complex was completed in 1984.
Scott and Carey Foster began working for Ring and Jones that year. Scott became the manager of the rental shop and Carey worked in the retail shop and became a buyer. They eventually bought the business in the fall of 1992.
Lone Mountain Sports continues to be the only privately-owned, full-service ski and rental shop and retail location at the resort. While the business has grown, Carey said they have stayed true to their roots, offering helpful service and great equipment to locals and visitors alike.
As part of this ongoing series, Carey shared her thoughts with EBS on the reasoning behind their success and longevity operating as a Big Sky small business.
Explore Big Sky: What has been the key to your success?
Carey Foster: Our success is largely due to our employees. We have a great group of folks, with a core that has been together for quite a long time. Our location is also a big part of our success. We have a captive audience on the mountain. We back that up with great, friendly employees that are knowledgeable.
EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?
C.F.: I think the biggest challenge is finding affordable housing in Big Sky. The cost of doing business is much greater than when we first started.
EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?
C.F.: There are more sporting stores at Big Sky [Resort] now, which is great for the customer. The advent of internet shopping has changed the buying nature of the consumer. That hurts us in some ways but is helpful in others. We see a lot of folks who have purchased boots online and need help with the fit. Or they bought a ski that seemed perfect for them and wasn’t.
EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stick it out through the hard times?
C.F.: We have been extremely lucky in our 25 years. It used to be that if we had snow, we were busy. We did have a few years that were lean. We’ve been busy, especially the last couple years, because Big Sky has gotten so much bigger and people know how great it is. Obviously, this year is the perfect storm—we have snow and other places don’t.
EBS: What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a resident/business owner in Big Sky?
C.F.: We have been in Big Sky since 1981. There have been so many memorable moments over the years. We’ve seen people from all over the world and all walks of life come to Big Sky and love it. We got married and started a family here. We’ve had employees get married and start families of their own here. We’ve seen Big Sky go from a little place to a world-class ski resort. It’s been fun for sure.
EBS: Why do you think so many new businesses fold relatively quickly?
C.F.: It’s hard for new businesses. Getting a loan isn’t easy and the price of leasing retail space is steep. There is more competition now, especially in the Meadow.
EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?
C.F.: Treat your employees like family. They are the face and heart of your business. Realize that you will need to put in countless hours of work to reap the benefits of being self-employed.
EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
C.F.: Believe in what you do. Be happy, you are selling fun.
EBS: Where do you see your business in 10 years?
C.F.: That’s hard to say. We’ve been at Big Sky for 37 years and owned Lone Mountain Sports for 25 seasons. Time will tell …
Lone Mountain Sports – by the numbers
Years in business: 25
Longest serving employee: Jeff Clark, approximately 30 years