Last night about 8:30 p.m., a splitboarder picked up two A.T. skiers to go to a telemark ski movie together. What is the world coming to? Actually, it was all for a good cause, as the screening of Flakes supported the Utah Avalanche Center.
If you missed it the last two nights, it’s showing again tonight at Brewvies. Grab a date (I think last night, I was officially Jon’s date and Aaron was the third wheel, though I forgot to wear the pushup bra—good thing Dr. John’s shares a parking lot with Brewvies) and go take in the flick. The footage is great, much of it from our local spots here in the Wasatch, and I promise by the end of the film, you’ll get used to the drop-knee turns. Unless you’re Dustin, in which case the drop-knee turns looked totally normal.
Seeing lines we ski on a regular basis featured in a ski movie reminded me of just how far I’ve come as a backcountry skier since I started a few years ago. When I started, I knew pretty much nothing. I just had a colleague who did it, and it sounded like fun, so I bought some gear and decided to give it a try.
I would have never survived without the help of some trusted advisors. Initially, I relied on Bob, my colleague, for advice. After moving to Utah, Dug became my trusted advisor for all things backcountry skiing.
Dug will be the first one to tell you he doesn’t know everything about backcountry skiing, but he knows a few critical things, including snow safety basics; how to choose the right gear and supplies for a given tour; and, most importantly, I think 80% of his brain mass functions as a GPS and topographical map of the Wasatch mountains. He knows just about every route up every peak and what will be good when.
Similarly, when I started road racing, I certainly knew how to ride a bike, but I knew very little about the ins and outs of categorized road racing. As I’ve become more serious about it, Alex has become my trusted advisor. Like Dug, Alex may not know everything about road racing, but he knows the critical things, having done many of the races that are new to me and having been through the upgrade process and selected teammates. If he doesn’t know the answer to a certain question, he knows someone who does. His advice and connections have proven invaluable.
Whether cycling, hiking, racing, or running, a trusted advisor is a critical element of success in any endeavor. Which is why bike and ski shop employees are like Satan’s angels. The classic Christian paradigm for how Satan tempts God-fearing people to go astray is that he takes a good chunk of truth and mixes in just a touch of deception so that one thinks what one is doing is OK or maybe not that big of a deal until finally the sinner is so far off track he or she doesn’t care any more.
Similarly, bike and ski shop employees often give advice that’s like Satan’s temptations. What they’re saying may be 80% true and nearly always makes sense, but often they have another agenda, whether that’s pushing a particular line or getting you to buy something that will kind of fill your needs when something else they either don’t offer or that just isn’t in stock would actually be much better.
The economics of the industry are such that shop employees are almost never highly-paid professionals who know their products and their competitors’ products inside and out and will offer knowledgeable, objective advice knowing that by doing so, even if it means losing business today, the trust gained will return itself many times over tomorrow.
More often, they’re students or young kids who may or may not even ride as much as you do. If you’re a roadie, the employee you’re talking to may be a gravity-focused mountain biker who’s never even been on a road bike. It could be the owner’s nephew who’s way into motorcycles, doesn’t ride bicycles, but needed a job for the summer. You never know and never will know unless you prepare yourself to discern good advice from bad.
That’s where the trusted advisor comes into play. If you have a difficult question or are contemplating a purchase involving a significant outlay of cash, the shop is the wrong place to find the answer. Most shops like nothing more than a person walking in saying “I want a bike of a certain type and this is my budget.” They know they’ve got you. So long as they can offer skinny tires if you’re looking for skinny tires or fat tires if you’re looking for fat, the sale is theirs. Even if they only offer one line and that line happens to be a poor fit for your needs.
A better approach is to consult with your trusted advisor and find the things you should be looking for when making a purchase. Then you can go to a variety of shops and know what questions to ask. The holy grail is when your trusted advisor helps you prepare to make a decision and then you find the rare shop staffed by knowledgeable, honest employees whose first priority is seeing your needs are met.
Once you’ve found a good shop, it becomes like a three-legged stool: your trusted advisor is the sounding board against which you bounce ideas and begin to formulate a direction; the shop, with whom you should establish a relationship so that they know you by name, facilitates the decisions after you and your trusted advisor have ruled out the 90% of options that aren’t a good choice; and finally you, as the decision maker, apply sound judgment, understanding your needs, budget, and subjective factors such as feel better than anyone else.
Once you’ve found the right shop, you begin to ask direct, intelligent questions that don’t waste their time, and you demonstrate loyalty in exchange for the sound advice they have offered you. It becomes a relationship rather than a series of transactions. Don’t be surprised if they begin to give you a discount because they recognize you as a valued customer.
When this happens, reward the shop by planning ahead. For instance, if you have an event coming up and you need a particular item, go a couple weeks beforehand to pick it up or just call and ask. That way if it’s not in stock, they have time to order. (Most shops place orders every Monday or Tuesday and have them in stock by Wednesday or Thursday.) Never snub a shop that’s treated you right by ordering something from the Internet and asking them to install it. If you think you’re so smart you can buy stuff without a local shop, you better be smart enough to install and maintain the crap yourself.
Finally, in your interactions with trusted advisors, pay attention. If you discuss something where your trusted advisor pointed you in the right direction but didn’t have the final answer, follow up once you find the answer. Educate yourself and eventually pay it forward by becoming a trusted advisor to someone else. You don’t have to have all the answers, you just need to know a few critical things.