A Prescription for Powder: The Ski Doctor
January 16, 2018
The doctor is in, only this one's 22 years old, works out of a Sprinter van and doesn't have a medical degree.
Instead, Michael Walsh is one of Summit County's newest entrepenuers, and he takes care of skis and snowboards. With the van, he's been pretty much on-call, doing house visits six days a week since getting his new business, The Ski Doctor, on the road this season, one which he says can make old skis ride like new.
"The business is new," Walsh admitted, "but I know what I'm doing."
Walsh cut his first turns — and tuning teeth — out east, working on and off for the last six years.
To get up and running in Summit, he sunk about $20,000 from the sale of his truck into his van-turned-ski-shop. Lucky, he said, was finding a van used out of Denver and scoring $6,500 worth of Wintersteiger tuning equipment at wholesale prices, which he credited to connections made working at Copper Mountain's tune shop.
Jordan Webb, who supervises the shop, worked there with Walsh last season. Over the phone Tuesday, Webb vouched for Walsh's professionalism, saying he learns fast, is deeply dedicated to customer service and has no problem handling skis.
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"It's a pretty fast-paced shop, and he definitely learned a lot," Webb said of Walsh's time there. "He does really good work."
Now, Walsh is ready to do it for himself.
The van is just big enough that he can work somewhat comfortably inside. At 5-foot-5, Walsh can stand up straight with room to move and avoid hitting his head most of the time with maybe an inch or two to spare.
"It's not bad, man," Walsh said of his shop. "I put a lot of work into it. … I'll obviously put more into it as I go, and I'd also like to get multiple vans and have a company one day; that's the vision."
So far, Walsh said he has been able to provide same-day service, usually in about 45 minutes, for every call he's received. He got one Monday about a pair of skis in need of some TLC with less than an hour's notice, and his response was customer-perfect: "I'll be there," he said.
Arriving on-site in the van, retrofitted with help from his older brother Chris, Michael started with the edges, knocking off any rust or burrs. Then he broke out the hand grinder, and sparks flew.
"It's a stone grinder that basically puts a perfect edge on it," Walsh said running the tool down one ski. "It comes out really nice."
When he's done with the edging, Walsh fills in any gouges with a P-Tex candle. Then he applies a fresh coat of wax. The skier will feel "more of a bite" when he's done, he said, adding he always detunes the tips and tails so the skis don't catch carving turns.
"You can see the difference, can't you?" he said holding up one of the skis. "You're going to have a grip, man."
Some people might find it somewhat ironic a "ski doctor" chooses to ride a board, but based on his history, Walsh believes skiers will be his primary customer base because "It's mainly skiers who want their stuff pristine." That's why he picked the name.
Plus, he watches "a heckuva lot" of ski videos, he said.
In terms of the work, Walsh said he can mount bindings and do other things like that, but he doesn't really want to.
"If I keep getting calls (for the other work), I might adjust as I go," he said, "but I'm strictly on tunes right now."
And he does them six days a week with Sundays reserved for church and riding.
Also, his prices are competitive with a hot wax going for $25, wax plus edges for $40 or a full tune for $55. Walsh said he knows he's not the cheapest ski-tuning shop in Summit County, but he appears to be the only one that's mobile and willing to meet people on-site.
To grow his young business, Walsh is working on building a loyal customer base and getting his name out there through word of mouth. He's had some luck with property-management companies.
"They love it," Walsh said of his on-site visits. "They think it's a great service to (their clients) because people are on vacation and everyone wants convenience. They don't want to go drop something off at a tune shop, wait a night or whatever the case may be, and then have to pick it up."
It might come as a surprise, but Walsh doesn't set up shop at any nearby ski resorts, nor does he solicit from any Summit County parking lots. Rather, he said he wants to gear his services toward the on-site visits for individuals and groups of people, much like someone schedules a haircut — same-day call-ins welcome — including families.
"I love serving people, and when you get the kids and the family, and tune all their stuff at their house — you got one job, my mind's on that, and I do a good job," he said. "I wanted to keep it mobile and specified to that. I'm not trying to solicit people to make a buck. It's more just making a family's day better."
Walsh himself comes from a close family, and working on the skis Monday, he paused once to take a call from his grandparents — in French. Walsh's maternal grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from France about 11 years ago, he said, and his family's origin is why he speaks the language so well.
After the call, he said he dreams of one day riding the French Alps, something he doesn't think will happen until he gets his business solidified.
And he appears to be making good progress for his first season in business. Walsh is already licensed in Breckenridge and Frisco, he said, and he sees his range ending at the Summit County line, though some things are still up in the air.
"I'm going to have to figure these things out as I go," he said, adding that it's just too new of a business to know how exactly how it will shake out.
Buying and reselling iPhones at age 13, Walsh thinks being an entrepreneur might be ingrained in him, and it's something that's inspired, at least in part, by his father's history of entrepreneurism.
For the dad, he just feels blessed to have "two amazing boys," adding that "Michael took it a step above most young people his age."
"We've always encouraged him to, you know, be your own boss," Fran Walsh said, relaying some of the advice he remembers telling his son. "'You can do this. You're smart. God's given you the ability to do things. Why make someone else rich? Take care of yourself.'"
As for the skis, "(your skis) are definitely in good hands," the father said. "I can tell you that much."
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