SNOWMASS VILLAGE --Alpacas are South American cousins to camels and llamas. Their faces are cuddly cute, and their unique fleece makes a fiber that is warmer and lighter than wool and hypoallergenic so it doesn't itch.
We don't call wool sheep, but we do call alpaca fleece just alpaca. The fleece is shorn from both adult and baby alpacas and then processed into a fiber that is woven into garments that are ultra soft and ultra warm.
Cuzco Alpaca is Snowmass Village's newest retail shop to open at the Snowmass Center next to Joshua and Co. Hugo Vargas is the 39-year-old owner.
Vargas' grandmother was Italian, and her family settled in Peru when she was small. Vargas grew up in the United States and moved back to Peru when he was 13, staying until his 20s, when he graduated as a chef.
In Florida, Vargas worked for the Ritz Carlton hotel chain. Like so many stories we've heard from Snowmass business owners, a buddy from high school of worked for months to convince Vargas to try Colorado for one winter season. Finally, in the winter of 2008-09, Vargas moved to Winter Park and got hooked on snowboarding.
"My lifestyle completely changed after that first season in Colorado," explained Vargas as he pulled out a Florida license, which shows him much heavier. "The reason I keep this is to remind myself that my lifestyle has changed. I enjoyed that change and didn't want to leave after that."
But he decided to look at different parts of Colorado from Winter Park, and he found the Aspen Skiing Co. and Sam's Smokehouse. Eventually, he would also add bartending at the Viceroy Snowmass to his resume.
"I loved Snowmass right away," Vargas said. "The vibe, the people, the mountain. The mountain was big."
In addition to working the food and beverage industry in Winter Park, Vargas also started a side business: importing alpaca products from his native Peru and selling them at local farmer's markets and then the Vail Sunday market.
"The store is a longtime dream," said Vargas. "It came out of the right situation, and now I'm putting my dream into action."
He's enlisted his friend Christy Yoest to help him man the store during hours when he is working elsewhere.
Cuzco Alpaca takes its name from Cuzco, Peru. Cuzco was the city where the Incan empire had its main government. It is where his grandmother and her family moved to from Italy.
The decor of Cuzco Alpaca is pretty sparse, but don't let that fool you. Inside, you will find a range of women's, men's, and kids' clothing and accessories. Most of it has been made from alpaca fleece.
As we move around the small shop, Vargas hobbles a bit from a snowboarding injury, but he maintains a consistent dialogue as he shows me some of the many items Cuzco Alpaca carries and describes the different types of alpaca found in the shop.
We start with the men's coats, and I have never touched a sweater or material that felt lighter or softer.
"Alpaca is one of the softest fabrics in the world," explained Vargas. "It's a natural fiber that doesn't let the heat out and is hypoallergenic. These coats are made from baby alpaca, which is fleece that must come from their first shedding."
While there is some men's clothing at Cuzco Alpaca, there are more options for women. Scarves, pashminas, shawls, and blankets. Many of them are in bright, bold colors of Peru. And there are hats and scarves that come in the traditional Peruvian llama design.
Vargas demonstrates a scarf that doubles as a hat. He slips an end over his head and then wraps the remainder around his face and neck. A colorfully striped baby carrier would also make a perfect small dog carrier. Vargas points out purses, ponchos and long and short skirts in traditional Peruvian colors.
The ponchos are some of his biggest sellers, along with the alpaca blankets in the front of the store. He notes that the same blankets (which sell for $90) can be found in the city at a famous clothing store for about $350.
For kids there are small little hats called chullos, or matching scarf and hat sets. For dad, there are dress and ski socks made from alpaca. And for women there is silver jewelry.
Peruvian silver is mined at a higher level than Sterling silver (.950 versus .925) so it is slightly more pure. Cuzco Alpaca has silver earrings and other pieces of silver jewelry.
Steve Alldredge is the former associate editor/reporter for the Snowmass Sun. He now runs a local communications company whose clients include Related Colorado. He can be reached at