Marolts set up Aspen shop to share expertise on big peaks
Twin brothers and native Aspenites Steve and Mike Marolt are used to proving naysayers wrong when it comes to fears in ski mountaineering.
In 2000, they aimed to become the first Americans to ski from above 8,000 meters (about 26,000 feet) on Shishapangma in Tibet.
“People literally laughed at us,” Mike said. “They said, ‘Who do you think you are? You don’t have the experience.’”
The Marolts knew better. Their interest in ski mountaineering was stoked at an early age, when their uncle, Bud Marolt, gave them climbing gear and experiential education trips at Aspen Middle School gave them their first taste of technical climbing.
After they went to college and landed back in Aspen, they made what Mike calls a “natural progression” in ski mountaineering, often with their lifelong friend, Jim Giles. They ascended Denali in 1990, and climbed and skied numerous peaks in Canada and Alaska between 1991 and 1996.
In 1997, they mounted their first expedition above 8,000 meters when they attempted a trip up Broad Peak in Pakistan.
“We found we could handle the elevation really well,” Mike said.
That gave them the confidence to attempt Shishapangma, even though people in Aspen told them they would end up dead, Steve said. They tackled the mountain successfully. Three years later, they became the first Americans to ski Mount Everest’s north ridge.
After 25 years, they have made countless expeditions on more than 40 peaks “in some of the highest, coldest and most remote places in the planet,” their biography says.
Now at age 50, the twins know they have limited time to undertake the big expeditions. They have figured out an alternative way to stay connected to ski mountaineering and to share information that they have learned about dealing with the logistics of a big trip on a 8,000-meter peak and what gear works best.
They aim to share their knowledge in a way that defies the conventional wisdom that a startup business can’t cut it in Aspen. They purchased a 2,000-square-foot space in Obermeyer Place and intend to open a shop that is a hybrid research and development and demonstration center and retail shop for ski-mountaineering equipment and a place where mountaineers can tap into the knowledge of the Marolts when planning an expedition.
The Marolts said ski-mountaineering gear has changed drastically during their 25 years of expeditions. The gear used to be incredibly heavy, and they became accustomed to making modifications to suit their needs. They know what gear works, Steve said, and they are willing to provide an independent review. They are only willing to sell gear that they have firsthand knowledge of.
“Our criteria is we’ve used it and it works,” Steve said.
Their company is called 8K Peak Technologies. Gile is a partner, as is Tom Ball, their director of operations, who has experience with startup companies.
The Marolts see their company dovetailing well with Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron’s vision of making the town a mecca for the booming uphilling, backcountry and alpine-touring part of skiing. Skadron has said he hopes to draw more people from that segment of skiing and he hopes that businesses that cater to that crowd add diversity to Aspen’s commercial core.
“We’re proof that it’s not impossible,” Mike said. He envisions other business, such as Aspen Expeditions, holding alpine touring seminars that would draw people to town. The possibilities, the Marolts believe, are endless. They believe that customers who demo gear will provide invaluable feedback that gear manufacturers seem willing to incorporate into research and development.
They also are realistic. While backcountry skiing is the only segment of the ski market that’s growing, it’s still small.
“It’s not something any of us are going to get rich doing,” Steve Marolt said.
They envision the 8K Peak Technologies store being staffed throughout the extended ski season, which can run into June when backcountry conditions allow. Nevertheless, online sales will likely be the bulk of their business.
The company sold more than 200 pairs of Fischer alpine-touring skis over the past year or so, Steve said. Almost without exception, the people buying the skis would like to demo them. The 8K Peak shop will give them the opportunity.
In addition to skis, they are selling boots, bindings, climbing skins and foot beds. They also are enthusiastic about selling portable solar chargers that they found worked well for them in the Himalayas.
The Marolts are as thrilled about the prospect of sharing their knowledge as they are about selling products. They are already writing a blog about ski-mountaineering issues on the big peaks and are fielding calls about arranging and pulling off expeditions. Mike said he coached one man on lightening his haul bag from 250 to 100 pounds for a trip on Denali.
It’s all about paying it forward by sharing the knowledge they have gained, Mike said. That’s not only good business, it’s good karma.
More on the Marolts’ company can be found at http://www.8kpeak.com.
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