The van-do spirit: Aspen entrepreneurs launch overland business
Even if it’s the open road that is calling, a pair of Aspen entrepreneurs are confident they can gear you up for the backroads, too.
For the past two years, Scott Vold, the founder of Cracks and Racks, and Aspen attorney Ben Genshaft quietly have been at work on White River Overland, a van and truck outfitter at the Aspen Business Center.
“We’ve been spent a long, arduous last couple of years experimenting with new materials, developing our own designs and our own styles,” Vold said, “and we’re confident in what we’re doing right now.”
It’s a division of Cracks and Racks, which Vold started as Fas-Break Windshield Repair in January 1996, with both operating from the same location at the Aspen Business Center.
While Cracks and Racks had built a local reputation for one of the go-to places for the installation of vehicle windows or sports-equipment racks, outside cyber competition started to put a dent in its business.
Recognizing that, Genshaft recently became a partner with Vold, both seeing an opportunity to diversify the business by capitalizing on a booming trend in the outdoors industry: adventure vans and vehicles.
“It came at a time when we’d seen some declining retail numbers,” Vold explained.
They set their focus on selling truck tops and camper shells for pick-up trucks. The natural progression from that, the two agreed, was van building and conversion suited for the recreational arena of overlanding, which involves vehicles capable of off-road journeys that also function as modest living quarters.
One of the most popular vans used for conversions, the two said, is a four-by-four, diesel-powered Mercedes Sprinter. Step inside one they’ve converted and it’s like setting foot in a tiny house on wheels. Customers might ask for a camper van that can sleep four people and have bamboo ceilings. They might also want it decked out with a kitchen and a dining table, a refrigerator and freezer, and even a shower.
“We’ve got power, plumbing,” Genshaft said. “We’ve got furniture, we’ve got insulation, a sound system. Plus you’ve got a vehicle, you’ve got seating. When someone comes to get a build, we ask them how many do you want to seat safely with seat belts, and how many do you want to sleep?”
There also are those do-it-yourselfers who might not need all of the services or products from White River Overland, but want to collaborate nonetheless, the two said. Others might ask for complete overhaul of their vehicle for adventure travel.
“These builds are fluid,” Genshaft said. “Sometimes people come to us and they want a full build and we’ll work with them on a design. Other times people might want to do some of it themselves, but we can help with the rest.”
The adventure vans and overland vehicles, however, are not to be confused with RVs, Volt and Genshaft said.
“In the last few years,” Genshaft noted, “there’s been sort of been a boom in the RV industry, but also a reaction to these huge RVs, which is people wanting smaller, very capable and, in many cases, off-road capable camper vans that they can use for multiple purposes. They can be used as adventure vehicles, campers or daily drivers shuttling the kids around.”
Vold also said, “Van life is this movement where people are selling their houses and moving into vans — like the old Chris Farley ‘living in a van down by the river’ — it’s really an interesting thing.”
It helps that Genshaft and Vold are adventurers themselves, so they can relate with what a customer might envision for their converted vehicle.
“Personally, I think it is an ideal,” Genshaft said. “I think it is a reaction to a lot of what’s happening in society where people want at least the feeling or perception of freedom, and that’s what it is. It’s ultimate freedom. You get in your van and just go. You can sleep anywhere — at a rest stop, at a Wal-Mart parking lot or on a BLM road somewhere or an old Jeep road somewhere. You don’t feel tied to the trappings of society, and it can work for families on different levels.”
The business typically will take on two projects at a time. They also have one of their homegrown projects listed for sale at $139,000, which is a Sprinter that they bought and converted.
Other projects can range from $10,000 to $20,000, or much more.
“Everybody seems to have their own vision for what they anticipate their van to look like,” Vold said. “Our goal is to help people strategize their van-build. Some people might have a pie-in-the-sky idea, and we’re really good at saying ‘let’s bring this back some.’”
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International visitors have traditionally accounted for 10 to 20 percent of Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits in recent past seasons. Travel fears and restrictions tied to the coronavirus are expected to wipe out most of that market for 2020-21.