Ski Butlers Make It Easy to Get on the Slopes
By Brian E. Clark
In the spring of his senior year at the University of New Hampshire, Bryn Carey drafted a business plan for a ski rental and delivery company.
Carey, who had a strong entrepreneurial bent, had operated his own root beer business in high school. So he didn’t let that college assignment gather dust after he graduated in 2004.
Rather, he launched Ski Butlers later that fall from the garage of his home in Park City, Utah. It took off and he soon expanded it to Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge. The company now offers its services to skiers and snowboarders at 50 resorts in North America, Italy and France.
Carey, a former racer at the University of New Hampshire, had been lugging ski gear around since he was a youngster. So he knew from personal experience what a pain that could be, especially when coupled with flying across the country.
Likewise, standing in a long line at a resort ski shop to get battered equipment that might not be properly fitted made the concept of having up-to-date gear delivered to customers’ lodgings seem like a winning concept.
Carey had the ski industry business in his blood. His father, Chip Carey, had been head of marketing for such big name resorts as Wyoming’s Jackson Hole, the Canyons in Utah and Maine’s Sugarloaf.
“His dad saw that ski rental delivery was starting to build back then, so it could be a good business model,” said Mike Cremeno, a spokesman for the company and a former ski racer himself.
“Nor did it hurt that there were high profit margins in ski rentals,” he added.
Cremeno acknowledged that the Careys’ idea wasn’t entirely original.
“Ski Butlers wasn’t the first to do this,” he said. “But we were the first to do it with real intention.
“There was a ski shop in Vail that had been making deliveries on the side for more than 10 years for high-end clients. But they didn’t market or promote it.
“We certainly do and are now we are the largest and best-known ski delivery company in the snowsports industry because of our customer service and how we built the business.”
Cremeno said the two other large ski delivery companies are Black Tie and Door to Door. In addition, he said some smaller mom-and-pop operations have sprung up around the country. Even Vail Resorts has started to offer deliveries, he added.
Cremeno said the decision by the airline industry to charge for shipping bags and ski gear helped Ski Butlers about the same time the company launched. Similarly, the Covid pandemic gave the company another boost.
“People didn’t want to stand in line crowded ski shops, so delivery has taken a lot of market share,” he said. “But even without Covid, we believe delivery is the best option if you need rental gear.”
Cremeno said the price for Ski Butler equipment varies from market to market.
“South Lake Tahoe, for example, is a lot cheaper than Aspen,” he said.
At South Lake Tahoe, home to Heavenly Valley, he said the entry level package of is between $44 and $54 a day, while the high performance deal ranges fro $70 to $90. The packages include skis, boots and poles, – or a snowboard – as well as the delivery, fitting, other support and pick-up service.
“We are around $10 more a day than other competitors, but the value to customer is more time on vacation, more time on the snow and a more relaxed setting for their fitting,” he said. “People really do get a butler for their entire stay to optimize their experience on the mountain.”
Cremeno said customers can switch out their gear as often as they want at no additional charge, which he calls a huge benefit to renters.
“Some of our ‘Type 3’ better skiers might start with an all-mountain ski,” he said. “Then it will snow six inches or a foot and they’ll request a powder ski or vice versa.
“We do that all the time. Similarly, If someone’s boots aren’t feeling quite right, so we’ll come to their hotel room and do a boot switch. And sometimes, kids will want to try both skiing and snowboarding.
“It’s all part of the service. We can meet them at the base of a lift or anywhere we can get with a van so they don’t have to lose any ski time.”
On a recent trip to Colorado’s Beaver Creek, photographer Dave Cushman and I did just that. We started out with one pair of all-mountain skis and switched on the second day of a three-day visit to boards that carved better on groomed runs.
Cremeno acknowledged that some shops might only charge $25 to $35 a day for gear.
“But they might be old equipment and you’ll probably have to wait in line. We get fresh inventory every year and have great customer service. If you rent from a shop in Vail and have a problem in Beaver Creek, you’ll have to drive 25 minutes back to Vail to get it things fixed. That right there is worth more than price difference.
“Most people get one, maybe two, ski vacations a year and that’s four to 10 days on the snow. Why wouldn’t they want to maximize their time on the slopes? That’s our pitch to customers who haven’t used us before.”
He said Ski Butlers has used only Rossignol equipment for the past decade.
“In part, that’s because consumers don’t like to be faced with a lot of choices, especially the it comes to ski and snowboard rentals,” explained Cremeno, who said going with one company also simplifies things for workers.
“We have 300-plus team members across the company, so training them be an expert in one category of equipment makes a lot of sense and benefits the customer. In addition, because we use Rossignol exclusively, we get a bigger discount, so we can refresh our inventory faster than most every ski shop.”
Though Cremeno said Ski Butlers has no plans to get into the hotel business, he noted that the company is now providing ski and snowboard services for properties such as the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, the Gant in Aspen and several hotels at Lake Tahoe.
“So we’re not in the lodge business per se, but in very tight partnerships,” he said.
Cremeno said Carey and the company have a strong environmental bent, doing their share to mitigate global warming.
“One of our core values is to give back and we do that a lot by volunteering in our towns and donating to nonprofits,” he said.
“We are also very involved in combatting climate change, which we believe is the biggest threat to humanity generally and to the ski industry specifically. If there is no snow, we have no sport and no ski towns.”
He said the company has been focused on climate change since 2014, when Bryn was introduced to the Protect Our Winters (POW) and Climate Reality efforts.
“He became passionate about how we as a brand can offset our own energy uses as well as educate the broader ski industry on what they can do.
“We’ve bought electric vehicles and we’ve put solar panels on our buildings. We also just switched banks from Chase Bank, which is the largest investor in fossil fuels in the world to Key Bank, which has only 1 percent of its investments in fossil fuels.”
He said Ski Butlers is also undergoing a carbon audit to learn how the company can offset its energy uses in the short term and become carbon positive (producing more energy than it consumes) by 2030.
As for the future, Cremeno said the “sky’s the limit.”
“We paused growth for two years because of Covid,” he said. “But we are looking to expand into one to three new markets next year.
“We launched in Europe four years ago and that’s been very successful except for last year, because some resorts over there didn’t open at all.
“But we also want to grow smart. Our mantra has been that if growth negatively affects the culture and the customer service and processes that we are known so well for, then it might not be the right move.
“So for us, first and foremost, it’s delivering the respected service our customers know and expect. Beyond that, it means looking for the right opportunities to expand to where our customers enjoy traveling and where we aren’t right now.”
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.