Sylvan Peak Mountain Shop: Big City Selection, Small Town Service
A Red Lodge, Montana mainstay since 1990, Sylvan Peak Mountain Shop represents all that is lively and exciting about the outdoor activity community in the US today. As more and more folks, wary of indoor events, turn to the mountains for recreation and solace, Sylvan Peak and the community of which it is a part provide an excellent example of a business and its customers working together to build new healthy habits and rediscover neglected pastimes.
North America is blessed with an incredible number of places where outdoor activities abound, where retailers, land managers, hotels and restaurants, athletes, adventurers, curious first timers and vacationers all converge to explore and enjoy a wealth of natural wonder—a bounty that varies widely and beautifully across this landscape. Southwestern Montana is just such an area, which is centered both geographically and culturally on the Beartooth Highway and the lovely frontiersy town of Red Lodge which sits alongside it. Home to the family-friendly Red Lodge Ski Area, the town is the last stop before travelers reach Yellowstone National Park—and right there on main street, eager to help the summer and winter surges of visitors find their way into the surrounding five million acres of ruggedly magnificent backcountry, are the outfitter extraordinaires at Sylvan Peak.
Founded by an entrepreneurial and talented seamstress named Mary Ellen Magnus, the Mountain Shop began as a “small cottage industry business, producing fleece, nylon and spandex for the outdoor market,” with an emphasis on kids gear, says current owner (and daughter of Mary Ellen) Marci Dye. A mom with a houseful of Nordic skiers, Mary Ellen “always struggled to find flashy race suits… so she started making ‘em.” One thing led to another, the shop’s clientele grew from young cross country skiers to outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, and over the years Sylvan Peak evolved into a fully-fledged gear store—which today offers a wide range of ski and backpacking equipment, apparel, boots and shoes, and continues to have an excellent kids department. In the summer months, the store caters to hikers and backpackers setting out into the Beartooths and the wilds of Yellowstone. This means maintaining an inventory well stocked with backpacks, hiking boots, rain gear, and trail running gear, as well as furnishing visitors with all the advice and knowhow they could need: from giving trail recommendations to teaching lessons on the proper use of bear spray. With an annual influx of almost a thousand summer residents intent on enjoying the region’s beauty, it’s not all that surprising that Sylvan Peak’s bestselling item is aerosol bear repellent.
When winter rolls around, the small but well organized shop flips entirely around: shelves of hiking boots become displays of the hottest new Nordic ski boots, rain gear turns into lightweight snow pants and jackets, and hiking poles give way to skis, poles and snowshoes. Alongside the retail racks is a carefully curated collection of rental ski and snowshoe gear, where the customer’s choice of skate, classic, touring or metal edge skis are available at just $20 a day, with a half off discount for every subsequent day of the rental.
For those who want to purchase equipment, but aren’t sure what exactly they’d like, Sylvan Peak even offers a hybrid rental-retail option, where the buyer can get up to four rental/demo sessions knocked off the price of the gear. This flexibility and commitment to helping each customer with his or her individual needs is central to Sylvan Peak’s small-town small-business approach and demonstrates the enormous care they take for their community. As Marci Dye explains, “we [as opposed to the bigger retailers] train our staff to be customer service first – answering all questions, helping the person out, no matter the question. We are all trained in matching exactly what the customer wants to the item in the shop, and then helping them with perfect fit.”
Not only does this attention to individual customers create personal connections and relationships, Sylvan Peak is an important part of the thriving outdoors scene in the region. A few hours apiece from Bozeman, Bridger Bowl and Big Sky, Red Lodge is the perfect waystation for Montanans out for ski or mountaineering daytrips; at Sylvan Peak, this means that you can stay up to date the latest trail and condition reports and general outdoor recreation news, and can always find someone to swap adventure stories with.
Though the Mountain Shop has been in the same location for thirty years, it has grown into an important role in the Southwest Montana outdoor recreation world. The folks at Sylvan Peak have created a model for how to maintain small town service and an unhurried, welcoming atmosphere, while still competing with the selections of the bigger retailers—which is all to say, if you’re in the Yellowstone-Montana region, it’s well worth the trip.