Your Local Retail Shop: Ouray Mountain Sports
Our Local Retail Shop Series highlights local gear shops and tells their stories. We chat with shop owners to find out what makes their shop unique and how they serve their local communities.
Shop Name: Ouray Mountain Sports
Location: Ouray, CO
Owner: Bill Leo*
Situated in the middle of the San Juan mountain range is Ouray, CO, considered the “Outdoor Recreation Capitol of Colorado.” The town is known for its unparalleled ice climbing, off-roading, hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing, so it’s only natural that there would be an epic gear shop nearby. On the main drag in Ouray you will find Ouray Mountain Sports filled with all the gear you could imagine and bustling with people. We had the opportunity to get the story behind the shop and find out why it stands out against all the rest.
Tell us how you got into the outdoor industry and came to own Ouray Mountain Sports.
I grew up in Kansas City with a background of gymnastics, acrobatics, and cheerleading. I dropped out of college to move to Los Angeles to become a stuntman. Before moving to Los Angeles, I ski bummed briefly near Purgatory in Durango, CO. After I stayed in Los Angeles for about a year but it wasn’t for me, so after I moved back to Durango for 6 years where I skied and was a river guide. I moved back to Kansas City and finished college in hopes of going to medical school and during that time, I worked at Alpine Hut.
In 1997, I got a call from a friend about Ouray Mountain Sports being for sale and six weeks later I owned the shop. I moved to Ouray around the time the ice park was being built and when the shop was slow I’d go out to the park and start cutting trails with my chainsaw to help make more climbing routes.
What’s the story behind Ouray Mountain Sports?
The original owner’s name was Ed Carr. He was a go kart mechanic and was into go kart racing. Ed started a bike repair shop in Ouray, running his bike rentals and repair business out of the back, while his wife ran a flower shop out the front. Once I owned the shop, I stayed in the original storefront for about 9 years and then bought two lots and built the Ouray Mountain Sports location that exists today.
What is your favorite outdoor activity?
Most people will say I’m a climber, but that’s never really what I’ve considered myself. I consider myself more of a skier and a white water rafter and kayaker. But I like it all…rock climbing, via ferrata, riding motorcycles, and camping.
What sets your shop apart?
The store is unique because of the clientele that I have. Ouray is such a small town and gets so many repeat visitors. Our shop has really catered to the hardcore alpinist. There aren’t a ton of places where people can go ice climbing in the United States, but southwest Colorado is one of them. The Ouray Ice Park being about a minute and a half drive from my store has pushed me to cater to ice climbers and carry everything they need. At one point, my sales reps told me that I was selling more ice climbing tools and crampons than any other store in the country.
Because of this alpinist-specialty, I have some really unique gear in my shop. There are some European ice tool companies that mainly do their sales online and since my customer-base is so specific to ice climbers, I’m able to have those pieces of gear for sale in my shop. I pride myself in carrying the largest selection of ice tools in the country and having unique brands you can’t get anywhere else.
If a pro were to come into your shop, how would you prefer they shop?
It honestly doesn’t bother me if pros are upfront about their deals or not. This is a small town with a lot of guides and some people are totally upfront about trying on gear for sizing.
I really just want to help the customer, whether they are going to buy something or not. My main goal is for customers to leave with a positive impression of Ouray Mountain Sports and want to come back.
If you ever find yourself in Ouray, CO, don’t forget to take in the amazing scenery, breathe in one of those deep mountain air breaths, and head over to Ouray Mountain Sports! You will not be disappointed!
*Since our interview with Bill Leo, he has since sold the shop to longtime employee, Tricia Eischied.