By Chris Meehan | Feb 22, 2015
Employees: about 45
At age 95, founder Klaus Obermeyer skis Aspen every day and swims half a mile before going to work at the company he founded nearly 70 years ago.
Since the beginning, Sport Obermeyer has been an innovative beacon in the skiwear industry as well. And while the first parka Klaus constructed back in 1947 -- out of the down comforter his mother sent with him from Bavaria -- was made out of necessity, it was also one of the first down parkas ever made anywhere.
Obermeyer remains cutting-edge today, utilizing high-tech fabrics and made for today's skiers and snowboarders. For all of his innovations and contributions to the skiing industry, including dual-construction ski boots, high-altitude sunscreen, and mirrrored sunglasses, Obermeyer was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame this January.
"His true passion for skiing, and an impeccable reputation in the industry for continued customer satisfaction demonstrates that Klaus Obermeyer embodies the necessary requisites for long-term success in the sport," the organization said of his induction.
"It was very nice," Obemeyer says of the recognition. "There were a thousand people in the room when the award was given out."
It's been a long time coming. When Klaus started teaching skiing in Aspen, people wore city clothes -- wool coats and slacks, clothes not suited for winter in the Rockies. People also suffered from high-altitude sunburns. "Visitors would leave because they froze on the lift or got sunburned or skiing was not easy enough for them," Obermeyer says.
As a ski instructor making $10 a day, it behooved him to make skiing more enjoyable. "It clicked for someone to make better-suited ski clothing. That is what we did," Obermeyer asserts. "So that the people that came to Aspen to ski stayed here for the whole reservation time of two weeks. We worked on making skiing more fun and easier and safer and better."
Today's clothing is vastly different than the products made by Obermeyer when he started, featuring incredibly technical fabrics that stand out in a market that's awash in performance apparel. "Most textile merchants in the world today make ski clothing or clothing you could use for skiing," Obermeyer says. "We are making something that is technically much more correct and better and more expensive for our specialty shops and it's just the right thing."
Being in Aspen helps. "There's an advantage to being in the ski resort," Obermeyer says. "It's a great testing ground."
It's also a great perk for employees, he adds. "All of our people ski. When we have more than six inches of new snow, they're all allowed to ski in the morning and use the new powder. In the end, it shows up in the product that these people have an understanding what we make and how it is being used and what it has to do."
The company's approach continues to be popular, and Obermeyer says sales have grown by 10 to 15 percent annually in recent years across multiple snowsports. "What works for skiing works for snowboarding," Obermeyer says. There's no big difference between them now. Snowboarders wanted wider pants and now they want narrower pants."
Sport Obermeyer manufactures in Bangladesh. "Our philosophy is to create win-win win situations," says Klaus. "The factories that work for us are doing well and have fair working conditions for their employees." The production facility uses solar power for employees' living areas and other sustainable technologies.
He continues to forecast growth in the ski industry even while recognizing the constraints it faces. "It depends on the weather -- if there's snow, we look intelligent in this business. If there's no snow, we don't," he quips. But modern ski resorts are adding some insurance against that. "The life insurance for the ski and snowboard industry is snowmaking, which has become very, very reliable and very, very good. They used to make ice. Now they're making real snow."
Challenges: "Everybody had a real challenge when the economy took the dive. Everyone was affected," Obermeyer says.
Opportunities: Obermeyer points to exports. "With the Internet, it's a more of a world market. It's a great opportunity that's coming." While the company's primary market is North America, it's seeing growth in Japan and other ski markets.
Needs: "Good snow conditions wherever we sell our stuff so that our dealers can sell it through," Obermeyer says.