Sometimes even an icon needs a little change. After 51 years in its original Tejon Street storefront facing Acacia Park, Mountain Chalet has moved.
Colorado’s longest-running independent outdoor retail shop has built a loyal following and been a foundational part of Colorado Springs outdoor culture for decades. If you consider yourself one of its fan—a devoted Chaletan—don’t worry. The new home, located at 15 North Nevada Avenue next to CityRock, just gives more space to express its quirky old soul. According to owners Jim and Elaine Smith, that will never change.
“It’s the people that make it quirky, and it’s still going to be quirky, because the people are here,” Elaine says. “And we’re still going to work with our customers in that way.”
“But we did our best to make sure this Chalet was authentic as the old Chalet,” Jim adds.
Walking into the new store, the first thing you notice is the sense of wide open space. High ceilings with open beams and duct work give a sense of open airy, and skylights let in natural light. If the old space was a cozy den; the new is more open aerie. The sales floor gained about 1,000 square feet, all on one level instead of split between two. That means there’s room to keep tents set up on display even when its ski season. It also makes room for a station where customers can get hands-on and test products, such as water filters and cookstoves—or learn to use them. And watch for a planned down washing service for sleeping bags or puffy jackets.
There’s also more room for the Chalet’s heritage displays featuring classic equipment such as a jacket, skis and boots from the 10th Mountain Division and gear that belonged to deceased climbing legend and Springs local Harvey Carter, who did many first ascents in Utah and Colorado, including the Pikes Peak region. Those elements of history and culture were a part of the original store, and now there’s room to highlight even more from the archives.
The building brings it own history to the story too. It was once the home of Packard, Nash and—for a short time—Edsel showrooms, and the Smiths chose to keep the painted signage that was uncovered during renovation. (There’s also a massive flywheel and motor in the basement that powered the lift used to raise the cars to the second story.)
When it came to filling their new space, the team got hands-on to build new display racks and cases. Hanging bars are made from iron pipe; those on the floor are on wheels to roll away for events. Shelves and cases are made of two-by-fours and recycled pallets.
“So our heritage is kind of dirtbag climber,” Jim says. “We didn’t want to lose that. It never left us. Never. It drove the design intent for sure.”
So did practicing sustainability by reusing and recycling. “When we pick our brands, we pick based on their sustainability strategies as well, and it’s important to us to do the same,” he says. “So we did our best to blend the two where we could.”
Of course, they planned to reuse the signature front door. If you ever visited the Chalet, you know that heavy, hand-carved wood and stained-glass one-of-a-kind portal. It looked like something that might open into a mystical hobbit house. “When we told people that we were moving, the first question was, ‘Are you taking the door?’” Jim says. “And the answer was yes, until we learned otherwise, so we’re working on it.”
He explains that Kent Kane, founder of Mountain Chalet, traded two sleeping bags and a pair of used hiking boots to a man named James Wallace for the door. The door was always considered a Mountain Chalet asset.
“But legally, anything that’s attached to a building belongs to the landlord unless it’s specifically excluded,” Jim says. “Unfortunately, that was never called out when the Chalet changed hands between Kent and Dan, and then Dan and us. So we’re trying to work with the landlord to see if we can get it.”
In the meantime, the new door is covered with a photo of the old one. It’s a dead ringer and will fool you if you’re not paying attention to notice it doesn’t have the same heft. The pull sign on the inside is also a brainteaser.
From the door to the parking lot to more space for hosting outdoor workshops and community events, the Smiths say their new home expands their ability to create better experiences for customers in the store and, ultimately, outdoors. Jim and Elaine get excited telling me stories about people they meet in the shop: swapping stories with beginners and experts, locals and visitors, the backcountry skier or the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail walker, the kid who needed a pack to carry a heat-producing machine for his cancer treatment. Jim helped them find a good fit, and called the maker, Osprey, who broke down the pack and sewed it back together with mesh side-panels for venting—for free.
“We just love helping people out, and we love solving problems,” Jim says.
“That’s really the inspiration,” Elaine says. “When we see somebody starting and getting so enthused about it, then we get all enthused again.”
The way the couple sees it, helping others experience and enjoy the outdoors builds community.
“Colorado Springs is an absolute outdoor community. It is one of the best outdoor communities we’ve ever been a part of,” Jim says. “It is inclusive; it is giving; it is thoughtful; and we see that when we do our community events. So to be able to give back to that is supercool.”
That kind of spirit doesn’t change even when the address does.
Enter the New Chalet
Find the new store at 15 N. Nevada Ave., next door to CityRock. Find info at mtnchalet.com.