GEAR & SHOPS
BEST BIKE SHOP
You really, really love your bike shops. In fact, just about every respondent had a favorite and 37 different shops from around the state were named “best” in our survey.
In the end, with its focus on expert service, Skirack won. Comment after comment on the shop’s Facebook page praises the staff’s care and attention to customers. Scott Aldor Anderson of Burlington had this to say: “Went there not knowing anything about biking. Luckily I found excellent service in the form of Luke [Bayus]. He went above and beyond to help me find a bike and the necessary accessories to make riding comfortable and fun. He even went so far as to install the accessories himself to make sure I could have the bike that same day. Later that same day Vinnie helped me pick out a bike rack for my car and helped another employee Doug install it for me. All three of them made this experience fun, comfortable and pleasant for a newcomer.” Like other good shops in this list, Skrack also hosts group rides, including weekly road and mountain bike rides and special women-only rides and events . Winner: Skirack, Burlington.Runners Up: Village Sports, Lyndonville; Onion River Sports, Montpelier; Earl’s, Williston; East Burke Sports, East Burke; West Hill Shop, Putney.
BEST SKI SHOP
If there’s one thing you want from a ski shop, it’s the sense that the people who work there really, really know what they are doing Again, Burlington’s Skirack stood out above the rest. Why? Perhaps it’s thanks to its expert bootfitter, Doug Stewart who is also a PSIA Examiner. Or that Jake Hollenbach, who works in the Nordic department, is a sponsored Salomon skier who has won events such as the Stowe Derby and Lake Placid Loppet. Or the fact that this year, for the first time, Skirack offered a Junior Lease Program of Rossignol Terrain gear coupled with a free Jay Peak Junior season pass. Close behind though was Outdoor Gear Exchange (with a note that they excel in outfitting folks for backcountry adventures) and Warren’s Alpine Options, whose customers rave about its great service. Winner: Skirack, Burlington. Runners Up: Alpine Options, Warren; Outdoor Gear Exchange, Burlington; Village Sports, Lyndonville; Pinnacle, Stowe; Alpine Shop, Burlington.
BEST VERMONT-MADE PRODUCT
Vermonters love to buy local. In fact, 77 percent of our respondents said that they buy their gear from a local retailer. You also love Vermont-based brands and had no trouble naming your favorite: Darn Tough Socks. Maybe it’s Darn Tough’s lifetime guarantee. Maybe it’s the fact that second-generation owner Ric Cabot has kept the business here in Vermont while so many other apparel companies move offshore. Maybe it’s the fact that Darn Tough has grown substantially since the brand launched in 2004 and now sells 5 million pairs a year. Maybe it’s the annual November ‘stick season’ sale that can draw as many as 14,000 to Northfield. Or maybe it’s just that you love the socks. But Darn Tough was the clear winner. Also mentioned were emerging brands, Skida hats, Dodge’s carbon fiber ski boots and Renoun Skis. Winner: Darn Tough Socks. Runners Up: Ibex wool layers; Burton snowboards; Skida hats; Dodge Ski boots, Renoun skis; Concept2 rowing machines.
BEST CAR FOR OUTDOOR ADVENTURES
Let’s face it: Subaru Outbacks are to Vermont what bicycles are to Beijing—the primary form of travel. Pull into a ski resort parking lot or a trailhead and there will be a fleet of them, muddied, with racks packed with gear and looking like their owners live out of them. And some do. For years, the Outback has answered Vermonters call for a high-mileage (25 to 32 miles per gallon), low-profile, all-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle that can fit a pair of skis in the back (with the seats down), and a bike or a kayak on the roof without having to stand on your tiptoes. The car’s reputation for reliability has also served it well. However, it’s no longer the only kid on the block. We found our survey respondents were equally passionate about their Jeep Cherokees and Toyota Tacomas. Winner: Subaru Outback. Runners Up: Toyota Tacoma, Jeep Cherokee, Honda CRV, Chevy Suburban; Audi Quattro
Next up: The toughest and wackiest of events.