British Columbia·Still Standing

Still skiing: Vancouver snow sport repair shop going strong for 4 decades

CBC's The Early Edition regularly spotlights a local business beating the odds and thriving in the Lower Mainland in a series called Still Standing. Vancouver Ski & Board Services has been supporting snow sport enthusiasts since 1972.

Vancouver Ski & Board Services is a 2nd generation family business started in 1972

Barry Cleator, owner of Vancouver Ski & Board Services, sharpens a customer's skis in his East Vancouver shop. His parents started the business over 40 years ago. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Sparks fly as Barry Cleator sharpens a set of skis in a machine roughly the size of a school bus. The machine is state of the art and worth a cool quarter of a million dollars, but the shop it sits in is nearly half a century old.

Cleator is the owner of Vancouver Ski & Board Services, a business his parents started in 1972. Customers can have skis and boards sharpened, repaired and custom modified all under one roof. The shop also installs, tests and repairs boots and bindings.

Located at 271 E 2nd Avenue, the neighbourhood is changing rapidly. Development signs are plastered on nearly every block and new condos are popping up all around the shop. Cleator is still hanging on to the family business though, even as real estate prices soar. 

"The writing would be on the wall that it won't be forever," he said. "I'm still enjoying it, and there's getting to be less stores that do what we do, so hopefully we'll continue for a while." 

A customer heads into the shop for a possible gear tune up. Cleator says he's become immune to the smell of wax, but says many customers say they associate this smell with the best parts of winter. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Cleator is carrying on a family legacy and his love for snow sports was inherited from parents who were both passionate about the slopes.

"I've still got memorabilia from 1958 when they'd drive down to Aspen in an old Volkswagen," said Cleator.

His mother Jean died this year at age 93. She ski raced until she was 80 years-old. 

"They needed an old woman on the team," he said. "It was always fun to see her, she had a great time."

Barry Cleator’s mother Jean pictured here in McLean's magazine, was a competitive ski racer into her 80s. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It's the busiest time of year at the shop. But for a guy who loves skiing, Cleator has no problem sacrificing weekends in the mountains to make sure others are prepared for the fresh powder. Plus, he and his employees prefer to wait until February when the snow is deeper. 

"As long as we can get snow on the local hills so we can get the kids up for their holidays, nobody wants to miss that," said Cleator.

He stays focused on the task at hand. Keeping the behemoth machine whirring, precision sharpening the edge of a ski that is coated in lubricant.

“The equipment makes it easier to become really good," says shop owner Barry Cleator, who says skis have improved dramatically over the years. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Cleator said over the years he has seen ski technology get better and better. These days, he says, there are no bad skis and lots of good skiers.

And he suggests rookie skiers bring their skis in to have them sharpened and waxed, something he says people new to the sport sometimes don't do out of fear it will make them go faster than they are comfortable with.

According to Cleator, maintaining your gear actually helps you have better control on the mountains.

"You'd never learn to drive a car with four flat tires. You might as well get it as good as you can," said Cleator. 

And Cleator is more than happy to provide that service.

"If you can mix your workplace with your hobby, that's excellent."

With files from The Early Edition

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