We had the good fortune of connecting with Maile Spung and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maile, other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
Before deciding to take over the Ute Mountaineer from my dad, I wanted to see what aspects of my life might interest me as a career. My goal was to make sure that if I worked at the family business, it was because I wanted to be there and not because I didn’t know what else to do. I was very interested in the medical field and got my EMT certification to see if medicine was something I wanted to pursue. This led me to work as a ski patroller in Aspen during the Winters and a climbing guide in Washington during the summers. I split my time between Aspen and Mt. Rainier, Denali, and Ecuador’s Volcanoes.
Taking the time to pursue other paths (even though they were in the outdoor field) led me to realize that I wanted to spend my time in the outdoor industry. I knew that the lifestyle of guiding and patrolling was not sustainable for me, but I had found my passion in connecting people with the outdoors. I feel that my years of experience directly working with the products we sell (skis, tents, climbing gear, backpacks, etc) better equipped me to make good buying decisions. We pride ourselves on offering our customers the best hand-picked selection of equipment for the numerous outdoor activities in our area.
I love connecting newcomers to outdoor activities and hope that every new outdoor enthusiast sees the benefit in protecting the natural world. I know that I am selling material goods to people, which can be counterintuitive to environmental stewardship, but my goal is to provide people with great gear so that they have an enjoyable experience in nature and realize that this planet, and all of its beautiful ecosystems, are worth saving. I now sit on a local Environmental board for Aspen Center for Environmental Studies which focuses on teaching environmental responsibility.
By taking the time to find my passion of working with people through my years of guiding and patrolling, I was able to find a career in the family business that fulfills my goals of helping the community and the environment. I am so grateful to live in a beautiful place and experience everything it has to offer, while building a career that allows me to share those experiences with others.
What should our readers know about your business?
Behind the Ute Mountaineer, there are people who care about more than just selling you a product. Our store and community involvement is a direct reflection of who we are. We are driven by our ability to provide good customer service and products that accommodate our customers’ needs. We live in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. We use the gear we sell on a daily basis, so we know how it works and what conditions it performs best under.
Nothing about running a retail store is easy, which has been especially true in the last year. However, this pandemic has shown that the most adaptable stores will survive (and thrive), and we have proven that to be true. We are small enough and flexible enough to change plans and procedures, and to bring in cutting edge and niche products. Sometimes these new products seem pretty weird and occasionally don’t sell too well….but, we remain resolute in our commitment to promoting the latest and greatest available. If we feel strongly about a product, we will offer it to our customers.
We are a family owned and operated independent single location and are not buying the same product for 20 different stores. This means we buy the products we want to use in the mountains around Aspen and all over the world. We think this allows us to offer our customers the coolest, most functional clothing and equipment available.We are not beholden to any manufacturer, so we can choose our product mix based on what works the best under given conditions, not just what one or two manufacturers have to offer. In doing so, we exhaustively analyze what products and vendors we want to carry at the store. We feel this allows us to offer the best product available on the market. You could say our clothing and gear choices come with an opinion – a very positive one.
The Ute Mountaineer has been operating since 1977. We couldn’t stay in business that long without a commitment to our customer. We remain dedicated and will endeavor to keep pace with the changing needs of the outdoor community that we serve. If you don’t have an independent outdoor retail store in your community, our expertise can be of help to you. If you do have a local store, we encourage you to patronize that store and keep your own community healthy and strong.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Gosh, the coolest part about being in the heart of the mountains in Aspen is that there is an infinite list of activities to do! My dad and I have spent our lives trying to do everything in the area, and we still find untouched terrain and new experiences daily. In the winter I would start with a morning skin up Aspen mountain for the world famous pancakes at Bonnie’s on-mountain restaurant. We could then ski Aspen mountain for some of the best terrain in the area (I may be biased from my years as a ski patroller on this mountain but it has the best skiing of Aspen/Snowmass) and finish with grabbing a lunch at the Big Wrap that is just at the base of the gondola. For dinner I love to share a charcuterie board at Meat & Cheese.
I would make sure to fit in a day of nordic skiing on our first class trails. Aspen is home to the largest free noric trail system in the country and we have over 90km of trails to connect Aspen with Snowmass Village and beyond. The Ute runs the Nordic center in the winters and outfits first-timers as well as world-class racers. After a morning of building up an appetite nordic skiing, we would have to grab lunch at Home Team BBQ which is near the nordic trailhead. We also hang out at Home Team on kid ski days when our 3 year old is ready for some food after some serious Panda Peak laps.
In the summer, I would start with a coffee and pastry from Paradise Bakery…one of the other oldest family-run businesses in Aspen. From there, a short walk takes you to the Hunter Creek trailhead. With my kiddos, we hang a left and do the story book trail, a short trail that has pages of a book spaced out throughout for kids to read as they hike. If I’m kid-free, I will hang a right and head up the Hunter creek trail. This trail takes you up into the Hunter Valley where there are old miners cabins and rewards your efforts with one of the most beautiful views of town. If your friends are seeking a larger or more technical challenge like rock climbing or summiting a 14,000ft peak, we would recommend they reach out to the local guide service Aspen Alpine Guides to book an adventure. In the heat of summer, I always finish up my mtn bike rides or trail runs with a refreshing treat from Red Fox FroYo…owned by my very best friend and slinging the most delicious flavors and toppings that rotate on a daily basis!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Obviously my shoutout is for my dad, the founder of the Ute Mountaineer. He followed his passion to open an outdoor store 44 years ago (as of April 1…April Fool’s day!) and is still involved with many of the community aspects of the store. He was my personal outdoor guide throughout my childhood, instilling in me a great respect for human powered activities and environmental stewardship. He also showed me that life is about balance and even though he worked extremely hard at the shop, he knew that taking time to recharge and enjoy life is incredibly important. He is a true entrepreneur and is always looking for ways to make the Ute better, especially from a customer service standpoint, even though he claims to be semi-retired. I have learned everything I know about running a business from working side-by-side with him throughout my time here. And fortunately we still love exploring the mountains together and find time to get out on adventures, even as our lives and responsibilities have evolved. He just turned 70 this year but still kicks by butt in most things we do!
Other: google my business: http://g.page/utemountaineer (or just google Ute Mountaineer)