The Browns Story
Riding is our passion. It drives us. First tracks. The perfect run. For all of us at Browns Ski Shop it’s a spiritual feeling. Everything we do is driven by our love of riding – to search out the best from around the world so that we can offer you the best to share in our passion.
Browns set the bench mark for ski retail and hire and we need to keep doing that. The ‘Browns Ski Shop’ brand means a lot to us – its strength is a rarity in this industry.
The Browns Ski Shop brand is what it is today as a result of a bunch of passionate people working together, with customers and industry partners, making decisions, mistakes and improvements, since we first opened our doors back in 1980.
At the end of the day it’s the personalities that have really made the place. We’ve had so many amazing snowboarders and skiers work here over the years. We always seem to end up with a really interesting and lively crew. People keep coming back so there must be some kind of magic here.
Believe it or not at Browns life is not just about the bottom line. Our word is our bond - we will do what we say we will do. Our truth and integrity are non-negotiable.
The Start 1980
Queenstown has long been the home of alpine skiing in New Zealand. Due to the extensive terrain, spectacular views and international atmosphere, winter sports have boomed here and the Browns’ name has always been a part of this.
During the winters of the late 1950’s Betty and Doug Brown would travel from Invercargill so Doug could hit the slopes, where he had been skiing since the late 1940’s, when the ski-fields were “just a couple of rope tows”. He taught every one of his four sons to ski on Coronet Peak.
Browns Ski Shop was born in 1980 from this passion for skiing. Nigel and Derek Brown, two of the Browns' sons, were young Queenstown racers competing on the World cup Circuit in Europe. Starting a ski shop was a natural extension of their enthusiasm and knowledge of skiing. Pretty soon Browns Ski Shop became a shrine to the big alpine where like-minded people worked and shared vital knowledge.
Derek recalls working in the early years when the doors opened at 7am, closed three hours later so they could go race training, and then re-open at 3pm.
During these early years, Browns Ski Hire was at the mercy of Mother Nature: “If the season started before the tenth of July it was a fantastic season.”
In 1987, the world of retail opened up when Browns began selling clothing, and the business rapidly gained a reputation as being the best bootfitters in the industry.
1990 - 2000
In 1991, Browns Ski Shop and the whole of Queenstown experienced the snowmaking boom. “That really was key for Queenstown and fantastic for us because it spread the season out from June to October.”
By 1997, Derek and younger brother Julian had decided it was time to sell and were keen to hand the Browns legacy to people they knew and trusted. Kris Vermeir and Paul “Haggis” Vaitkus, both long-term employees of Browns, were approached to initially take on the business in a 50/50 arrangement.
A great deal of thinking took place before Kris and Haggis made up their minds: “The main concern was finding the money, but when Derek decided to leave money in the business, that was an opportunity which very seldom comes along and we dove in.”
At first Kris and Haggis felt the strains of being a co-worker one minute to co-owners the next. “Now most people working for us only know us as the owners, but those first few years were very weird.”
2000 - 2019
In 2003 Browns Ski Shop was approached by Qualmark to become the first accredited ski shop.
In 2005 Browns looked to become a player in the summer market and become a true year-round operation by purchasing Alpine Sports, also another long term Queenstown business. Alpine Sports specialises in hiking, camping and tramping equipment and expertise.
Browns has been a huge supporter of the creation of on-the-job qualifications for the snow sports industry by Skill Active Aotearoa, and were very proud to win the 2019 Skill Active Small Business Scholarship, which reflected our commitment to developing our staff and strengthening the snowsport workforce.
Browns Ski Shop are involved in several sponsorship programs for young kids such as the Wakatipu Ski Club Lesson Program where up to 200 kids take to the slopes to learn to ski & ride over a 6-week period each year.
2020 and beyond
2020 was the fortieth anniversary of when Browns Ski Shop first opened its doors. We are very proud to still be going strong in such a competitive market, and are hitting our forties with the same energy as a sprightly teenager, but with the knowledge and experience of an elder statesman.
2020 also brought with it a new website (which you are looking at), and a facelift for our rental store.