by Madison V. Fisler
Feb. 5, 2014. Edge of the World Snowboard Shop, located in Banner Elk, started out as a great shop for locals and visitors alike, and became the shop for serious snowboarders who only want the best.
Jeff Johnson has been at the reins of the operation since 2007, heading up a spectacular team of ten employees that keep the shop running day in and day out. Jeff, along with his teammates Casey Mitchell, Tim Ollis, Pete Janotti, Lauren Pandolfi, Matt Wimberley, Charlie Brown, Kristen Gray, Joe Pozell and Shawn Mitchell are more than just coworkers. These guys are one big family.
“Part of what makes this such a cool shop is the family aspect in how it is run,” Johnson said.
“We are all family here. We hang out outside of work, we have staff riding days, even outside of snowboarding we are always there for each other. We want to make sure our employees fit and that it is not just a job to them. We want them to love snowboarding, because those who love it know the most about it and can pass that on to our customers.”
The “treat everyone like family” approach to business is not new to Edge of the World. The philosophy goes back to the original owners of the shop, who opened it decades ago when snowboarding wasn’t even legal on the slopes.
“I have tried to keep it true to the way it was run before, and I try to keep their philosophies intact. Their philosophy was based on Christian principles and customer service. We make sure that everyone who walks out the door is ready to go hop on the mountain, whether it is just getting them some gloves, waxing their board or going through the process of setting up a board, which can take three hours,” Johnson said.
The shop is full service, and can handle everything from rentals, to sales, tunings and full repairs.
Edge of the World was one of the first shops to start carrying snowboards in the High Country.
“We have a saying here, that we have been ‘snowboarding legally since 1986’,” Johnson said. “That’s the first year Beech Mountain allowed snowboarding. We started out as mostly cross country skiing tours and canoeing, and throughout the years we got more into the snowboards. Prior to that, we had to go out in someone’s backyard and hike a hill somewhere.”
The shop is unique in many ways, among them is the dedicated staff that shows a commitment not only to the customers, but to honing their craft on the slopes.
“This shop is snowboarding,” Johnson said. “It is run by snowboarders. We are out there almost daily, there is an Edge of the World staff member on a hill every single day, I can almost guarantee it. We take our experiences from our lives on the mountain and bring them into the shop. That gives us an edge that not many other places have.”
Like many small businesses, Edge of the World experienced a blow when Internet shopping became the norm, as many customers turned to the ease of getting their gear with just a click of a mouse.
“The industry has changed a lot, and the internet is hard to compete with, but we have something the internet doesn’t. We have a working knowledge of the sport and what people need, and the customer service to get it done,” Johnson said.
“We take care of our customers, and when we take care of them, they almost always come back. A board sale can take hours from start to finish. We completely dial them in from boot to binding to board and make sure the setup is right for them. Everyone is different, and that’s important to address. We have had some customers for 20 years, and I think that is really what has kept us here for so long.”
Repeat customers are the lifeblood of many businesses, but few have the staying power of Edge of the World.
“Edge of the World is a foundation to this community,” Johnson said. “People will come back after 20 years of not being up here and are so excited that we are still here. After two decades, customers remember our customer service and go out of their way to come back.”
But one of the most rewarding things to the staff is what snowboarding brings to the community itself.
“The most rewarding part of this is seeing the youth and the kids get out there,” Johnson said. “My generation was the first, and now we have our own kids riding out there. Snowboarding is an interesting sport because it bridges the gap between ages. It’s a good melting pot and its something entire families can do together. There is not always a lot of common ground between a 10-year-old and a 35-year-old, but snowboarding can be that common ground.”
To Johnson and his staff, snowboarding represents a free form of expression. Not only is it good exercise and a good way to pass the time, it is also a positive way of expressing oneself. But this great sport doesn’t come without a need of support.
Edge of the World has sponsored events since its inception, but recently the shop has become deeply involved with events at Beech Mountain’s terrain park.
“Way back in the day, we used to have contest series at all the local mountains, but these days we sponsor events at Beech Mountain Resort,” Johnson said.
“They have a new terrain park with great management, and they even have a terrain park crew on staff that shapes the park every day.”
The terrain park along with Edge of the World has become famous for the spectacular Beech Mountain Banked Slalom event, which will be hosted for the second time on Feb. 22.
“Last year was the first year that we did it, and we had over 70 competitors,” Johnson said. “We are expecting a lot more this year. The cool thing about a banked slalom is that if you can snowboard at all, you can do it. It’s not just limited to those who can do freestyle, or race gates, or jump. If you can make it down the mountain, you can compete. There is a lot of cameraderie, and everyone has a great time. Last year, I saw 7-year-old little girls racing the same course as 40-year-old guys. It’s really cool to see.”
The Banked Slalom is a timed event, divided by age groups. The course it set up with gates, but each turn has a burm so the rider can carry more speed.
“Everyone at the shop wants to go, but unfortunately, someone will have to stay and man the shop,” Johnson said.
For more information about the Banked Slalom Competition, click here.
Edge of the World has been around long enough to see trends in the industry come and go, but has withstood the test of time.
“As snowboarding started blowing up in the early 90s, you got to see a lot of startup companies competing with each other. Well, the bigger companies started buying the smaller companies so you saw this consolidation. Today, we are starting to see the smaller companies popping up again, which we love. It gives a lot more variety to the industry.”
And Edge of the World is committed to helping out many local startup companies.
“I love bringing in the smaller North Carolina companies to help promote them,” Johnson said. “One in particular is Brackish. My buddy was talking about starting this company for years, and we were on the lift one day and I just decided, ‘hey, why don’t you start selling some stuff in my shop?’ And that was the birth of Brackish right there.”
Edge of the World also carries other local companies in the shop, including STZ and their branch Canvassed Apparel, and a new company dubbed Local.
Other big changes for the shop include the use of social media.
“We are really big on our Instagram and Facebook pages,” Johnson said. “We are really having fun on social media. It’s a good way for us to stay connected to our customers.”
And that connection with their customers remains the staff’s top priority.
“We love our customers,” said Johnson. “Every single one of them. They are what makes all of this possible and what allows us to continue helping people have the best day on the mountain possible, which is what it is all about.”
For more information about Edge of the World, visit their Facebook page here or call 828-898-9550.
Photos by Ken Ketchie