The Chief's Story
How It All Began
After finishing school like so many of our employees now, I decided to take the winter off, move to Tahoe and ski. I rented a closet, literally, in a house on the west shore of Lake Tahoe and set out to find work. I really wanted to work at Squaw Valley. I would have taken any position available, fortunately I landed a job with lift maintenance. I have always been good with my hands and seem to be a natural with mechanics.
I loved being on the mountain before sunrise freeing up frozen cables, climbing lift towers in ski boots with driving snow and bitter cold wind at my face. In the three years I worked on the mountain I realized it would be very hard to ever leave this place. Every tree, every granite cliff, and every coyote in a sense became my own. Those early mornings when it was just a handful of us on the mountain, I was gifted with the best first tracks of my life. I had been skiing since I was a kid, driving five hours from my home on the coast but those first years at Squaw is when I really learned to ski. My favorite place to ski was just outside the ski area boundary, Granite Chief, the highest peak in the valley.
With mounting pressure from my parents to get serious and get a "real job" the message was setting in, I needed to move on but not far from the mountain that I had come to love. The last season at Squaw I had started tuning and repairing skis for my friends and co-workers. Like I said I'm good with my hands and my tuning skills attracted quite a following. The idea came to me to open a state of the art tuning center. It was a great plan, tune all night and ski all day. Mind you this is not what my parents had in mind but eventually I talked them into financing my start up business with a $4000 loan. I named my new business, what else but, Granite Chief.
My first location was in Tahoe City in a run down, condemned motel room. The room was so small that I had to open the door to pass a ski over the sander. Remember those were the days of long boards, if you were caught skiing anything shorter than 210cm well you skied Northstar not Squaw Valley. Those years were great fun, business was pretty good but I really wanted to be in Squaw. Wayne Poulsen was one of my first and most loyal customers. When the Squaw Valley Laundry Mat closed up Wayne, being the owner/landlord, offered me the space, without hesitation I was an official Squaw Valley business. That was fourty years ago. In that time much has changed and, remarkably, a lot has stayed the same. My passion for skiing and love of the mountain remains the driving force behind our business.
Granite Chief has been the first on many fronts setting a new and higher standard in the ski industry. The Chief was the first to purchase a factory quality stonegrinder for commercial use. We developed many of the boot fitting techniques used in ski shops today. With ski presses used by factories to build skis, we are able to reconstruct the most severely delaminated and damaged skis. To this day we are the only shop to own skis presses. Events like Race Night, Spring Demo Days, the Shreddit Showdown Ski Movie Contest, and The Ski Service Card were all introduced by Granite Chief and copied by others.
I can't help but brag about our many awards along with community and industry recognition for excellence. This was all made possible through the hard work of individuals that have made The Chief their home. Granite Chief has always been among the "Top Shops" in the country as voted on by Ski Magazine readers. We were voted the #1 Far West Ski Shop, the only ski shop in Northern California to receive such an honor and one of only three in the entire state. We were award the KT award for best small business in Squaw Valley while we were still located there, and that one meant a lot. Our skills as a service center have been tested time and time again by skiing's greats like Tamara McKinney, Shane McConkey, Julia Mancuso, and Terry Sternberg, (a diehard weekend warrior from Mill Valley).
When I met my wife Treas our union seemed to be a natural in more ways than one. Treas had worked as a regional manager with a large retail clothing chain. She has a great feel and understanding of merchandising, buying and customer service. Together with our staff we have prided ourselves on our ability to present the best product lineup and continued reputation as the friendliest shop in the country. It is our goal to make everyone that walks through our doors feel welcome and not like an outsider. There are no outsiders in the ski world we are all skiers that is the common bond.
Seventeen years ago we opened a beautiful store in Truckee. Truckee is where our young ski families are turning out tomorrow's stars and we are proud to be a part of that community. Leaving our old location in Squaw Valley was rough. Fond memories of staff; friends and the Poulsen family are tied to the many years in that location.
The last fourty years Granite Chief has evolved from a one man tuning shop to a full service core ski shop with the help and loyalty of staff like Gunner Wolf, Darren Padgett, Lynn Castellucci, Susan Clark and the many that have moved on but left a lasting impression on today's Granite Chief. We now demo skis, sell skis, fit boots, and we have a full lineup of functional skiwear for the serious skier. We have a beautiful store in Truckee are working on launching a new website. What will the next thirty years bring? More friends, memories and yes more skiing, may the Snow Gods be willing.
- Herb Manning