Not Your Ordinary Ski Shop Owner
Alain Veth brings a world of experience and knowledge to his family-owned and run shop Le Ski Mastery in Taos Ski Valley. Veth is a veteran of the World Cup race circuit, a winner of hundreds of ski races stretching from his childhood in France to a pro circuit in Canada, an insider at the Dynamic ski company factory in France, and a certified ski instructor since his teen years who has skied extensively in Alaska and around the globe.
Born in 1962, he looks far younger despite a huge workload and responsibilities. But he noted in a recent interview, “The lifestyle I have makes me look and feel younger. I’ve always done the things I’ve loved to do, so the years go by.”
He began to ski at age 3 in his hometown of Grenoble, France and was racing by age 7 during an auspicious period for French skiing. Jean-Claude Killy took three golds at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble and Alain recalls being glued to the black and white television coverage that year. “The French team at the time, with Jean-Claude Killy and others, was one of the best of all time,” he notes.
The games served as an inspiration for him but he was already a multi-sport athlete: a black belt in judo, a track and field competitor, swimmer, speed skater, and serious rock climber and alpinist. But slowly skiing became his dominant passion. He began winning races at age 7 and by age 18 he was on the French National Ski Team. That lasted for two years; he left the team but continued to race. In 1982, skiing independently, he won the Spanish national championship in GS.
“I knew what I was made of, that I was strong and that I still wanted to race, so I decided to come to America,” where several pro race circuits were in operation. He landed in San Francisco in 1983 and headed for Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevadas. A year later he was in Canada, based out of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley as a sponsored racer of Silver Star Mountain Resort. “I was making a nice living in Canada as a professional ski racer. I was doing really well, winning many races. I was on TV every weekend and on Wide World of Sports.”
Dynamic Pro Sponsorship
He found a sponsor, Dynamic of France, who provided his skis while Look covered his bindings and Trapeur his boots. Writing for a French publication about the racing life, he even had an airline sponsor covering his extensive, required travel, including two summers racing in Chile and other South American sites.
After two winters, however, the circuit folded and Alain decided to head south to the U.S. and compete in the World Pro Tour underway here. The first race of the 1986-87 winter was set for Copper Mountain, Colorado. He set down in Silverthorne to prepare but had no plans beyond that.
The French Connection
Alain Veth had gone to Canada with a friend from Grenoble, Teri Mulin, who’d become a ski patroller. “He was a great guy, lots of joie de vivre, and could really ski!” When the Canadian scene dissolved, Mulin headed to Taos. He’d met Jean and Dadou Mayer (the founders of TSV’s iconic Hotel St. Bernard) and been offered a job. “Teri told me about it and those four letters — TAOS — stuck in my head.
At Copper, I met a Native American ski racer, James Herrera, who was sponsored by Taos and I asked him if he knew the French brothers who owned a hotel there,” recalls Alain. Not only did Herrera know them, he had Jean Mayer’s number on him and gave it to Alain. “I called many times but Jean was always too busy to talk. Back then Taos had more than 360,000 skier visits a winter. But finally I got him at a quiet time and I explained I was looking for a home base, a place to train and a job. He said, ‘Come down, we’ll sit and talk and see where it goes.’
“So I drove my van down, which I was sleeping in. That night was really cold, way below zero, but with a cap on, which I never wear, I got a little sleep and I showed up at 9 o’clock.” But it would not be until after lunch that Jean could at last sit with him. “He walked up and saw how exhausted I looked, and he says I should go to his apartment and sleep for a while, then talk.” A few hours later, to his surprise, his buddy Teri woke him. Jean offered Alain a bartending job on the outdoor deck of the St. Bernard and his Taos days began.
He raced a few more pro events “but I was fried after seven seasons of racing, “so he decided to retire and focus on his new life in Taos. “And, that was the best winter of my life—discovering a new culture, a new mountain, new people.”
Jean Mayer became his mentor and ideal. “Jean come here with almost nothing and built a life for himself through hard work. He was my inspiration. ‘How can I mimic that life?’ I asked myself. And thirty years later I have my business, six or seven employees, have raised a family and taking care of our guests.”
Le Ski Mastery is the quintessential ski shop, with a selection of some 250 pairs of demo rental skis, snowboards and boots, plus ski and boot sales. It also carries a discerning selection of other hard goods and apparel, and a complete line of ski racing accessories. Le Ski Mastery is the only Rossignol Race Center in the state. But it is probably best known for the quality of its tuning operations and binding mounting, directed by the motto: ‘World Class Tuning.”
World Cup Racing
It’s a literal motto, as Alain Veth spent three years, 1987-90, on the World Cup circuit working for the U.S. Ski Team as a ski technician. Dynamic approached him after he left racing and asked if he’d serve as the racing tech for their U.S. National team members, including Tamara McKinney. Alain jumped at the chance and helped orchestrate McKinney’s World Championship at Vail in 1989. “Those were my skis, the skis I worked on. She was a great pilot, obviously, and we made a great team. It was great fun and fascinating, traveling the world with all expenses paid.”
McKinney was eventually injured and Alain was assigned to other female racers, including Kristi Terzian. “Of fifteen races that season she placed in the top fifteen thirteen times, the best year of her career. We got those girls so fired up!
Le Ski Mastery is Born
In 1991 Alain Veth decided to call it quits. He had been on the road since he was 14 and in 1987 had met his future wife, Peggy, in Beaver Creek. He longed to settle down. He returned to Taos and “had a few powwows” with Mayer to discuss what he might do for a future. Mayer suggested a ski shop, and with that in mind Alain settled back into Taos, plopped down $25,000 for a state of the art tuning machine and opened Le Ski Mastery for the 1990-1991 season.
He could have returned to France for a position within the French Ministry of Sports as a skiing “professor” through ENSA (the Ecole Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme), but the bureaucracy did not appeal to him. “I was in America, the Wild West, for years and I was too free!” However, he also had no credit, could not obtain a bank loan and had to start small. They opened Le Ski Mastery with 30 pairs of skis, boots and bindings for rentals, and did a lot of ski tuning. But there were six ski shops in TSV then and his first few years were really a challenge.
“The longer I have the business the more people say, ‘This is a true ski shop.’ I stick to what I know.” He figures the shop averages 20 tunes a day and some 3,000 a year. A huge percentage of those are still done by Alain himself. He often goes right through dinner and occasionally into the morning hours personally mounting bindings and preparing skis for first- and long-time customers.
An Expert at Racing Skis
Veth says, “Skiing is my passion and that applies even to preparing the equipment. It is almost meditation; it is a flow and dynamic. I am always in motion; it’s an eye-hand thing and years of experience.”
Alain knows skis from the inside out. He worked periodically in the Dynamic factory, overseeing production of skis for the racers he was teaching for on the World Cup, tweaking models to achieve custom results. As a racer he also understands ski performance, arching tendencies, edge pressure and myriad other factors, so here you get a ski that a World Cupper could climb on and rip.
He does almost no advertising and has only a very basic website, with business generated largely by word of mouth and loyalists. “I feel my business is a success. We do what we do with integrity. I’m sure I may have turned some people off because of my strong beliefs and values on what is good and what isn’t but that is me.”
Family Integral to Success
Peggy Veth, his wife also works at Le Ski Mastery, often handling female customers. “It’s a family endeavor. My wife has always been by my side, and now my daughter is here. Peggy has been so supportive all these years, when I am working past midnight seven days a week all winter for years. I am dedicated to my clientele, but Peggy has the business degree. She does the books and oversees the apparel, and without her the business would not have survived. There are highs and lows, and she keeps me centered in the good years as well as the lean.”
Certified as a ski instructor in France at age 18, this is another role he filled at Taos since his arrival. He continues to do so today, working in the Ernie Blake Snowsports School. “I try to make people feel confident within themselves, to improve their technique and to make a difference in their skiing and lives. I think I might get bored if I just skied by myself,” Alain quipped, “I love, I love skiing, and movement pattern and analysis. As I get older I’m enjoying it more and more. I’m feeling closer to my mountain, closer to my guests, closer to my family. It is feeding my soul.”
A Skier and a Builder
Veth also has a contractor’s license and in the off-season is a homebuilder. “I love making things with my hands, from foundations to making cabinets, working with adobe. “If you do what you love you will never work a day in your life. That’s how I feel.”
The family home he built is in El Salto, near Arroyo Seco, at the foot of the mountains he’s come to cherish. Here Peggy and Alain raised daughter, Amanda, and son, Nicolas, who was a member of the University of New Mexico Ski Team. Both went to the World Junior Championship and finished in the top 15, and were invited to work with the U.S. Ski Team, but Amanda was injured and had to give it up. Nicolas’ career is still unfolding. “Yes, we are a racing family,” Alain says.
His personal favorite runs at Taos? “There’s so many beautiful, intricate and interesting runs, it’s difficult to pick just a few but I love the technical challenge and exposure of Dog Leg (on Kachina Peak’s approach to Hunziker Chute), and the theatrical aspect of Al’s Run, which I once skied top to bottom in one minute and twenty-fine seconds.”
He concludes, “I moved to Taos because the way it made me feel.” “It made me feel alive and Jean made me feel welcome. I didn’t come here for the money; I came because it is where I felt I belonged. I feel that more than ever now.”
For more on Le Ski Mastery of Taos Ski Valley call 575-776-1403 or visit www.leskimastery.com.