The Start Haus
As a young ski racer, Jim Schaffner was a gearhead. “When traveling
to races, I was always the go-to guy for any technical equipment knowledge or tools,” says Schaffner, who previously worked as the racing and
promotions manager for Salomon North America when the company saw
its first men’s World Cup downhill victory, on the new monocoque skis.
The U.S.-based team supported American Kyle Rasmussen, a longtime
veteran of the World Cup, for his first win on the Lauberhorn in Wengen,
What aspect of your background do you feel has given you the
ability to create success as a small business?
I was very fortunate through my ski racing connections to land a job with
Salomon North America, which was a great innovator of products as well
as a great marketing machine. Through that relationship I had the op-
portunity to learn all aspects of the ski business, from ski racing at the
international and professional level and technical training for retailers to
sales and, eventually, management. This provided me with a wide range
of relationships and skills for delivering products and services to the race
community. Ski racing has given me the ability to be a fierce competitor
in all aspects of my life. As I transitioned out of being an active athlete to
servicing other athletes who had that same passion for success, it helped
set me up in life. The drive to squeeze out the last bit of speed from every
run translates into valuable skills, whether we are talking about physical
conditioning, mental toughness, the preparation of your equipment, or the
commitment to being your best and laying it out there every single day.
You’re running a successful super-niche business within an al-
ready tiny industry — what’s your value proposition to your cus-
tomers that is creating success?
The Start Haus philosophy is very simple: under-promise and over-de-
liver. We strive to do that with every single customer, from the beginners
to the professional athletes and everyone in between. More specifically,
we consider ourselves craftsmen and craftswomen. The Start Haus hires
and cultivates professionals who know how to tune a ski that’s ready for
the World Cup, even if the ski is for an 11-year-old racer. The other value
proposition involves our relationship with our suppliers. As cutbacks con-
tinue within the supply chain, the suppliers are working with our business
as an extension of their race departments. We help to ensure that their
Tahoe-area sponsored or partially sponsored athletes get their skis, bind-
ings, and boots set up to maximize results for each brand. It’s a win-win-
win situation for the athlete, the Start Haus and the ski companies.
What motivates you to face a wall of skis in need of tuning, day-
in and day-out?
There is no better motivator for doing great prep work than race results.
We start every day at the Start Haus on the computer checking out race
results from the World Cup down to Tahoe leagues. We’re looking for vali-
dation of the work that we have been doing. Live timing is running through-
out the day as we track athletes’ results. We live for athletes winning on
skis that we have ground and prepped or skis have been through our hot-
How much time do you spend on every pair of skis that comes
through your shop?
It depends on the service that is being provided. But, on average, for a
brand-new race ski, or a ski that has just come off the grinder, the total
prep time for setting/polishing base edge; peeling and sanding the side-
wall and top sheet; setting/polishing the side edge angle; hot scraping;
brushing; and final wax; is about one hour.
How are you and your staff staying current?
We rely on many different resources. The most important: the athletes
themselves. Listening to what is happening on snow around the world is
key. Based on my industry background, I maintain contact with current
World Cup servicemen throughout the season. I try to make a pilgrim-mage to Beaver Creek for the men’s events to watch the races and hang
out in the service rooms. We also rely on information from the equipment
What do you think is the most exciting trend or technology in
We have been using the SnowGlide for the last two seasons. The com-
fort we have gained with the performance of hand-held machinery helped
us make the decision to invest in an automated ceramic disc edger from
Wintersteiger. We struggled the last two seasons trying to explain to our
clients why or when to use machinery versus hand work and have found
that we were able to get very similar behavior out of the ski with hand