Mountain Sports Celebrates 50 Years of Promoting Outdoor Adventure
Outdoor lifestyle family business credited with promoting Flagstaff’s character, introducing new sports, keeping recreationists comfortable, creating local
jobs and championing environmental conservation
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – For half a century, Mountain Sports has proven that having a passion for what you do, living your brand, aligning with your customers’ values, staying on top of trends and giving back to your community are key to outfitting your business for success. The family-owned and operated specialty outdoor retailer is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with activities leading up to its grand celebration at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Flagstaff, Friday, Nov. 3.
“Growing up with Mountain Sports, in a family that cares deeply about the outdoors and in a community that values conservation, environmental education and wild places, has shaped me and the business,” said Mountain Sports owner Lisa Lamberson. “My parents (Mark and Rosie Lamberson), both entrepreneurs, are my role models. Early on, I came to understand that we are deeply rooted in community building, and I am incredibly grateful to our loyal customers for giving us the opportunity to cultivate and give back to our community.”
The Mountain Sports story began in Casper, Wyoming when two young men who loved to ski, Mark Lamberson, 22, and his brother, Bruce, 20, wanted to start a business, earn at least $100 a week each and have time for their favorite sport. With a $20,000 loan from a close family friend, they opened Mountain Sports, which became the source for all things alpine skiing and the place to go to find out about the next great outdoor activity before it hit mainstream America.
“We were passionate outdoor enthusiasts ourselves,” said Mark. “We first had a ski shop and then camping and backpacking were becoming new outdoor sports in the ‘70s, beyond Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts. We were early adopters of all these things – water skiing, mountain biking, windsurfing, snowboarding – we’d try them out, buythe gear and our excitement about the next new sport would lead to other people wanting to do it, too.”
“We were having fun and didn’t realize we would be participating in sports that didn’t even exist when we opened the business,” said Bruce Lamberson, who still owns and operates the Casper store. “It was at a time when there was this whole culture shift in America. The Vietnam War was happening, hippies wanted to be outside and there was an emergence of outdoor specialty stores.”
On Nov. 2, 1973, Mountain Sports opened with 100 puffy jackets in four sizes and three colors. “Nobody had ever seen these before. And they just sold like, boom! said Bruce. “Business was really simple back then. We were fearless, probably naïve and full of energy.”
“We had a tiger by the tail,” said Mark. “From the very beginning, we had tapped into something that was taking off. Our business grew very quickly over the first seven or eight years and we realized Casper was going to tap out.”
They wanted to expand into an additional store in a new location and a friend advised them to check out an Arizona mountain town called Flagstaff. With a business assessment created by a Northern Arizona University business professor, Mark and Rosie made the move with their two young children, Bret and Lisa, and opened Mountain Sports Flagstaff on Milton Road.
“Like many people, we moved to Flagstaff for the lifestyle,” said Mark. “It’s what unites all of us. Rosie and I jumped in with both feet.”
“We were hardwired as kids to love the outdoors, to live for it, to appreciate it. And there wasn’t any shortage of good gear,” saidrealtor Bret Lamberson, of Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty, about growing up with his sister, Lisa and Mountain Sports. “Our dad was adventurous in every respect. I remember wanting a BMX bike for Christmas one year and he said, ‘I have something you’re going to like even more. It’s really cool, called a mountain bike. You’re going to love it.’ And he was right!”
Both Bret and Lisa worked in the store as teenagers and gained an appreciation for high quality brands. “We have always had a joyous energy in the store with people who love to work hard and play harder,” said Lisa. “Our customers know we focus on quality brands. Some share stories of having kept the same jacket for 40 years!”
At one time, Mountain Sports had three stores in Arizona, two in Flagstaff and one in Prescott. In the early 2000s, the business narrowed its focus to primarily an outdoor apparel store, focusing on Patagonia clothing in Flagstaff’s historic downtown district. As it has evolved, Mountain Sports has hired hundreds of employees, providing many college students like Sarah Morton with their first professional job.
“It was pretty cool to be nurtured by Mark and Rosie who recognized what your potential might be,” said Morton, who continued in the outdoor recreation industry and opened “Clear Water Outdoor” in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. “The experience gave me a passion I didn’t know I had about connecting products with the outdoors and getting people into nature.”
For half a century, the name Mountain Sports has been synonymous with outdoor adventure and the legacy continues. “It is a fun-loving industry that cares deeply about the outdoors. Through our partnership with 1% for the Planet, Mountain Sports Flagstaff has been able to grant more than $250,000 back to local environmental education and conservation organizations, which is super meaningful to me,” said Lisa. “Without our loyal, longtime customer support, none of that giving would be possible.”
Mountain Sports 50th anniversary activities include honoring local artists during First Friday ArtWalks, participating and supporting the Flagstaff Star Party, Sept. 21 – 23, hosting a Trail to Tavern guided hike and pint night with The Arboretum on Thursday, Sept. 28 and hosting a free grand celebration open to past and present employees as well as community members and partners at the Orpheum. The Friday, Nov. 3 celebration will include raffles benefiting the 1% for the Planet partnering organizations, stories of 50 years in retail, a slideshow of past employees and locations, photo booth and more.
For more about upcoming Mountain Sports Flagstaff activities and events, visit https://www.
Mountain Sports co-founder Mark Lamberson and his daughter, owner Lisa Lamberson, invite the community to celebrate the 50thanniversary of the family-owned and operated specialty outdoor retailer that has grown up with Flagstaff, reflecting the values of the outdoor adventure-oriented town.
Photo by Kristen Carnes