Suburban Shred

January 2019 View more

King Keyser owners Jim Laufman (left) and Rick Johnson model their ski shop’s products.

Chicagoland’s oldest ski shop has been outfitting the area for over 65 years

By Annemarie Mannion

While some people may shudder at the sight of snowflakes dancing in the winter air, it’s pure excitement for Jim Loufman and Rick Johnson, who own King Keyser Specialty Sports (41 South Washington Street,, a ski and snowboard shop in Hinsdale.

All things skiing are available at the store that was founded in 1952, but back in the day, guns and hockey equipment could also be found on the shelves. Loufman and Johnson purchased the shop 25 years ago. Besides ski equipment, they provide a range of services from checking bindings, to fitting boots or waxing a snowboard or skis.

For kids who crave outdoor fun, the store offers the Trolls Ski & Snowboard Club for ages 9 to 16. In the 10-week program, skiers and snowboarders of all levels and abilities travel by bus to Wisconsin, visiting Wilmot or Alpine Valley. Membership in the club is $350, and each trip costs $50.

Here’s what Loufman says about how he and Johnson share their passion for hitting the slopes.

How did you get involved in owning King Keyser?
The short story is that both Rick and I had worked at different ski shops. We’re both ski enthusiasts and have a common interest in love of skiing. We both knew wanted to eventually own a ski shop. Neither of us wanted to be a cog in someone else’s corporation. We wanted to own something ourselves and control our own destiny.

How would you describe what the store offers?
Our core business is downhill skiing. It’s still our mainstay. Snowboarding is a large component. We also have cross-country equipment and a range of functional winter clothing.

Are most of your customers traveling outside the Midwest for ski vacations?
Some of our customers are, but if it’s cold at night our local venues have snowmaking ability and are open. Alpine Valley, Wilmot, Devil’s Head, and Cascade Mountain in Wisconsin are common destinations. There is skiing just across the Illinois-Wisconsin border. It’s happening. It’s game on.

What do you offer for skiing novices?
If they don’t know if they’re going to love it, then they can rent equipment from us. You don’t have to rent wet boots (at the venues) that someone else was wearing yesterday. You can rent from us and show up ready to head up the lift and start skiing immediately.

What are benefits of having boots custom fitted?
Performance and comfort is enhanced for sure. The boot matches your foot shape specifically and it takes under an hour to do.

What are some new trends in ski equipment?
Everything is getting lighter. The new frontier is lighter materials that still offer high performance. It’s an advantage all around. They’re easier to transport and carry. They’re not heavy on your feet when you’re going up the lift. It makes it more fun all around.

Why shop at King-Keyser for outdoor clothing?
We know winter clothing and how to dress people for winter weather. We have down and synthetic clothing that’s insulated and as warm as down. We have apparel that’s waterproof and breathable. For downhill skiing we offer Atomic, Nordica, Blizzard, and Head. For snowboarding, we carry Burton, Capita, and K2. Anything we recommend is stuff we’ve tested ourselves.

What do kids enjoy about the Trolls club?
It’s a fun Saturday. It’s very social. They get to ski and have some independence.

What do you offer that an online shop cannot?
A full-service specialty ski shop is becoming kind of a rarity now. At our shop, you can see it, touch it, experience it, and have a conversation with someone who knows all about it. We’re very plugged in to the pulse of the ski industry. We have people coming from all over for that experience.

Photograph by Bari Baskin