Klaus Obermeyer has a unique perspective of skiing (and the outdoor industry) in the United States. Our 102-year-old founder has quite literally built the ski industry in the US by hand, alongside legends who will forever be remembered in skiing’s cannon. He’s experienced first-hand the inception and growth of skiing, and he’s contributed to the evolution of the sport. Since 1947, Klaus has worked with valued partners to cobble together a brand with roots. One of these valued partners for decades has been REI.
REI is behemoth in the outdoor industry. The green-vested store employees answer questions from core “outdoor enthusiasts” while welcoming new and interested people without pretense or judgement. Do you want to hear about a ski’s rocker profile or ask minute questions about a ski jacket’s waterproof membrane? The REI team gladly welcomes product deep dives. Are you looking to go on a day hike but don’t know where to start? The REI will guide you towards an enjoyable entre into the outdoors without making you feel like a kook. This is their secret sauce: they can code switch from diehard to never-ever without missing a beat.
From the beginning, REI seemed to get it. Klaus Obermeyer has a first-person POV of their origin story because Obermeyer and REI have deep roots as partners. Back in the day, Klaus watched, visited, and supported REI when it was just a small red home in a Seattle suburb.
“The first REI retail store symbolized something really important in America,” remembers Klaus. “This brick-and-mortar store devoted to adventures in nature showed that we were starting to appreciate the outdoors.”
The origin of an appreciation for the outdoors sounds a bit arcane today in a world where we’re inundated with adventures on social media, stories about exploring, emails compelling us to “protect our winters,” and hashtags that call us to #GetOutside. But, in those days, the outdoor industry was a subculture.
Comprised of obsessed ski bums, dirtbag climbers, salty surfers, and rootsy hikers, the outdoor industry was the zone of exiles. REI spoke to the passionate people on the fringe. There were handpicked coats, made by Klaus, that made skiing in February a bit warmer and drier. There were carabiners crafted over an anvil that climbers could trust. There were like-minded people who would point you towards untrodden trails to stoke your love for adventure.
That vibe still emanates from REI’s doors.
Like Obermeyer, REI has been around for a long time. Like REI, Obermeyer’s brand and business has grown as skiing and the outdoor industry has grown. We all have grown together. And, we’ll all continue to evolve as America’s love for the outdoors evolves.
Cheers to the next 75 years…