JOHN RILEY: YOU NEVER FORGET YOUR FIRST
In Somerset, Massachusetts, John Riley’s shop, The Ski House, has shared a love affair with Nordica for more than fifty years.
It started in the late 1950s in Norman LeConte’s house on Riverside Avenue.
John Riley’s stepfather, William Farze, restless at his bookkeeping job with the Sagamore Mill in Fall River, went into the retail ski business with his buddy, Norman. At first it was part-time, the inventory crowding LeConte’s small basement, the repair and tune-up work squeezed into a workbench in the corner. John’s earliest childhood memory of the shop is being fitted out with tiny leather boots and wooden skis and tromping across the basement floor, and Norman’s booming voice calling out, “Which way to the slopes!”
John’s father skied at Cannon in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It was a serious place for a 10-year-old beginner. John remembers standing there, looking up at the mountain for the first time, and thinking, Oh my God. That’s a lot steeper than President Avenue. They stayed that night at the newly opened Tamarack Lodge, run by Jack Kenney, Bode Miller’s grandfather.
His first job for his dad, as a young teenager, was re-screwing and replacing the segmented metal edges that had become detached from customers’ skis, and then painting a lacquer called “Fast Ski” onto the wooden bases. He did the work next to a little bench where he engraved peoples’ names onto the tops of their skis.
His father bought the business from LeConte and moved it from the basement to its current location in the winter of ’62 -’63. All five boys in the family pitched in after school and on weekends. The big seller for boots in the leather days was Henke, but Nordica took over after pioneering the technology of injection-molded plastic, and it’s been pretty much a Nordica shop for more than four decades. “I remember the first Nordica rep who worked with us,” says John. “Not his name — but he drove a Saab, and I thought, That’s so cool. Now we’re selling Nordicas to the kids and grandkids of the people we first sold boots to. That’s what everyone still seems to want. Because the boots fit.
“I’ll never forget my first pair of Nordicas. They were red Nordica Pros. They were plastic boots with leather liners, a little lower-cut than the Bananas. I used to love the smell of them. I was skiing on blue Hart Super Pro metal skis and had those red boots... I thought I was the cat’s meow. When you’re 18, it’s all about looks. It’s still the same today.”