Meet Your Merchant: Tahoe Dave’s owner helps employees’ ‘ski bum’ lifestyle
When Dave Wilderotter was taking ski trips with his friends in college, they had a simple motto: “have a good time and stay out of jail.”
As a psychology major a the University of Michigan, Wilderotter, longtime owner of Tahoe Dave’s, said he had no idea he would end up as a permanent ski bum in Lake Tahoe still living by that saying.
“It was never my intention to stay or be in the ski business,” he said. “It was just one of those things that was working with me at the time.”
After moving to Aspen for a year right out of college, he said he decided to get a “real job” bartending in San Francisco. The money he made afforded him a mid-week ski lease in Lake Tahoe, where he worked part time at a rental shop and bussing tables at Alpine Meadows for a ski pass.
“Sometimes I have to remind myself that when I was 21 I lived the lifestyle of a ski bum. If I can help my employees with that lifestyle, I will.” — Dave Wilderotter, Tahoe Dave’s owner
It wasn’t long before he moved to Lake Tahoe full-time to start his own rental shop.
In 1977, Wilderotter opened up the first Tahoe Dave’s at the Henrikson building in Tahoe City. At the time it was nothing but a small tune-up shop with a collection of 15 pairs of rental skis.
Over the next two decades, he would see his small ski shop grow into a network of five stores around North Lake Tahoe. In 1990, he opened a location in downtown Truckee, followed by a new shop in Kings Beach and a dedicated snowboard shop in Tahoe City in 1994. In 1998, the location at the entrance to Squaw Valley was opened.
This weekend the Truckee location will be transitioning into the first Tahoe Dave’s Beach House, which will offer swimwear and beach essentials.
Wilderotter said it was never his intention to grow his business, but he did it to better support his employees.
“I had good people that wanted to make more money, and in order to do that they had to be in charge of more,” he said. “Once you get past a couple stores, then you have a staff that’s big enough to take the pressure off of everyday stuff.”
In order to retain employees Wilderotter said “you got to give them a lifestyle they like.” This includes access not only to the ski slopes, but also to affordable housing.
To help with this need, Wilderotter began buying up real estate that he would rent exclusively to his employees. This includes small homes in the Truckee RV park that he began to purchase around three years ago.
“It’s never difficult to find bodies; it’s difficult to find them housing,” he said.
Additionally, Wilderotter will assist his employees with security deposit payments for rental units and in some cases a down payment on a house.
“Some people have family money, some people have their own money and those that don’t, I can help them,” he said. “If somebody’s worth it, we make sure we keep them around.”
Each winter, Wilderotter purchases ski passes for his full-time employees to the mountain of their choice and subsidizes the passes for part-time employees.
“The thing about a ski bum is they’re always happy as long as they’re skiing,” said Wilderotter, who says he tries to align his employee schedules so they all get enough time on the slopes.
“Sometimes I have to remind myself that when I was 21 I lived the lifestyle of a ski bum,” he said. “If I can help my employees with that lifestyle, I will.
“I’m just making sure people have a good time and stay out of jail.”