Sunday Profile: Jankovsky enjoying the retired side of the slope
Rob Jankovsky couldn’t help himself when a customer walked through the door at Sunlight Ski and Bike Shop last week while he waited to be interviewed by the local newspaper.
The sales crew was busy with other customers, so Jankovsky wasted no time making sure she was immediately acknowledged with a friendly, “Can I help you?”
It’s a question he’s probably repeated hundreds of thousands of times over the past 30 years as the face of Sunlight’s retail enterprise, up until his retirement last year just before the start of the 2014-15 ski season.
Since then, he has spent a lot more time on the ski slopes and bike paths than he has equipping locals and visitors to follow those same active pursuits. But it doesn’t take long to see that his passion for the trade hasn’t diminished.
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“It’s just fun to deal with all the people we’ve gotten to know over the years, and to help them have their fun,” he said.
For most of those 30 years, Jankovsky has managed the downtown Glenwood Springs ski shop that is part of Sunlight Mountain Resort’s operations.
The younger brother of Tom Jankovsky, longtime general manager of the ski mountain located 10 miles south of town and a Garfield County commissioner for the past five years, Rob Jankovsky remembers making a phone call to Tom in the summer of 1985 to let him know that Sunlight was looking for a new manager.
At the time, Tom was at a ski area in Alaska and Rob had been taking a break from the ski business after several years working for their uncle, Joe Jankovsky, who owned the A-Basin ski area in Summit County.
Tom got the job at Sunlight, and soon asked Rob to come join him as head of base area operations, including the retail shop, rentals and food services.
“I had sort of forgotten what it was like, so I said ‘yes,’” Rob Jankovsky jokes. “It’s a tough business, because it gears up so fast and furious when the ski season rolls around. And, like a farmer, you’re so dependent on Mother Nature to make it happen on time.
“Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.
A few years later, the Jankovsky brothers were part owners of Sunlight when the board decided it was time for the ski area to have more exposure down in town.
“We just felt like we needed some presence in town for people to learn about the ski area, ask about passes and get their rentals before heading up to the mountain,” Jankovsky said.
“It was a huge boost to the ski area, and it still works,” he said. “We probably get as many calls at the shop just from people asking general questions about Sunlight as the ski area itself.”
For the first few years, the ski shop operated in the H&R Block building in the 1300 block of Grand Avenue before moving to its current location at 309 Ninth St. in the building now owned by the Goluba brothers that served as the first City Market grocery store.
Through their many years in Glenwood Springs, Rob and his wife Melissa Jankovsky raised two daughters, Tess and Molly. Both grew up on the ski mountain and are still in Colorado working in the health care industry.
It was about 18 years ago that a 26-year-old Kevin Horch walked through the doors looking for work after he and his now-wife Christine relocated “on the spur of the moment” from Ohio.
A short stint at the big chain sporting goods store in Glenwood Springs at the time “wasn’t for me,” Horch said. He met Jankovsky who was looking for an assistant manager. The result has been a successful career as well for Horch, who is now head manager for the store.
“Like a lot of people, we came here for a life of adventure,” Horch, who had learned to snowboard back east, said. “We thought about Crested Butte, but then we found this great place and we just couldn’t go anywhere else.”
He and Christine are also now raising their two children in Glenwood Springs, Marley, 10, and Hannah, 7, enjoying their time on the Sunlight slopes during the winter same as the Jankovskys did with their children.
“Rob really taught me how to be a steward of our mountain and to be a supporting member of the community,” Horch said. “As a manager you need to work through a lot of different problems, and really, everyone who comes through the door has their own little problem that needs to be fixed.”
Horch said it’s easy for retail operations that start small and grow into larger chains to lose their focus on individual customers. The Sunlight shop and its regular customers are more like a family, he said.
“We work really hard to keep people coming back year after year,” he said. “I feel like my job is to help facilitate a good time. That’s just what we do.”
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Jankovsky recalled that the smaller, independent ski areas that used to be more prevalent always had a retail component. But the bigger ski resorts shied away from getting directly involved in the retail side of the industry until more recently.
“It’s nice to be able to tie what we do to the ski area, and give people the complete package,” he said.
That was especially true when snowboarding began to take off in the 1980s as an alternative to skiing, and then again when ski designs moved away from the speedier straight cut to the more beginner- and intermediate-friendly shaped cuts.
“Snowboarding in particular really brought the youth back into the sport, and we still see how popular snowboarding is at Sunlight,” Jankovsky said. “And now we have the rocker skis and snowboards that have made it a lot easier to learn.”
Horch agreed, adding, “With the advent of the side cut it has certainly helped with the retention of skiers who can stick with it longer.”
The same has been true with the popularity of backcountry gear, as well as with mountain bikes and road bikes ever since the Sunlight store expanded into a year-round business soon after moving into town.
“The bike part of the business has grown to the point where it’s as big as the skis and snowboards,” Jankovsky said. “Especially when it comes to sales and repairs.”
Come November, though, Sunlight definitely prefers to see the snow start to fly.
“The snow really brings the excitement for the ski season,” Jankovsky said. “We like it when it’s cold and snowy, and when we’re having trouble keeping enough neck gaiters in stock.”
Jankovsky, who will be 63 next month, is counting down the days himself until Sunlight’s scheduled Dec. 11 opening, when he can enjoy his retirement days to their fullest.
“I’ve sure been getting in more biking and swimming and skiing since I retired,” he said. “It’s been a great year of having fun in this great town we live in.”
Meanwhile, Horch is busy logging those long hours putting his own stamp on Sunlight Ski and Bike, including a new “Revamped, Re-amped” theme.
“We have a lot of new vendors this season and every couple of weeks we move things around in the store to keep it fresh,” Horch said.
The latest rage? Snow skates, which are basically skateboards without wheels that allow the more adventuresome to navigate the ski mountain and terrain park without being strapped in.
Horch also oversees retail operations at Sunlight Mountain, but he’s quick to point out that he couldn’t do any of it alone.
Rigel Blessley, who started working for Sunlight as a teenager, holds down the rental operations at the mountain. And, the assistant managers at the store are Russell Cave and Chris Hays.
“This is such a great family of people to work with, and I’m so glad Rob and his family have stuck with it all these years,” Horch said.
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