Published in Onboard Magazine Issue 119, January 2011
WORDS: Uli Kohler
For this month’s coreshop we travelled to Feldkirch in Vorarlber, the westernmost part of Austria and met Thomas Alton, whose skatehouse is a snowboarding hub that boasts a good selection of products and is also heavily involved in the regional scene.
If you know the facts of how thomas got involved in his father’s shoe store in 1996, how he helped build the snowpark in Damüls over 10 years ago and that he supports a team of almost 20 riders across different action sports it seems flat out impossible that he himself is only 28 years old. “Well, in 1996 I had an idea, my dad had the plan, and he helped me set up a boardsports business within his shoe and fashion store. I was twelve years old when I wrote my first order.” He worked in the store after school, and upon finishing high school he worked full-time on establishing Alton’s Skatehouse as the best boardsports store in Western Austria. At the end of last decade they modified the entire building and since 2001 the Skatehouse is an entity that includes a bar, a DJ stand and a video games corner.
Apart from the retail business Thomas has always been eager to push the local shred scene: “I am a die-hard snowboarder and it is in my interest to push the sport I love. Unfortunately overall the snowboard scene is shrinking. The most important thing therefore is to push the groms!” More than ten years ago his crew started building the Damüls Snowpark – “our baby” as he calls it – which arguably has since grown to become the best park in the entire region.
More famous, though, than the shop’s resort activities, is the annual rookie event up in Damüls. It follows an unique concept where European talents have the opportunity to present themselves to the most important European snowboard journalists and brands. Thomas dreamed up the event while doing his compulsory community service. “Last spring we already saw the seventh edition of the Austrian Rookie Challenge. It has grown into the most respected rookie event in the German-speaking region.” It is hard to refute this when you look at its past winners, among them well-known names like Werni Stock, Marc Swoboda or Niki Korpela. In 2010 local talent David Loibl won the event, which is – different from most other snowboard events – entirely judged by the media on-site. He happens to be in the Skatehouse’s team as well, which currently includes twelve rippers from Vorarlberg, and is yet more proof that Thomas and his crew are serious about boosting the local shred scene.
However, there are also some business challenges ahead. The most severe? “We have to compete against big retailers that now carry the brands we helped establish.” So how does he make sure his Skatehouse will exist in ten years time? “It is a daily struggle, but we always try to be that little better than the big ones.” One plus is the big selection of small brands in his shop: “It is hard for those big players to copy the core styles and trends. That will be our right to exist.” Looking around in the shop, and feeling the commitment Thomas, his family and the employees put into the business and all the activities we are sure they will prevail. If you want to support your local scene, though, you should do your share and buy your gear from the core store next door – just like Alton’s Skatehouse.