When Taylor Hatten drives up to a house, the neighbors get concerned.
Sometimes they come over to ask, “What’s wrong?”
“Pretty reasonable mistake to make,” said Hatten, the man behind the wheel of Rescue Unit #70, which at first glance looks like an ambulance.
“I haven’t done much to change the exterior,” Hatten said of the vehicle. “I’ll get my logo on there, eventually.”
He has put solar panels on top, but those aren’t too noticeable, and “Rawlins County” is still visible in outline on the back and sides. And, yes, the lights and siren still work.
When he opens the back doors, though, it’s clear this is a different kind of emergency vehicle. With a workbench along one side and compartments painted with green pine trees on the other, this is The Ski Ambulance, a mobile ski shop.
“If you call, I’m the only one who is going to be responding,” Hatten said.
And, no, he won’t be running lights and siren, just quality waxing, tune-ups and major repairs for skis and snowboards.
“I’ve taken on some really large repairs this year,” Hatten said. From a business standpoint, “the rocks have been good to me.”
Hatten opened The Ski Ambulance to customers in late November and while his mobile ski shop still surprises some, Hatten himself is not new to the ski and snowboard industry or the Grand Valley.
The 28-year-old grew up in Grand Junction and learned to ski at Powderhorn Mountain Resort. He started waxing skis in his parents’ garage with a clothes iron from Goodwill, and he earned his degree in economics from Colorado Mesa University.
He worked in the ski shop at the Sports Authority that used to be in Mesa Mall, and he then spent six seasons working in Powderhorn’s ski shop, three of those as the supervisor of the tech shop.
Last March, when the pandemic jerked the ski industry to a full stop and Hatten woke up one morning with no job, he decided to put his long-mulled over business idea into action.
PANDEMIC DIDN’T HURT
While some might think a pandemic wouldn’t be a good time to start a business, Hatten saw the timing for The Ski Ambulance as serendipitous.
Even his dad, Tim Hatten, who is a business professor at Colorado Mesa University, gave his son’s business idea the green light.
“He’s been stoked on it from the start,” said Taylor Hatten, who didn’t intend to slide from a ski bum into entrepreneur but hopes his dad is proud, anyway.
The “economy is shifting,” Hatten said. Convenience is prioritized by customers, so being mobile and offering quick, good service is key.
“The ambulance made a ton of sense,” Hatten said. He doesn’t have the overhead of brick-and-mortar and can work with the ambulance’s doors open to fresh air. He can go directly to his customers.
From having worked in the local ski industry for years, he saw plenty of room for another ski shop in the Grand Valley.
But first he had to find an ambulance. “I spent months shopping,” said Hatten, who quickly discovered that decommissioned ambulances currently are popular for home conversions.
Old ambulances often can be found on Craigslist and eBay, however Hatten found his at BigIron Auctions, an auction website better known for offering agricultural and construction equipment. It was “a real good deal,” he said.
In early July, Hatten and his dad drove past golden wheat fields ripe for harvest and into the town of Atwood in Rawlins County northwestern Kansas to get the ambulance.
“I want to say it’s an ‘86,” Hatten said. The vehicle has New York stickers on the windshield, so he thinks perhaps that was where it started out, eventually making its way to Kansas and now Grand Junction.
While it got a new engine shortly before he bought it, the ambulance has its quirks. “The gas gauge is nowhere near accurate,” Hatten said. “I just subtract a half a tank from what it tells me.”
He also always keeps a couple gas cans handy, just in case he needs them.
For the duration of the summer and into the fall, Hatten transformed the inside of the vehicle into a ski shop. He ripped out the bench seats and the locks for gurneys and disinfected everything. He replaced the floor and installed a workbench, a grinder and tools. He put solar panels on the roof to power the shop and added a back-up generator just in case he ever needed one.
INTERESTING SUMMER JOB
There were all the formal business details to attend to as well: a tax ID, insurance, business checking account, website and so on.
He also was busy with his summer seasonal job. “I mix fire retardant and load it on (air) tankers,” Hatten said.
For several summers he has worked for fire-retardant company Phos-Chek and with the Bureau of Land Management out of the Grand Junction Regional Airport.
The last wildfire season “was a big one,” he said. “This summer we did eight times as much as the previous summer.”
However, by the time Thanksgiving arrived, he had his mobile ski shop ready to roll. At first, he did hand waxing and tune ups for friends so he could figure out his workflow. And then, without a grand opening and a date he can’t recall, he had a paying customer.
“December was busier than I had any anticipation for,” Hatten said.
Customers called him directly to set up appointments or booked themselves using the calendar on his website, skiambulance.com.
He has spent chunks of time at some homes tuning boards or skis for entire families, four or five pairs at one time, “which is great for me,” he said.
Back when he was putting together his business plan, he thought he would have to have a larger service area than the valley to sustain his business. Fortunately, he has discovered that the Grand Valley has plenty of skis and snowboards to keep him busy.
While it might not be known as a ski town, “I think Grand Junction is a great ski community,” Hatten said.
His customers have told him they’re happy to have another option for ski and snowboard tuning, and “I’m super happy to be the one offering it,” he said.