Outdoors

The ski doctor is in and working in Methow Valley

WINTHROP -- Joanne Schmitz burst into Winthrop's Nordic Ultratune cross country ski shop on a Thursday afternoon.

She was frantic.

"Is this the ski hospital?" she asked hopefully.

"It is if you need it to be," calmly replied Mark Waechter, owner and one-man staff of the shop.

Waechter momentarily paused from doctoring up a batch of skis that came into the shop in the tiny town of Winthrop from as far away as Maine and New Hampshire to examine Schmitz's skis.

Schmitz, vacationing in the Methow Valley from Walla Walla, took a tumble on the trail earlier that day and suffered what proved to be fatal damage to one of her skis.

Waechter was able to salvage the other.

Similar to the way orthopedist-to-the-stars Dr. James Andrews has achieved a measure of celebrity for repairing torn rotator cuffs, Waechter is renowned for his ability to make the most trail-abused cross country skis slide and glide like new.

He's so good at what he does that the Slovenian cross country ski team has hired him to be its technician for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., just a six-hour drive from his shop over the North Cascades Highway.

"I was referred to them about four years ago by the cultural liaison that works with them when they're in North America," Waechter said. "I don't speak any Slovenian, but they all speak pretty good English. It's worked out pretty well for both of us."

In addition to stone-grinding any imperfections out of the bottom of the customer's skis, Waechter also offers a "flex analysis" to match up skiers with the right skis for the right conditions.

Oh, and he also sells top-of-the-line skis and apparel from noted manufacturers like Rossignol and Madshus.

"Skis are like two tires on a car, especially for the serious racers," said Waechter, 48. "They have to be tuned up every so often. Ferraris don't come with Pirellis (racing tires) on them."

The showpiece of Waechter's business, and the dominant figure of his small shop, is the Italian custom-built Tazzari stone grinder.

Resembling something out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, the stone grinder uses a spinning wheel to compress and finely smooth out the bottom of Nordic skis.

Waechter slides each ski that comes into the shop to be tuned up (50-60 pairs per week during the winter) into the front end of the machine and gently feeds it through five to 10 times.

"There are only two of these machines in the United States. One is here and the other is at a shop like this in Boulder, Colorado," Waechter said.

Waechter said that the service of skis makes up the primary portion of his business.

"I get skis shipped here from anywhere there's snow," he said. "Wisconsin, Minnesota, all over the Northwest, New England. I start a batch on Thursday and ship them out on Monday, so customers are just missing their skis for one weekend."

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