Courtesy of the Kavouksorian’s
Peter and Joann Kavouksorian
By Katy Savage
RUTLAND— Peter Kavouksorian remembers when skis were made of wood, boots were made of leather and bindings pinned at the toe.
Back in the 1960s, Nordic skiing was a new sport and Kavouksorian was eager to take part. He took his “funny, skinny skis” and his boots – “basically bowling shoes” down the slopes of Killington, trying to make turns on skis that had no edges.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “Most people didn’t see the appeal of it at all. We had just enough control and we were young and dumb enough to do anything.”
Kavouksorian and his wife, Joann, opened a store called Mountain Travelers in Rutland in 1976, just as the concept of Telemark skiing was emerging. They had one of the first Telemark stores around. Now they are one of the last in New England.
After 42 years of creating adventures for other people, the couple is retiring.
“It’s time to have our own adventures,” Joann said.
Friends who regularly ski with the two are happy for them, but sad to see them go.
“I think it’s great for them,” said Murray McGrath, who regularly skis with Peter and Joann. “I’m going to miss the shop. The area is going to lose a lot.”
Their store has attracted people from all over the country, who have relied on Peter’s friendliness and industry expertise.
“People drive five hours to talk to him because he has the knowledge and passion to set them up with the right equipment,” Joann said.
The Kavouksorians –the store’s only employees – weathered the rise and fall of the telemark business and the economy.
They kept the store going even though Peter admits he doesn’t get paid any more.
“Something we found out – everything starts, then it starts to taper off, then it drops off,” Peter said.
Peter noted he doesn’t have good business skills.
“We’re just survivors,” he said. “That’s what it amounts to. You just got to keep going.”
But Joann said it’s more than that – the store just suits him.
“It is who he is,” Joann said. “He is Mountain Travelers–that’s his life,” she said.
Peter was one of five kids. His mother was a psychologist and his father was a doctor, but Peter, who studied biology in college, never thought of joining the medical field.
“I wasn’t smart enough to be a doctor, frankly,” he said.
Peter had worked in ski shops and garages since age 13. He liked the outdoors and the equipment that came with it.
Peter, who is from Upstate New York and Joann, who’s from Cape Cod, came to Vermont in the late 1960s to take part in the emerging Killington Resort.
Peter’s parents were early investors in Killington and he became a cross country ski instructor, while Joann was a downhill instructor.
They met, fell in love, got married and started the store within a year.
“We live in Vermont and we needed a job,” Peter said. “It seemed like a great idea. “Vermont was a haven from the craziness of the world. It was safe and it was green and it wasn’t the city.”
Peter and Joann have always sold high-end equipment and stuck to their niches – backcountry skiing, alpine touring and Telemark in the winter and kayaking, paddleboarding and hiking in the summer.
Peter learned the industry by testing the equipment himself. He credits John Tidd, who established Mountain Meadows Cross Country Ski Area in the 1970s, as his mentor, though Tidd said Peter is just as good as he is.
“He’s extremely knowledgeable,” Tidd said. “He’s a great talker and a great person who makes connections with all sorts of people. Everyone who shops in that shop considers Peter a friend, not a salesperson.”
They worked six days a week for most of their career.
“We never got to travel. We lived within our means,” Joann said.
When they’re not working, they escape to their camp in the Adirondacks.They take one week of vacation a year, though they don’t always agree on where to go. Joann prefers the ocean, while Peter prefers the mountains.
Every Wednesday, they ski with a group of telemark friends.
“It became a lifestyle,” their son, Mike said. “It’s a contagious thing.”
Though they’re sad to see it go, the Kavouksorian’s family and friends are eager for them to sell the store.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for them to do it and feel comfortable to do it,” son Mike said. “My dad waited until he thought it was right.”
“Many of us have encouraged him to sell the shop and move on because he has put his heart and soul into it for so long,” Tidd said. “I honor Peter for going 120 percent. He loves it, but it gets to a point where other things are more important.”
Both Peter and Joann have also had a round of health challenges recently.
Peter was nearly killed four years ago in a motorcycle accident. He had eight broken bones and a concussion. It took him two years to recover.
Earlier this year, Joann was in the hospital for a month with kidney issues.
“She told me there would be life beyond Mountain Travelers and I didn’t believe her,” Peter said. “It started to dawn on me.”
Now that they’re both healthy, they’re eager to have time for themselves.
Peter and Joann plan to close in mid-April. They’ll stay in the Rutland area and travel while spending time with their grandchildren.
“It’s time to go play – for more than an hour,” Peter said.