Coast Mountain Sports turns 20

Corina Zumer used to go skiing in Europe every year. She'd leave for months at a time and wasn't worried about ever losing her job. When she was ready to go back to work, she'd give her boss a call.

Corina Zumer used to go skiing in Europe every year.

She’d leave for months at a time and wasn’t worried about ever losing her job.

When she was ready to go back to work, she’d give her boss a call and that was that.

Management at Coast Mountain Sports would look forward to having her return refreshed, with new ideas and enthusiasm.

That flexibility is hard to find elsewhere, said Zumer, who has held various roles with the company since 1996.

“They bend over backwards for you,” she said.

“They try to help you out to make your own dreams come true. If I wasn’t happy there I would never have stayed this long.”

Coast Mountain Sports is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

The outdoor store has grown considerably in that time, both in terms of space and its impact on the community.

In 1994, co-owners Mary-Jane Warshawski and her husband Craig Hougen turned Northern Outdoors into Coast Mountain Sports. That doubled the store’s size to 4,800 square feet, from 2,400.

Today, they run Taku Sports Group Inc. – which also includes Sports Experts (formerly Sportslife), Hougen’s Sportslodge and Board Stiff – and their operations cover about 30,000 square feet.

Setting up an outdoor store in the early ‘90s was a risky venture, Warshawski said.

Until then, the apparel was mostly marketed towards people who were likely to climb Mt. Logan, she added.

“Now, everybody has to stay warm,” she said.

“That’s when we realized there was a strong demand in our marketplace for technical, functional fashion. We have an adventurous population here.

“And it can even be adventurous to walk your dog outside when it’s 30 below. The climate and people made a strong demand for really good insulation.”

Warshawski said there are two main reasons to celebrate Coast Mountain Sports’s anniversary this year: the staff and the company’s corporate social responsibility mandate.

“We wanted to honour our staff during a recent business after hours because we really believe they’ve made it the store that it is today,” she said.

“They’ll sell you the right stuff, not the stuff that’s the most expensive. The staff love the outdoors and really believe in what they’re selling.

“We don’t often think about how private retailers and small companies can do little things to give back to the community but it adds up over time.”

Twenty years ago, Coast Mountain Sports launched its first Share the Warmth event.

The goal was to get as many people as possible to donate a gently used, insulated jacket. In return, they would get a discount on a new coat.

The used jackets are then cleaned and distributed to those in need.

Over the years it’s estimated they’ve handed out close to 3,000 of them.

“That’s more than 10 per cent of the population here,” Warshawski pointed out.

“It’s part of our philosophy of trying to build and support our community.”

The company also helps sponsor activities and organizations around town, such as the F.H. Collins fashion show and the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club.

To help local artists, they buy the rights to art and display it on products such as mugs, T-shirts and tuques.

The support isn’t limited to Yukon residents, though.

In an effort to help people in developing countries, Coast Mountain Sports has partnered with Ambler Mountain Works, a Canadian company that sources fleece snowflakes from women in the Himalayas. All proceeds go to the Whitehorse Food Bank.

In 2008, Warshawski and Hougen began renovating the Taku Building and eventually turned it into a state-of-the-art green building.

The floors were upgraded and insulated with mineral wool insulation, the exterior walls were widened and the windows were triple glazed, among other eco-friendly upgrades.

It was eventually certified as the Yukon’s first L.E.E.D. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building.

Warshawski said it made sense for them to put their money where their mouths were.

“If we’re an outdoor store, we should be believing in the outdoors,” she said.

People can bring their gently used jackets to Coast Mountain Sports, Sports Experts or Board Stiff until Oct. 19 and get $50 off the purchase of a new one.

Contact Myles Dolphin at