In 1973, Gary Neptune opened the doors to Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colorado. What started as a retail store for climbing enthusiasts later evolved to offer ski equipment. Eventually, Gary even added a climbing and skiing museum to the store, one which features the most extensive collection of its kind in the country. Neptune Mountaineering has always been a place where you can share your love of the outdoors and adventure with those who shop and work there. When Gary decided to sell the business to devote more time to climbing and skiing, he chose Backwoods Retail, a family-owned business based in Austin. However, he still owns and is actively involved in the museum, and takes time to meet with visiting groups to share his love of mountaineering history.
Q. Why did you choose Boulder as the location for Neptune Mountaineering back in the ’70s?
A. I chose Boulder for the location because I lived there. When I moved to Boulder, I was fortunate to get a job at Holubar, which was then one of the premier outdoor stores in the country, and I chose to live there because it was one of the few places where I could climb before and/or after work. Boulder also offers a huge variety of climbing that suited my broad interests. Skiing came later and revolved around all forms of touring and even track skiing.
Q. When someone visits Neptune Mountaineering, what can they expect?
A. I did my best to make the store a place where I would like to shop and work. I wanted to be able to outfit climbers for any sort of climbing adventure, support important aspects of the climbing community, and inspire climbers with shows, events and what became the museum. The shows occurred more than weekly for over 30 years and continue to this day. Since I no longer own the store, I cannot speak for the goals of the current owner, but I think the potential is huge and wonderful. I do know that the staff is absolutely super. They are a big reason why I am happy to spend time there.
Q. Having a museum inside a retail store is pretty unique. What sort of artifacts and exhibits do you have there?
A. In the museum, you’ll currently find a very complete history of climbing gear, which dates from the late 1800s. The display includes hardware from the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger, which was donated by Anderl Heckmair, who led most that climb. The museum also exhibits artifacts from the high mountains, including boots and crampons from the first ascent of Mount Everest. Peter Habeler donated the down suit that he wore on the first ascent of Everest without bottled oxygen. Additionally, a friend of the store donated a big toe, one of two that was lost to frostbite. There is also a large selection of alpine and Nordic touring gear. You can see some of the first Rottefella six-pin ski bindings and the heavier Zdarsky and Bilgeri bindings, both of which are over 100 years old.
Q. A few years ago, you sold Neptune Mountaineering to Backwoods Retail. Why did you choose a family-owned retailer to sell to rather than a big corporation? What positive aspects have they preserved from the original store?
A. I had promised that I would sell the store by the time I turned 70. While we were preparing all the various reports and other information to do the job, a mutual friend introduced me to Jen Mull, CEO of Backwoods. Neither of us was quite ready to buy or sell, but it seemed reasonable. I really hadn’t done any significant searching, and I haven’t looked back. Jen has retained a superb staff, and allowed me to keep the museum there. The store has also continued to host weekly shows and more.
This article was originally published in RANGE Magazine Issue Five.