In 1982 a young climber named Rich Gottlieb started covering lunch shifts at a small climbing shop called Rock and Snow in New Paltz, New York. Back then, it was only a part time gig. Fast-forward thirty years, and he’s in charge of one of the most long-standing, independent climbing shops in North America.
Opening its doors in 1970, Rock and Snow was the baby of Richard “Dick” Williams, a member of the “Vulgarians” climbing contingency – an infamous group of savvy, scalawag counter-culturists who found glory exploring the Gunks’ vertical wilderness in the 1960s. Rock and Snow quickly became the place for climbers and backpackers to find gear, beta and partners for the Gunks.
For more than forty years Rock and Snow has remained the go-to hub for climbers, hikers, and backpackers of all disciplines for gear, beta, and route info for all things Gunk. Owner Rich Gottlieb believes the success of the store is due in part to the commitment to egalitarian climbing ethos, an engaged and passionate staff, as well as an appreciation of irreverent humor. Rock and Snow has a cult reputation for producing esoteric t-shirts that amuse, befuddle, and ultimately entertain, intimating a connection to the Vulgarian enthusiasms of the 1960s.
Since then, the shop has seen some wear and tear. For instance, it burned to the ground on February 20, 1990 in an electrical fire. For three years Rock and Snow took refuge across the street while they rebuilt a new building with slightly more room, totaling 2,000-square-feet.
The current Rock and Snow structure is an award-winning, barn-styled design with high vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, and stainless steel cables holding together the pitched roof. Brimming with gear, history, and an inclusive vibe, Rock and Snow never lost touch with its original image.
Unlike many stand-alone shop owners who maintain a skeletal crew of devoted employees, Rock and Snow takes a different approach. “We run a big crew,” says Gottlieb. On weekends when the throngs of New York City climbers head for the hills, it gets busy. In big box stores it can be a struggle looking for someone to help you. “At Rock and Snow,” says Gottlieb, “it’s the other way around. We’re looking for you.”
Rock and Snow has long been a contributor to community events as well. They partner with running races, conduct shoe demos, provide rental packages, and participate in a long standing climbing festival. More recently they’ve added a consignment shop around the corner for climbers and outdoor enthusiasts to soften the realities of buying gear in a struggling economy. “We saw the need in the rough economy,” says Gottlieb. “And it seemed like the right time.” The consignment shop continues to bloom as summer approaches.
Many climbing shops develop their own cultures, often becoming unapproachable to newer or novice climbers. Not Rock and Snow. “We don’t want that sense of elitism here,” says Gottlieb. “We want an accessible environment for all who come in. We’re courteous, and very knowledgeable. We don’t play games and give people what we want them to have. We get them what they need.”