Long-time sporting goods industry executive Norbert Olberz, 86, who founded Sports Chalet in 1959, died of natural causes last Friday the company announced on Sunday.
Olberz served as CEO of Sports Chalet for 40 years until 1999, and he remained as chairman until 2001. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Irene, his sister, Elizabeth Lepper, his son, Eric, and by his grandchildren Karl and Markus.
Trained as a pastry chef, Olberz emigrated from his native Germany to Canada prior to settling, permanently, in the United States. He learned to ski on Oregon’s Mt. Hood and, captivated by the sport, sank his entire life savings - $10,000 - into the 1959 opening of a ski shop in Southern California’s La Cañada Flintridge. Together with his wife they quite literally lived their dream. Sleeping on cots in the back of the store and cooking over a single burner propane stove, they grew the business from a niche store for winter sport enthusiasts into a leading retailer of sport specialty gear that, over the next decade, came to include scuba, mountain climbing and footwear.
Sport Chalet expanded slowly during its early years of operation, entering new categories and opening new stores gradually. The company went public in 1992 and today operates 55 stores, predominantly in California, as well as Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
Olberz was regarded as a consummate entrepreneur who opened and expanded a variety of businesses over the decades including a popular ski area motel, a travel company specializing in adventure activities and manufacturing companies that produced outdoor gear under the brand name Camp 7 and athletic apparel under the brand Pacific Mountain Sports.
In 2006, at age 80, Olberz, with his son Eric, began work on a new multi-million dollar shopping center and corporate office in La Cañada Flintridge, directly over his first store. In 2009, Olberz was inducted into the National Sporting Goods Hall of Fame and, in 2011, was the recipient of the Far West Ski Association's “Snow Sports Builder Award.”