Employees take over Twin Cities ski business from iconic owner

A legend in the local cross-country skiing community is handing over the reins of his business to three of his employees.

Finn Sisu has stood on Larpenteur for 13 years after 32 on University and it’s had one owner all along. Now he’s gliding away, but his business won’t meet the same fate as some others like it.

"People told me you're crazy," Ahvo Taipale said of the early days.

Taipale was skiing uphill in the late 1970s when he started Finn Sisu.

"‘Finn’ is because of my ethnic background," he said. "‘Sisu’ is, we can say it is a stubbornness."

It also translates to something closer to courage and Taipale needed plenty to launch a cross-country skiing business focused on racing. It’s worked for 45 years, selling enough skis, gear, and now saunas to keep 10 full-time employees and a few seasonal workers as well. When he wasn’t at the business, Taipale coached skiers — winning a couple of national championships at the University of Minnesota and helping a few Olympic athletes.

But he realized he was nearing the end of the trail. And in stepped three of his employees.

"I’m passionate about skiing," said Nate Rhode, who started at Finn Sisu as a college student in 2014.

He bought it this summer, along with Karen Weium and Tom Novak.

Taipale says he knew what the business was worth, but he sold for less to keep it in good hands.

"The money wasn't the biggest thing," he said. "It was the success of the store in the long term."

Midwest Mountaineering recently announced its impending closure after 50 years because of declining sales.

Finn Sisu is still seeing success, bucking online retail sales trends.

"We’re happy to be able to continue that on, not just to have it shuttered and you know, gone, because yeah, it does happen unfortunately," Rhide said.

Taipale made a trip to his native Finland after selling, but he’s not going anywhere.

He plans to continue coaching and he’s a regular visitor at the business he built.