Minnesota winters always were a bit of a drag on sales for the tent and awning business that Conrad Hoigaard’s grandfather started in 1895.
But Hoigaard, an avid outdoorsman and a passionate downhill skier, saw opportunity in winter and talked his father, Cyrus, into selling skis.
Before long, Hoigaard’s became one of the foremost ski shops in the Twin Cities, said longtime friend Doug Smith. And eventually Hoigaard’s became synonymous with outdoor activities — camping, biking, paddling, hiking, and cross-country and alpine skiing.
The business also gave Hoigaard the opportunity to test gear on adventures that took him around the world.
“He loved the whole idea of being outside,” Smith said. But he also loved being at the helm of Hoigaard’s, and helping the business his grandfather had created endure and evolve with the times. Last year, the family-owned business was sold to Colorado-based Vail Resorts.
“He was proud of what the business accomplished,” Smith said.
Hoigaard, president and chairman of the board from 1972 to 2011, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007 and died June 27 at 77.
But long before the disease made simple activities a struggle, Hoigaard spent many fall mornings hunting ducks in North Dakota and pheasants in Iowa. He ran marathons, skied the American Birkebeiner and did the seven-day RAGBRAI bike ride through Iowa. He biked, ran and paddled Minnesota’s Border to Border triathlon, and hiked to the highest points in dozens of states, including Mount Rainier in Washington state, Mount Whitney in California and a farmer’s feedlot in Iowa.
And if not for a luggage mishap, he and his wife likely would have made it to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The two had arrived in Arusha, but their high-tech gear didn’t.
“I had my hiking boots but Conrad only had his street shoes,” said his wife, Christine. But the guides assured the couple that they could provide equipment.
“In my mind, I thought it would be a clothing store like Hoigaard’s,” Christine said. Instead, it was a tarp strewn with clothes discarded by other hikers.
“So we started out on this adventure and Conrad was in a raincoat that came up to his elbows,” she said. The rest of their gear included a hat with an elephant on it, sunglasses without a nosepiece, argyle socks and old sleeping bags with holes burned into them.
“I remember walking behind him and thinking, ‘We must look so pathetic,’ ” Christine said. “I thought, ‘This is ridiculous — my husband owns a sporting good store, and we look like they just dragged us out of who knows what.’ ”
Without enough warm gear, the couple couldn’t make the final ascent.
“Conrad always seemed so calm,” she said. “He was always saying, ‘It’s not so bad.’ ” He always was game for an adventure, she said.
Smith remembers the day he convinced Hoigaard to begin training for a marathon. “He didn’t have a great build for a runner. He was 6-foot-5 and weighed about 230 pounds,” Smith said. He ran about half of the 3-mile loop around Lake Calhoun “and he was exhausted.”
Eventually, Hoigaard began running longer and planned to watch Smith run the New York marathon. But Smith had signed Hoigaard up for the 26.2-mile run. “I gave him his [race] number on the plane and he panicked,” Smith said. But he lined up at the start. Although he didn’t finish, he went on to complete others, Smith said.
And when he could no longer run, he cheered on his wife. “He was always so supportive,” she said.