Climbing mountains makes the co-founders of Peak Patch, Justin Carter and Fritz Oettinger, feel alive and so does making sure Colorado’s mountain trails are here to stay. Caring for the environment is what drives Peak Patch – a Vail-based company that sells patches, stickers and magnets that serve as commemorative mementos for outdoor enthusiasts who summit 14ers in Colorado. Designed as the official achievement keepsake for hiking to 14,000 feet, each unique patch represents one of Colorado’s 54 peaks.
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Colorado is home to the majority of mountains in the United States that exceed 14,000 feet and, as a result, each year an estimated half-million people travel to the Rocky Mountains to climb these peaks. Understanding the popularity of Colorado’s 14ers also means knowing that because of the large number of hikers that pass over the 14ers, preservation and protection are necessary to ensure their survival. Avid hikers Carter and Oettinger saw this need for preservation and protection as a call to action which is why their new company donates 14 percent of their sales directly to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI). Formed in 1994, the CFI maintains the natural integrity of Colorado’s 14ers and serves as a visitor education organization. Recently released, their first ever Colorado 14ers Statewide Report Card estimates that repairing and restoring the 42 existing trails will cost at least $24 million. By lending a hand to nature and promoting active stewardship, Peak Patch is helping CFI ensure that Colorado’s 14ers will continue to be enjoyed by future generations of outdoor enthusiasts.
Before they met each other, both Carter and Oettinger had their first experiences with 14ers several years ago. Carter hiked his first 14er in 2007 when he climbed Longs Peak with a group of friends. Oettinger’s initial encounter with 14ers was when he hiked Mount Bierstadt while he was a student at Colorado State University. Because Oettinger enjoyed his first 14er summit so much, he coordinated a Brotherhood Development event with his fraternity brothers for which every member wrote their semester goals on a brick, carried it to the top of Mt. Bierstadt and shared them with one another.
After spending so much time summiting Colorado peaks, Oettinger wanted something to commemorate his accomplishments. Unfortunately, all the patches he found were low quality and designed with so much detail that they were unreadable so he didn’t purchase them or the cheaply made black and white stickers that were the alternative to the patches. In addition to noticing the lack of desirable memento options for 14er enthusiasts, Oettinger also realized that the number of people were who traveling to Colorado to climb the peaks was increasing. In fact, Oettinger says that 14ers have become so popular that it’s become mainstream to spend a week climbing them whereas in the past that was something only done by avid hikers.
In 2012 Oettinger was working at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base in Southern California, and saw Marines wearing service stripes that looked like mountains. Seeing them reminded him that he still wanted personal mementos for his 14er endeavors and at that point the idea for Peak Patch was born. Fast forward to 2014 when Oettinger was recruited to build a hospital in Vail and he moved back in August to work on the project. Upon returning to the Vail Valley, he met and became friends with Carter through the 8150 entrepreneur group for which Oettinger gave a presentation on Peak Patch products. He also refined the company’s business plan and connected with CFI – the non-profit that is an integral part of Peak Patch’s mission.
When 14er enthusiasts purchase a Peak Patch product, they are investing in the experience they enjoyed. By giving something back to CFI, the organization that is working hard to maintain the peaks visited by so many people, hikers are helping take care of nature while commemorating their athletic efforts. Although Oettinger moved back to California after being offered a top position for a wind turbine maintenance company, he and Carter are committed to celebrating the achievements of those who summit 14ers and giving back to CFI to ensure the longevity of Colorado’s 14ers. They also plan to expand Peak Patch to other recreation avenues in Colorado and to California’s 14ers.