In early November, Leigh Attwood, a 32-year-old Brit living in Manhattan, was hunting online for the Moose Knuckles 3Q jacket—an $895 puffy with a fur-trimmed hood. Searching on Bing, he found a black one in extra small that was listed as “available” on the website of a store called 123Mountain, whose two brick-and-mortar outfits in Colorado were owned and operated by Frenchman Olivier “Oliver” Goumas and his Swedish wife, Anna Sofia. With large banner ads, great deals, and a no-questions-asked return policy, the site—which featured everything from Völkl skis to Alpine Aire precooked couscous—looked like any other online outdoor retailer.
Attwood noticed that if he purchased a $50 premium membership to 123Mountain, he could get five percent off the jacket’s price, plus two-day shipping. On November 7, he paid for the membership and ordered the jacket for $824. A week later, he still hadn’t received the product, so he contacted the company through its Chat Live feature. A customer service representative named Peggy told him they had already sent him two emails notifying him that he should expect his order between November 9 and November 29. Attwood, annoyed by the delay, told Peggy that he thought the item was in stock and would ship promptly. Peggy explained that available items are available for order rather than in stock, and that most ship to the customer within nine business days. Attwood responded that this policy was “very dishonest,” but he resolved to keep waiting for the jacket since he had already paid for the membership. “I was stuck,” he told me.
Then, on December 8, 123Mountain emailed him a preorder receipt billing him for 15 percent of the jacket’s price, or $123.60. The company said it still expected to ship his jacket between November 9 and 29, but this time, the email specified a year: 2017. When Attwood tried to cancel the order, he says he was told he would lose the $123.60 as a cancellation fee, a stipulation specified in the site’s surreal list of terms and conditions, which also prohibited reselling items to “your Russian cousin" and compared any errors in prices or photos to a cat named Misse having an “accident."
“In another word you have accept rule of the game now we stick to theses rules,” a company representative wrote Attwood in broken English.
Exasperated, Attwood began searching online for reviews of 123Mountain. Some customers, particularly in 123Mountain’s early days, had received the gear they ordered. But Attwood found many more complaining about the company on social media, to sites like the Better Business Bureau, and in forums on Mountain Project and Backpacking Light for more than two years. “Avoid 123Mountain at all costs,” Jeremy Monahan wrote in a Facebook review. At Ripoff Report, a customer named Jeff said the company sent a collections agency after him when he disputed a credit card charge for an item that was never shipped. “I order a lot of things online and have never AND I MEAN NEVER encountered anything as shady and backhanded as this Colorado-based Internet company 123Mountain,” he wrote.
On Yelp, 123Mountain now has a one-star rating, with customers reporting they have received the wrong items and have been refused returns and exchanges. Others said they were asked to pay using Bitcoin or Chase Quickpay, neither of which offer buyer protection. Sara Benson, an Oakland-based writer for Lonely Planet and other publishers, spent four months requesting a $365.98 refund for a Big Agnes tent she never received. 123Mountain issued her a check via eCheckDirect.com, but when she tried to cash it, the company's bank refused to honor the payment. A bank representative told Benson that 123Mountain’s account had been restricted due to fraud.
The company ignored Benson’s emails and phone calls until she tried to shame them on Twitter. “This is a legit check issue by a legit website from a legit bank account with legit fund on,” @123mountaincom tweeted back before blocking her. Benson submitted a complaint with the police department in Lakewood, Colorado, but she said they declined to pursue criminal charges because flying Benson in to testify would be too costly.
Sergeant Ana Brun, who handles economic crimes for the Lakewood Police, says she has received nine other complaints against 123Mountain since 2013, but the knotty terms and conditions that customers agreed to when making purchases online made it impossible to charge the couple with a crime. “I have one investigator who would have loved to get good charges,” Brun says. “We are outdoorsy people and can understand the frustration.”
In a world of crowdsourced review sites and marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, it might seem surprising that a company like 123Mountain could string along angry customers for so long. But while the maturation of e-commerce has given customers a wealth of buying options, murky businesses still persist in the Internet's back alleys, advertising their wares alongside legitimate players. Gear junkies are particularly prone to getting seduced by screaming deals and hard-to-find equipment, which can lead them to place orders on lesser-known websites. The Goumases’ seemingly infinite inventory has lured online customers from far and wide, while their stores, based in Lakewood, Copper Mountain, and then Frisco, have given the company mountain-town credibility.
It wasn’t just customers who had complaints: gear manufacturers and professionals have also alleged that 123Mountain never paid them for products and services. In September, Canada Goose won a $109,281 default judgment against the company in the Colorado District Court in Summit County. Amer Sports, the Finnish parent company of Salomon and Arc’teryx, won an $11,065 default judgment from 123Mountain in May from the Colorado District Court in Jefferson County. Lafuma outdoor furniture, Deeluxe snowboard boots, and Dragon Sunglasses have also filed suits in Colorado courts, and a collections lawyer says he knows of several other companies that are considering doing the same. In May 2015, a Korean buyer named Duk Sang Yu won a default judgment for $316,003 in a Summit County Court over 160 Valandre brand high-altitude and ultralight sleeping bags that 123Mountain never shipped. "Mr. Goumas has used and continues to use 123 Mountain in its corporate form to perpetrate a fraud," reads Yu’s legal complaint. This past January, Wisconsin-based ski apparel company ArcticaRace issued a “scam alert” about the company on its Facebook page, warning customers, “If you place an order for an Arctica product with them you will not receive it despite what they tell you.” Sources told Outside that the consumer fraud division of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation at the start of this year with a list of 200 potential witnesses. Leigh Attwood is one of them. “To him, it’s all a game,” Attwood says of Olivier Goumas. “Every dollar he can get from people, he will.”
During the reporting for this piece, the Goumases declined to respond to multiple emails and calls to their cellphones, while repeated calls to 123Mountain’s business number went unanswered. In a conversation with Outside using the site’s online chat feature, Peggy, a customer service representative, denied that Goumas worked for the company or that there were any complaints. (According to Colorado Secretary of State business records, the Goumases are the registered agents for 123Mountain.com and their brick-and-mortar stores.)
“Look like you don’t have the right info,” Peggy wrote. She explained that the chat feature was for customers only. “Journ[alist] and you cannot read?” she wrote. “Sorry but I have real customer to take care,” she added before ending the chat.
Interviews, public records, and archived websites, however, demonstrate that 123Mountain isn't the Goumases' first business to attract a long line of angry customers. In 2000, Olivier Goumas, then in his mid-20s, became engaged to Sofia, according to his Facebook page. Business records show that they started a ski shop that year called Tignes and Temptation (TNT) Mountain Shop in Tignes, France. Seven years later, he began selling gear and clothing online at SkisTignes.com. But in June 2009, TNT went bankrupt, and the Goumases left France for Colorado. Message boards from the period show customers complaining about skis they ordered from TNT but never received. The Goumases next venture, MountainBlack.com, seemed to rack up the same types of complaints from customers. The business claimed to be based in London but customers reported receiving items shipped from the U.S. Jean-Baptiste Dorgal, a nurse in Lyon, France, told Outside that he received the wrong pair of Patagonia Alpine Guide pants from the site but never got a refund after he sent them back. The site shut down in late 2012, according to cached web pages from the Wayback Machine.
On September 24, 2010, Sofia registered the trade name 123Mountain with the Colorado Secretary of State, and the couple opened their first store in Lakewood, seven miles southwest of Denver. That winter at the Snowsports Industries America trade show, Olivier met Greg Gantzer, an outdoor sports and travel marketer who owns SkiSite.com and designs websites for the industry. Gantzer says they soon signed a contract to build 123Mountain’s website. By late May, however, Olivier became testy when the site, with its massive inventory of 50,000 products, was not yet complete. In an email, Olivier wrote that if Gantzer took until June 6 to finish, he’d be paid only 75 percent of his quote for the job. “After June 6, you are a joke,” he added.
“I think we may be having problems with our conversation due to cultures and language,” Gantzer wrote back in an email he showed to Outside. “I’d really like to discuss this with you on the phone so that we understand.”
Instead, Olivier changed the password on his server, effectively taking control of Gantzer’s work up to that date. “Your are fired,” Olivier wrote in his slapdash English. Gantzer sued in the Summit County, Ohio, court, alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and fraud, among other charges. Olivier provided a hodgepodge of defenses, countering that Gantzer had caused damages “in excess of $500,000.” In January 2014, a judge decided in Gantzer’s favor and awarded him $16,564. Gantzer has yet to see any of the money.
“My hope of collecting from this guy is close to zero,” he says now. “Our hope is to do something so that he can no longer rip people off.”
In late 2012, the Goumases opened a second 123Mountain store at the Village at Copper Mountain Resort. In an article published in the local newspaper Summit Daily, Sofia Goumas declared, “We start at where REI ends.” She explained that they would focus on high-end brands, including European gear, and that customers could expect personalized service. “You’re going to get one of us on the line, and we’re going to try to help you any way that we can.”
Olivier allegedly countered negative feedback by posting positive reviews of his stores under both his real name and the handle “Mountainblack," according to one former employee. Google and Facebook reviews appear to be swamped by dozens of positive ratings from bots—fictitious profiles that share an identical sequence of links and reviews.
Locals in Lakewood and Copper Mountain recall Sofia spending her days chain-smoking cigarettes while Olivier fueled up with cup after cup of espresso. According to former employees, the couple periodically made their stores membership-only and created new rules to exclude customer visits, preferring to focus on online customers.
Employees weren’t happy with the Goumases either. Daniel Fluharty began working at the Lakewood shop not long after it opened in late 2011 and was responsible for packaging and shipping orders and responding to customers online. He quickly became concerned about the number of customer complaints. One day, an irate customer showed up at the store with a lawyer and said that a jacket he paid for had never shipped. Fluharty was disturbed enough by the incident that he quit after four months. His final paycheck, he says, had been docked $350 for a ski pass that he believed Olivier had given to him as a bonus.
In 2014, another employee, Bogdan Peleszynski, won a default judgment against the couple after they failed to pay him $1,082.79 for his last two weeks of work. (Goumas denied the claim in emails and court filings, arguing that the check was lost in the mail, and offered to send Peleszynski a new check minus a $50 cancellation fee.)
Nevertheless, the Goumases had integrated into the Summit County ski community. Their two daughters joined Team Summit, a nonprofit youth ski program that 123Mountain sponsored with $10,000 annual payments. The company logo appeared on team jackets and the team website, but the relationship soured in 2014, according to current and former employees of Team Summit. After the 2014–15 jackets were printed, Goumas failed to pay his sponsorship money or his daughters’ enrollment fees.
Instead, Goumas sent Team Summit a hefty bill for failing to promote 123Mountain weekly on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—as stipulated in a contract Goumas had penned and Team Summit’s executive director had signed. Both parties dropped their claims against each other in late 2014. Team Summit’s bylaws allowed it to revoke memberships with or without cause and, in January 2015, the executive board voted to kick the Goumases’ daughters off the team.
Over the past year, 123Mountain's luck seems to have run out. In early 2015, Copper Mountain began eviction proceedings against the shop because of consumer complaints and late rent payments but dropped the lawsuit after the couple agreed to end their lease, according to Gavin Malia, development manager for Resort Ventures West, Copper Mountain’s property management firm. The couple is being sued for over a thousand dollars allegedly owed to the Copper Mountain Resort Association for dues that supported trash pickup, recycling, and fire service. The couple’s new outpost in downtown Frisco, which opened in June, was shuttered over the 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend, one of the biggest sale weekends of the year. A sign on the front door listing the store hours reads: “Opening hour may vary if we are skiing or not. General rule less than 3" no changes. 4"-5" at least an hour delay. 6" and above until legs get tired.”
Their Frisco landlord, Larry Feldman, says they haven’t paid their $4,500 monthly rent for December or January. The Goumases, he says, argued they were withholding it because of problems with the lighting and carpet. Even before they quit paying, Feldman says they kept passing him bad checks, and he plans to evict them. “I’ve thought about locking up their merchandise,” he says. The original Lakewood shop closed sometime before Christmas, according to locals, and the Goumases put their $500,000 home up for rent on January 15.
If there’s a lesson that consumers can learn from the 123Mountain saga, it’s that it’s always worth double-checking the credentials of unfamiliar businesses online before handing over a credit card number. Rather than relying exclusively on one review site, such as Yelp, perform a general search for consumer complaints that might lead you to a troubling comment thread in forums. Credit card protections are the strongest tool consumers have when things go south, so don’t be lured into sending checks or Bitcoin payments to out-of-state businesses. Trying to recoup a couple hundred bucks through the legal system is unlikely to be successful and hardly worth the time. Stores can always hide behind the fine print, and consumer protection agencies may take years to build a case strong enough to nail even the most egregious scammers. Today, 123Mountain’s products are still listed on Google Shopping, which gives the store three-and-a-half stars. And there’s little stopping them from popping up again elsewhere with a new name and a clean slate.
As for Sara Benson, she ended up buying her tent from REI. Leigh Attwood cancelled his order with 123Mountain, disputed the $123.60 charge on his card to Visa, and complained to Moose Knuckles about the jacket fiasco. The company told him that they were aware of the complaints and offered him the jacket at 50 percent off. It arrived in early January, and Attwood loves it. “I saved $450 in the end,” he says.