From what I have seen in this region, the bulk of the sales staff leaves much to be desired. Many are just kids or minimum-wage types, and others are so focused on one part of skiing (like the park) that they can't relate to other types of skiers. Unfortunately, there is little money involved in working at a shop, so people who are in the industry who know their stuff and are willing to eke out a living are usually owners and managers. If you know whom to deal with, you may get service, but just walking into a random store is likely to leave you a bit disappointed with the service.
But, I cannot emphasize this enough, and it is the most important point: CUSTOMERS are no longer willing to pay for SERVICE in this country. Skis end up being a commodity, and people go to the cheapest source-end of story. How many times have I heard "thanks for the great reviews, I wouldn't have even considered this ski had it not been for your time and advice, but this other guy saved me $50, so I bought from him." Skis are often 1/2 price on Ebay in pre-season. As long as customers don't value service and aren't willing to pay for it, it makes it tough for service-oriented people to stay around. The funny thing is seeing how many customers make mistakes by buying something "on sale" from BIG 5 or Ebay and get completely the wrong gear, and end up paying more in the end when they buy some gear that is actually appropriate for them. A guy came in with a 150cm snowboard for his 8-year old kid the other day, telling me the great deal ($100) he got at the ski swap. Yeah, I said, but he can't use it: it is a head taller than the kid, and the bindings aren't even narrow enough for him to comfortably stand on the board. "But it was a great deal: are you sure he can't ride it?" If people were willing to place value on good gear and service, there would be well-paid staff to help them make their choices. As long as they are only searching for the next "deal" though, the service just won't be there. I often think that for many people, getting the "deal" is more important than the actual product. It is always comical when the slick corporate-looking 40 year old guy pulls up in his $55,000 Lexus and asks me "what's the best ski you got for $200?"
If you use the "Gear Review Forum" to select skis to purchase, pony up a few $ for an Epic supporter fee, and try to support retailers that get you into the right gear, not just who has the cheapest price. As they say in retail: Price, Product, Service; pick 2.
As a general retail overview in this country, it seems that price is king: not quality, not service. I would rather see people put money into good gear that will enhance their enjoyment and last them a long time. They would be happier in the end, spend less time running around, and not pay very much more. I would rather people own a few items of high quality and related to the things they really enjoy, rather than a bunch of cheapo crap that we love to consume in America. In Japan (maybe Samurai can chime in) it definitely seems like people have less stuff, but the stuff they do have is of much higher quality, and service is far from just being sought-after: it is expected. The service in pretty much any establishment over there blows away anything we see here, whether it be shopping, food, entertainment, whatever. When Japanese people come see us, they are always asking "why isn't anyone helping us?" My response is "because prices are low: nobody wants to pay for service in this country".
Cycling is a different animal completely. Most of the shops in Bend are VERY well staffed. But, it is harder to buy a high-end bicycle online unless you really know your stuff and don't need fitting locally. They have a niche that is hard to replicate unless you are an experienced cyclist. Also, if you ride alot, you need work on your bike, and most people don't have a clue how to turn a wrench.