Salt Lake City sunglasses brand Pit Viper invites you to ‘Party Mountain’

Pit Viper is all about supporting people who are underrepresented — in sports and the world.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pit Viper headquarters in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

Pit Viper, a Salt Lake City company that sells stylish sunglasses designed to “take a beating” that are worn by professional skiers and cyclists, is a whole vibe.

To get a feel for it, take a scroll through the Pit Viper Instagram account (@pit_viper), “voted #69th best sunglass brand page, by your mom,” as described by the Windows 95-wonderland of PitViper.com.

There are photos of fondue being poured onto people’s faces (to promote The Fondue sunglasses) and photos of various animals (a sheep, a dog, a cow, a rabbit, multiple cats) wearing Pit Vipers.

For co-founders Chris Garcin and Chuck Mumford, along with company president Dave Bottomley, who are all skiers, Pit Viper is about having a sense of humor, especially in the sometimes-stuffy world of skiing.

“Ultimately, Pit Viper is serious about taking things less seriously,” Bottomley said.

Despite all the deadpan silliness, their venture has evolved in the past decade from fashioning some of the first Pit Viper sunglasses in a garage to now selling more than 30,000 pairs a year.

It also employs about 90 people — all while supporting athletes and speed demons of all genders, including those often underrepresented in traditionally male-dominated sports, standing up to “racist losers” and donating to causes that align with the company’s ethos.

Pit Viper’s beginnings

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pit Viper headquarters in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

In 2012, Chuck Mumford found the first pair of what would become Pit Vipers in a military surplus store, said Chris Garcin, who’s been friends with Mumford since college. They were sunglasses that had been manufactured by the military in the early-1990s and had gone to deadstock.

“He found this pair that was very ’90s and just — as he would say — really suited him,” Garcin said.

Mumford bought 100 more pairs on the internet, then spray-painted them himself. He called them “Pit Vipers” based on a nickname he earned on the slopes, Garcin said, and started trading them for things like rides to Snowbird and beers on the tram deck.

Mumford began “gaining some momentum” with his project, says Garcin, and he knew Mumford was on to something.

“I basically just approached him one day and was like, ‘I want to do this with you,’” he said.

Garcin had a sticker machine, because he was running a small sticker company at the time, so the two of them would hole up in his garage, with Mumford spray-painting pairs of Pit Vipers and the two of them carefully placing four different stickers on each pair by hand. “It was labor-intensive,” Garcin said. “We did a total of I think 10,000 pairs that way.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pit Viper headquarters in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

Over the next three years, they started a website and their Instagram account, continued to buy up old military surplus and passed out Pit Vipers to their friends, “trying to figure out, like, what this company is or if we are even a company,” Garcin said.

Garcin credited the “attitude and vibe that we were putting out” to their early success. That attitude “was just our personalities — jokes and a lot of yacht rock music.”

Once the military surplus started to run out, they launched a Kickstarter to start manufacturing their own Pit Vipers and ended up raising about $35,000 in a month, Garcin said.

“At that point, I went all in,” he said. “I quit my job, I sold my house, and it was like, ‘All right, we’re going to try to make this happen.’”

Partying on ‘Party Mountain’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lark Washburn packages sunglasses at Pit Viper's warehouse in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

On Party Mountain, as the Pit Viper founders call it, everyone is welcome.

Party Mountain is a fictional place “where we get to be outdoors. And we don’t judge you, whether you are a top-rated athlete or just going for a hike for the first time,” said Garcin at the company’s headquarters in South Salt Lake. Anyone who wears Pit Vipers is hypothetically partying there.

Two such partiers are Mali Noyes and Pit Viper “Key Player” Toni Breidinger.

Pit Viper-sponsored backcountry freeskier and ultra trail runner Noyes said that when the Pit Viper higher-ups are joking around and having fun, “they encourage and support people to do the same.”

For example, when Utah-based Noyes gets new pairs of Pit Vipers to try on and take product photos of, “I know the content they want isn’t me, like, getting rad skiing and the glasses — it’s me doing something goofy, doing a handstand on the running trail.”

Noyes said her favorite pair of Pit Vipers is The Admirer — heart-shaped sunglasses that come in a variety of colors, and like many other Pit Viper sunglasses are priced at $69.69.

“I spend a lot of time in male-dominated spaces,” she said, “and I get to really flash my feminine strength and that I’m a girl right there in my heart-shaped glasses.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pit Viper headquarters in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

NASCAR driver Breidinger, from California, wears Pit Vipers because they’re “bold and out of the box,” she said in an email. Her favorite pair is The Leonardo, which fade from blue to green.

Breidinger is the first Arab-American female driver to compete in any national NASCAR series, according to ARCARacing.com. She said that “when I first met with the Pit Viper team, they really applauded me for pushing into NASCAR, where there really isn’t anyone represented in the sport that’s like me.”

“Pit Viper stepped up to support me in my journey through the NASCAR ladder system, and it’s been amazing to work with a brand who believes in not only me, but female athletes,” she continued.

Noyes, who got to know Garcin and Mumford while skiing at Alta, has made two skiing films, “Girl Crush” and “Stepping Out.” She said that while other companies she works with wouldn’t help back the projects, Pit Viper was “no questions, so supportive” and is “a big supporter of what I do all the time.”

Bottomley said in an email that “unfortunately, throughout modern sports history, there has been an inequity between men and women, not just in compensation but in opportunity, promotion, and access. Pit Viper would prefer not to play into that systemic problem.”

“Ultimately, for Pit Viper as a brand, it starts with opportunity. We want to give all genders of athletes the opportunity to be an athlete (we call them Key Players) for Pit Viper,” he continued.

Standing up to ‘racist losers’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pit Viper headquarters in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

One of the newest pairs of Pit Vipers is the Rainbow Jellies Admirer, with pink heart-shaped mirror lenses, sparkly frames, and a rainbow Pit Viper logo on the side. The company said in an Instagram post and on its website that its corporate social responsibility program, Pit Viper Gives a F-ck, is supporting the Utah Pride Center and Flourish Therapy by donating proceeds from the Rainbow Jellies Admirer for up to $10,000.

Pit Viper got supportive comments as well as disgruntled ones on the post for “trying [to] Bud Light your sales,” one commenter said. But all Pit Viper said to the trolls was, “NOT POLITICAL TO SUPPORT HUMAN RIGHTS.”

It’s not the first time the company has doubled-down on its “Party Mountain” mission. In 2021, when white nationalist Nick Fuentes apparently purchased Pit Vipers, the company first asked on Twitter if there was a way to “prevent racist losers from buying your product,” adding that Fuentes “needs to stop wearing Pit Vipers.”

In the meantime, the brand opted to donate $600 to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization. The company shared the decision in a tweet that read, “New Policy: Money received from confirmed racists will be donated in their name.”

The company again opted to donate to the SPLC in January, after far-right influencer and U.S. Capitol riot participant Anthime Gionet, also known as “Baked Alaska,” managed to make a Pit Viper purchase despite the brand’s attempts to block him from doing so.

The company shared a meme along with the $634.50 donation announcement that read Pit Vipers are “APPROVED FOR EXTREME SPORTS NOT EXTREMIST LOSERS.”

You don’t have to be an extreme athlete to buy Pit Vipers, though. While the company’s local HQ doesn’t have a storefront, people interested in joining the “party” can purchase merchandise at PitViper.com, as well as Zumiez, Scheels and Sports Den.