It’s funny how life happens. I think, for most of us, we can look back and find key moments in our lives which helped lead us down our chosen career paths. In this way, I’m certainly no different than anyone else.
While taking my first undergrad degree, at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, I would find myself heading home to Sussex (nearly 125 km away) with great regularity. While I certainly enjoyed the familiarity that my home town had to offer, in addition to a number of my high school friends still being there, I was most often coming back for my winter job at Poley Mountain. With my instructor certification in my pocket, I was beginning to discover a love for teaching and certainly was enjoying the various aspects of what skiing had to offer.
Naturally, in my early twenties, I was seeking a balance; mostly between being social with my “uni” friends, and being social at the mountain. Many a Friday I would enjoy a few “sociables” at a friend’s house party, followed by a dreary-eyed 1.5 hour commute to Poley the following morning to teach the latest crop of up and coming skiers; and by that I mean often picking up fallen 3 year olds, on the bunny hill, all day; not so glorious but still awfully rewarding. On occasion, after a full day on the slopes, I’d head back to Fredericton, repeat the shenanigans from the night before and then drag myself back to Poley the following day for more instructing. Life was good; ski, party, repeat.
As the years went on, and I continued to “live the dream”, I eventually got wind of a newly opened ski shop in town. In the fall of 2007, I walked through the doors of Outdoor Elements for the first time and met a fellow named John. It wasn’t until after I had put in my order for a pair of Head Supershape skis, availing of my Canadian Ski Instructor Alliance pro-deal, that I found out he was the owner. While the details of that initial conversation are a bit foggy, I had literally gone in for a pair of skis, and come out with a job. No resume, nothing but a handshake, and a “see you on Wednesday”. Progression in my career was happening, without me really even realizing.
Still at UNB, now embarking upon the completion of a BEd, I had arranged a pretty groovy schedule for myself. Wednesdays were a day off for me and of course the weekend was fair game. I told John this and quite quickly thereafter I was making the trek back to Sussex, from Fredericton, every Wednesday in addition to the weekend. My life consisted of 4 days of school, 2 days at Outdoor Elements (Wednesdays and Saturdays) and a day of instructing at Poley. I was fully immersed within any and all ski industry aspects that the “Dairy Capital of the Maritimes” had to offer.
John rapidly became the older brother I never had. He was passionate about skiing (and the outdoors in general), like I was becoming, and it showed in his work ethic and his lifestyle. This passion and drive to “make it”, in our industry, was something that continually rubbed off on me. Work, at Outdoor Elements, didn’t feel like work. Don’t get me wrong, there were some long days and long nights at the shop. There were days where my knees were red and sore from kneeling and fitting boots for hours on end and there were nights where Red Bull was the only thing to keep you going, on a late night ski tuning binge. Even still, I was beginning to buy into the lifestyle which we were selling, and my thoughts turned to how I’d like to do this for a living myself. The ski industry was officially for me.
Outdoor Elements was really a one man show; well technically it was a 1.5 man show. In those early years, John was really the only full time employee. Zach would be his side-kick in the summer months, fixing bikes, and I become the go-to winter protege, learning to tune skis and putting to use my incessant desire to know everything and about anything that had to do with skiing. To this day, I’ll never forget the first task that I took away from the boss. John’s handwriting, as he’d likely admit, was atrocious. Mine, often noted as “girly” in how neat it was, was easily legible and fit to be seen on the price tags, adorned with the Outdoor Elements logo, that could be found on the back of our products. That first job, menial as it was, was one I found a sense of pride in. “A job worth doing is a job worth doing well”, as they say.
Today, John Mcnair continues to own and operate Outdoor Elements in Sussex, NB. Even after a devastating fire, in September of 2012, his perseverance and dedication to his job, his community, and our industry is astounding. I remain incredibly grateful for the opportunity that was provided to me. Not only was my time, as part of the team at OE, an income to help me get by, but it was an experience which helped me to learn and grow; in essence, to find myself.
I highly doubt that my days in retail are over just yet. After four and a half years working and assisting in the management of ski industry retail, I’m looking forward to getting involved with it again. While I’m not sure, just yet, in what capacity that will be, I’ll always have great experiences and a great mentor, to fall back on. Not bad for small town, Sussex, NB.