Blog

Where it all began (including the failure).

In December of 2003, thinking I was a pretty hot skier, I signed myself up for a CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance) Level I ski instructor certification course. How I heard of this course I still couldn’t tell you but, like most young adults, I was enthralled about the prospect of not having to pay for a ski pass, that winter. While I was a competent skier, it became pretty clear that I was just not on the same level as the former racers, race coaches, and junior instructors I was lumped in with. I improved my skill-set immensely during that three day course but, alas, it was not enough to pass the certification; a major blow to my ego.

I was hurt. I had heard that passing your “Level I” was easy-peasy and yet here I was looking in from the outside; “People don’t fail their Level I”, I had heard. Like a spoiled, 18 year old kid would, I sought to lay blame. In my mind I concocted that the gentlemen who delivered my course, a former golf pro who I knew wasn’t my biggest fan, had failed me intentionally; vengeance of sorts. For a few weeks, I swore off the sport and decided that these “uppity” ski folks wouldn’t have the pleasure of having me in involved in their “club”.

As the weeks passed I slowly chose the high road and, determined to pass a spring re-test, continued to brush up on my skill set; those negative feelings beginning to vanish. I no longer subscribed to the conspiracy theory that I had originally made up, in my own mind, and was beginning to progress with my skiing technique. Perhaps not surprisingly, after a few months of consciously working on my skiing, I ended up passing my Level I and officially joined the the brethren of ski instructors. Ego intact, I looked west to the real mountains, with my eyes on my first solo ski trip.

1910220_506772083735_934_n
Early Days (when I had hair)

In late April of 2004, as a young man fresh off my first year of university, my eyes were opened to the magical world that is western North American skiing and snowboarding.  While this wasn’t the first time I had been on a ski trip, it did mark my first solo trip to western North America (Whistler Blackcomb specifically) where I was exposed to the, so-called “Disneyland of Skiing”. It was this 10 day trip, skinny skis and all, that continued to unearth my primary passion and part of the very essence of my being; a relentless pursuit of sliding, on two planks, on snowy slopes.

I’ve reflected many times on that trip and still have difficulty pinpointing exactly what it was that made me say “this is what I want for my life”. Certainly it didn’t hurt that I arrived in Whistler as a young 18 your old boy, in the midst of the greatest spring parties that the industry has to offer, but there was more to it than that for me. At that point in my life a drop of alcohol had still never passed by my lips, but I was just in awe of the “vibe” that surrounded the village; the mountains. While there was no doubt that half the people I encountered were definitely “lit”, I fell in love with the fun-loving and “free” feeling associated with the ski industry and the freedom that skiing above treeline provided.

While it was mostly about the feeling I got when I was on top of the snowiest peaks, skiing brought together some of the finest elements of life; sharing in the camaraderie of others while riding the lift, the solitude on days where you didn’t want to make friends, the freedom associated with skiing alpine chutes and bowls, and apres-ski; you can’t forget about apres-ski! To this very day I continue to revel in the feelings of, both insignificance and accomplishment that come with being in the mountains; insignificance in terms of the fact that you are but a very small speck amongst towering peaks and accomplishment in terms of the great deal of effort and energy it takes to scale such great peaks, or to “tame” them while sliding on two planks.

The decision to pursue a career in the snow-sports industry, and to make skiing a focal point in my life, certainly didn’t happen all at once. Being involved in skiing and snowboarding, as a career, was something I never envisioned immersing myself within through any of my middle or high school years. While my childhood was filled with fond, local ski area memories (and the occasional family trip), it was also intermingled with (and often usurped by) Canada’s favorite winter past time (hockey of course). Skiing was merely a past time and, as far as sports went, hockey reigned supreme. Besides, I was destined to be a part of the family forestry business. While never forced or coerced into this belief, I simply thought it was destined to be.

Key influencers were soon to emerge, in my life, which would further shape my snowy career path and hockey, along with golf, were slowly being pushed to the fringe of my life in favour of hiking, skiing, and dating. Little did I know that one of my great adult lessons of failure, and the growth that it provided, would set the stage for what was next.

 

Next Week – “In for a pair of skis and out with a job.”

 

Losing my Marbles; bound for Newfoundland & Labrador

Ah Newfoundland…

Rocky, barren, largely infertile, wind-swept, rarely warm, and home to the East’s best skiing and snowboarding. Wait what? There’s a ski resort in Newfoundland? Boy if I had a nickle for every time I’ve heard that one…

If you’re from the island, or Labrador, you’re likely aware of Marble Mountain Resort. If you’re a “come from away”, chances are you’ve never heard of it, unless your a super avid skier or snowboarder of course. Standing at 1791 feet, adjacent to the city of Corner Brook, it’s comparable in height to most ski resorts in Quebec or those of most of the New England states. While not necessarily as well developed, not as large acreage wise, and certainly not as accessible (hello, it’s an island), Marble holds it’s own, in terms of the skiing experience. It’s steep, rocky slopes, facing the majestic Humber River, are pounded with snow all winter, making it a fantastic destination for the purist skier; the one who actually comes for the skiing. You’d likely be pleasantly surprised at the back-country touring opportunities, within an hour of the resort, as well.

12036392_10100160342585185_9057822496335936229_n
Bumps for days, on the Musgrave

I arrived on the island of Newfoundland in late July of 2013. Newfoundland wasn’t new to me; I had been there several times before, as a product rep, and enjoyed the hospitality of the locals in addition to a “shed beer” or two. With a bit of a friend network already built up, and a romance blossoming prior to even making the move, Newfoundland didn’t really represent a big step out of my comfort zone. An hour flight away from Halifax, followed by a three hour drive, and I could be home. Not exactly a world away.

My move would have occurred the year prior, had I played my cards right. Then again, “everything happens for a reason” right? In the late fall of 2012, the General Manager at Marble reached out to let me know that the newly created role of Sales & Accommodation Manager, was available. While this wasn’t necessarily an invitation to apply, and more of a “hey, pass this along your network”, I said to myself “what the heck” and put in a half-assed application.

Aside from what I had learned in my first year, business communications course, I didn’t know the first thing about applying for a job. While jobs hadn’t necessarily been handed to me, it was usually a case of knowing the right person or already being passionate about the activity (in the case of working in my local ski shop or the golf course, in my youth). Applying for a “management” role was something new and, besides, I was looking at property at the base of my home mountain, Poley, and thinking of spending the next number of years as a product rep, based out of Sussex.

Needless to say, I didn’t get that job, in the fall of 2012. While there’s no doubt that I could have “competed” for the role with a bit more spirit, I can see why I was passed over. I had no practical experience managing people, let alone accommodations; both keys to being successful, at Marble. But being passed over lit a fire in my belly that would be re-ignited more quickly than I thought. “Through the grapevine” I had heard that the role may re-open again, in the spring of 2013. With that knowledge, I readied myself for a fight; a fight that I wasn’t prepared to lose. The full court press was on.

Like a true road warrior, I took part in my initial interview, by phone, in Vancouver of all places. On the west coast, at a sales meeting for a collection of the brands I represented, I was well prepared and felt confident that I would be destined for a follow up interview; for which I had big plans. When the email came through for my second interview, I took to Aeroplan to search for flights to “The Rock”. Being a CFA (come from away), I knew that I would be at a disadvantage, not being able to make a more personal connection during the interview process. I wanted Marble to know that I was willing to go the extra mile; something I like to think that I always lived up to, while being there.

Weeks later, after a few notes back and forth regarding the offer, I had signed a deal that would mean my home would be somewhere other than New Brunswick, for the first time in my life. Ironically enough I had ended up buying my first home, just months earlier. I literally bought it, lived in it for 7 months, and uprooted myself; not exactly the most brilliant plan, but I was doing it anyway. Even today, across the continent in Alberta, I still have that first home, that I enjoyed so briefly.

My learning curve at Marble was steep, made ever more challenging by that aforementioned romance, which quickly floundered. As most would attest, I can be a pretty stubborn fellow. Being part of a team, in which you needed the buy-in of those around you to get things done, was a bit different for me. I was an ox, one who needed little direction, and who was accustomed to “making shit happen”, with little to no approval necessary. Managing personalities, and a 31 unit condominium complex, were both new to me but I soon found my way. With some great coaching and a great team, I was heading in the right direction.

That first year, at Marble, was about as epic as they come snowfall wise. With substantially higher than average snowfall, and solid revenue numbers to back things up, the first winter was largely a success. While loneliness reigned supreme, as I was far too immersed in my work to branch out and make an abundance of friends, I was beginning to feel that I was on the right path. Life lessons, such as not living where you work (I was on-duty manager for the Marble Villa, that first winter) you get more bees with honey, and that a balance soon needed to be found to avoid burn out, were beginning to become entrenched within me.

That first year, while challenging, would pale in comparison to the season that would follow. Lightning would soon strike, with devastating consequences, and Marble as we knew it, would be forever transformed.

 

 

 

 

 

In for a pair of skis and out with a job.

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.

316256_635757580765_1022645614_n-2
The last day I locked the doors, at 65 Broad St.

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.