With more than 300 days of sunshine a year in Colorado, an office job can often seem like drudgery, a fluorescent master looming over you, demanding all of your focus while others play outside and revel in their dose of Vitamin D.
What if you could have your work and playtime too? Colorado is a mecca for young adults drawn the mountains, waterways, and wildlife (both in the bars of LoDo and in the outdoors). Over the next few months I will search out individuals living the dream, whose jobs enable them to get out and play. I will divulge their secrets, discern the perks of their jobs, and most importantly, expose the path to scoring one.
In a state home to four national parks, ten national forests and forty-three state parks, it seems everyone is planning a trip into the wilds. Chances are, Jay Getzel has helped create some of the gear you have tossed in the back of your SUV as you eagerly headed out. He is the president of Mountainsmith, the Golden based company that has been creating packs, tents, sleeping bags and other gear since 1979. The staff of the family owned company follows their president’s personal mantra—work hard, but play harder.
What led you to the outdoor industry?
“I grew up on the east coast and was an English teacher, I was going to be the classic prep school instructor, elbow patches on my tweed jacket, maybe a beard, think Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. A buddy of mine who was living in Denver talked me into taking a year off to live the ski bum life. I never left. I started working at Eastern Mountain Sports to pay the bills, and fell in love with a job that let me play outside with gear; it was awesome. We would work the shop during the day, head out to the foothills as soon as we were off to climb, and then wind up drinking cold beers by the Boulder creek. I knew I could never go back.”
So how did you end up at Mountainsmith?
“After five-years at EMS I knew that if I was going to make this work as a full time career I needed to get on the supplier side. I always had a good relationship with the rep, I would talk them up, it was a great way to score free gear. One day the opportunity to work customer service at Kelty appeared I decided it was time to make the leap into the supplier world. After one year there I left to become a tech rep at Timberland/Smartwool, it was a great job that really opened my eyes to what the industry offered. I was on the road for two years working trade shows, promotions, and in store events. It was a blast. I realized I wanted to be a full-time sales person, so I moved to CAMP to peddle climbing gear for a year and half, and I must tell you my climbing improved dramatically at that job. I loved working there, but the opportunity to be Mountainsmith’s national sales manager was to good to ignore, that was six years ago”
Tell me about Mountainsmith are they corporately owned?
“No, actually we are a family owned business. We were founded by Patrick Smith in 1979, and really focused on packs until he sold the brand in 1997. The brand was in flux for about ten years—we lost our focus— and went bankrupt, ownership changed five times. In 2007 the Blackstone Investment Group, a privately owned small house of five different brands, bought us. The owners believe in steady, profitable growth while offering a high quality of life for all employees. We are not chasing 20-30% growth year-after-year, that’s unsustainable, we are happy with a growth curve that outpaces the industry average and maintains profitability.”
So what should I expect to see in your office?
“Well there are almost as many dogs on staff as people, no really they are listed on our website. Were a close-knit bunch, eight work in Golden, so lot of laughter and good-natured harassment. Plus mountain bikes for lunch rides, packs we are testing, trail running gear and post work beers.”
Safe to assume you don’t follow a 9-5 schedule?
“I encourage a flexible schedule, if you want to start work early so you can catch you kids recital, great. You want to go for an afternoon ride, no problem, just make sure you stay a bit later. I don’t micromanage my peoples schedule’s, we are all adults, take care of your own work. I had one guy who liked to start working early in the morning, I mean early, 3-4 am, so he could get in an afternoon ride before heading home. Worked for us.”
What’s your ideal day like at work?
“I get up in the morning to go on a run with my dog, and then feed the kids. After a short drive to work I spend the morning working on a presentation for our sales force. In the early afternoon I head out fly-fishing with a couple of employees. I have a buddy who is a blogger/photographer come along and he shoots some photos for our catalogue. After a cold beer by the stream, I head home to make dinner for my family, and play with my kids. After dinner I put in a couple of hours in my home office before watching the sunset with my wife.”
Sounds great, but is it realistic?
“You would be surprised, I have some version of that day several times per month”
I have heard of some special gear deals for people in the outdoor industry, can you elaborate?
“Well we do want our people to get outside, and use our gear so we offer a gear stipend, and paid time off to test stuff. We also are in partnership with numerous other brands, to offer healthy discounts off products. The list is top secret, but I promise you my garage is stuffed with toys”
So if someone was going to transition into the industry what could they expect?
“First thing is you will laugh, a lot, we tend to have fun. The outdoor industry is about relationships; we all know each other, and tend to get along. You will travel to trade shows, festivals and retailers, but we always pack some gear along to play. When we went to the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake this summer we went out a day early to mountain bike. Your pay might not be as high as other industries, but you will not be trapped in an office all day long. Most companies want, and expect you to use their gear, and offer time off to go outside. The days can sometimes be long, but you are usually having to much fun to notice.”
Sounds great, what advice do you offer anyone looking to break in to the industry?
“First you have to love the outdoors. Every single person I meet that is successful has a burning desire to get outside and play. The outdoor industry is something of a closed loop, seems everyone knows each other. Go work at an outdoor retailer, even part time, it will show employers you are serious about the trade. Go to trade shows and talk to reps, start developing relationships, put a name with a face. It can be tough to break in initially, but stick to it, once you are in you will love it.”