Work Hard, Play Hard – An Interview with Alisha Niswander of Mountain Vista Touring

Pete CodellaArticles

This is the first in a new series about women in the Utah outdoor recreation and adventure travel business. My name is Emilia Wint and I’m a member of the US Freeskiing Team. As the GOED intern, I’ve been traveling around the state to hear the stories of the women doing business in the coolest industry in Utah. Please note the opinions expressed by the interviewees do not necessarily represent that of GOED, but they promise to be interesting!

I met with Alisha at her apartment in Deer Valley in the midst of a heavy snowstorm. She welcomed me with a cup of tea, and we chatted in her cozy living room. Alisha moved to Park City to live for one winter season, and that was fourteen years ago. She has since set up shop and started her own guiding business. She’s the type who is outside all day every day, whether guiding a tour or out on her own. We talked about what it’s like to run a small business and play outside in Utah.

Alisha Niswander

Mountain Vista Touring

Park City, UT

  1. What brought you to Utah and why did you stay?

I moved out West as soon as I finished college. I love being outside and being creative and making my own fun. I came to Park City in the fall of 2001. The town’s amazing infrastructure of trails, the fact that everything in town is convenient and having an international airport close by has kept me here year after year.

  1. With all the other outdoor recreation companies based in Utah what made you decide to set up shop?

I honestly didn’t think about the competition. I woke up one day and decided to start a snowshoe guiding business. I had worked for other people in the past being a guide, working at summer camps and stuff like that. I knew it wasn’t rocket science and I knew what I wanted. I wanted a personal experience, I didn’t want to work for someone else.

  1. What is your niche market?

I don’t really like this term, but the best way to say it is I offer a boutique guiding service. I only do private groups. I offer a very personal experience, so I choose quality over quantity. If that means I can only take five people out in a day instead of ten, so be it. I only want my clients to have successful, fun and confidence-boosting experiences in the outdoors.

  1. What do you value about doing business in Utah?

The recreation opportunities are amazing. Park City alone has over 400 miles of trails. On the flip side of that, after twelve years in business I’ve seen a lot of small companies come out of the woodwork. Some of my go-to trails are more crowded than they used to be. But hey, there are so many options available, as long as everyone is respectful and having a good experience, I’m OK with it.

  1. What could be improved in regards to doing business in Utah?

The restrictions on using National Forest Land. It’s a complete debacle. The Forest Service says that if they issue more commercial permits then everything will get too crowded. But the thing is small guiding services like mine bringing in very small groups wouldn’t create an issue.The Forest Service has flat out told me it’s impossible to get a permit. There needs to be a policy where each and every company is reviewed each and every year to determine whether or not they should get a permit again or not. They are public lands, I should be able to utilize them.

  1. As a woman in business, what are the challenges you face vs. those faced by your male counterparts?

I think I have an advantage as a woman. Most of my clients are women and it makes them feel more comfortable. Men can be very intimidating as guides, but as a woman I can take that factor out of the equation.

  1. What was an unexpected obstacle you faced when starting your business?

Marketing. The first year I put up fliers with little pull tabs with my phone number to get the word out. I’ve gotten a better handle on it now, but my marketing is very organic, I’m not willing to sell my soul just to get the tour. I have a lot of returning clients and get a lot of word of mouth marketing. It continues to build on itself.

  1. Would you recommend an outdoor enthusiast get into this business? What advice would you have for them? If not, why?

I wouldn’t tell anyone not to. I have a lot of off-season time, but I never stop thinking about the business. There is a constant stream of work: what gear I need to order, how I’m marketing, responding to emails, tweaking the website, etc. Especially as a sole proprietor, no one else is going to do the work.

  1. What benefits do you have in your line of work that make you happy?

I have a sweet shoulder season. I can leave town and be out of cell service and not worry. I can also take my office wherever I go. I’m able to go play outside, get a call, catch my breath and book a tour for an hour later. I love opening the door to clients into outdoor recreation. It’s so satisfying to see people get into the outdoors and see the light flip on that this is something they can do and connect with.