This is the second in a 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!
Ashley Korenblat is an avid mountain biker and public lands advocate. She owns Western Spirit Cycling in Moab, Utah, and also created Public Land Solutions to help protect public land in Utah and beyond. We met in the offices of Western Spirit surrounded by topo maps of the area and lots of bikes and bike parts. We talked what public lands mean for recreation in the state and the new era of being in the outdoor recreation industry.
Western Spirit Cycling
- What brought you to Utah and why did you stay?
I came for the mountain biking. There is just no other place like this. I went to business school and worked on Wall Street and then ran a bike manufacturing company. I came to Utah and had the opportunity to buy Western Spirit Cycling. Western Spirit started with a few bike tours in Utah. Our customers kept coming back year after year so we needed to expand our offerings. We are able to offer multi day bike trips all over the country because public land provides access.
- With all the other outdoor recreation companies based in Utah what made you decide to set up shop?
Everything for me comes back to public land. We work all over the West. Utah is pretty central, has great public land access and a super diverse landscape.
- What is your niche market?
Multi-day backcountry bike trips.
- How do you set your business apart from the competition? Or, What is your unique sales proposition?
Commitment. It’s hard to make a guiding job work for a long time because of how demanding it is. We work really hard to keep our guides. We average eight years with our guides. And that’s something our customers really value: having great, knowledgeable and experienced guides.
- What do you value about doing business in Utah?
Public land. I’m going to keep saying that. There is no right to ride your bike in the constitution. We can’t demand access. We have to prove the value of our constituency. The recreation industry is totally dependent on public lands. We need partnerships, not lawsuits. The state parks, Moab BLM, Wasatch National Forest etc. have to work together with outfitters to make the recreation industry run. Utah is great because the recreation industry is well respected so the land managers and outfitters are able to work together. Public land managers in this state know that they’re in the recreation business.
- What could be improved in regards to doing business in Utah?
We need to stop treating the federal land managers like the enemy. In America, every person pays a few dollars a year to own public lands. Some people believe that federal land ownership is prohibiting them from making money. Some of our state legislators want to take over the federal land and manage it without the help of all American tax payers. They want to make the public land system in Utah entirely dependent on the roller coaster commodity markets for oil, gas, and other natural resources. While these resources are important, there are lots of acres in Utah that won’t generate any wealth, other than the dollars that tourism brings. If we treat the feds like partners and not enemies we can optimize the federal lands in Utah for the benefit of Utah. It takes planning and that takes money, and volatile commodity markets like oil and gas will not provide consistent funding.
- As a woman in business, what are the challenges you face vs. those faced by your male counterparts?
Most of the time you just put your head down and keep moving. If you look for problems you will find them. There are definitely some traditional ideas in Utah about women that can be pretty limiting. It helps to be careful about the way you dress. It matters. Do you want people to remember you for your outfit or your ideas?
- Are these challenges unique to the outdoor recreation business, to Utah, or to business in general in our country?
There are absolutely pockets in this country that are more progressive. The problems are throughout the business community. But more and more people are hiring employees based on their ability to solve problems, and they don’t care about gender, they just want it done right. I’m a mom. It’s not easy working. But it wouldn’t be easy to stay at home either. It’s a balance.
- Are there aspects of your business in which you feel you have an advantage as a woman?
Flexibility is a virtue. I mean sometimes we teach little boys that flexibility is a weakness, which is crazy. You have to be flexible to move forward in life. Sometimes women can be more flexible. It’s not weakness, it’s smart.
- Would you recommend an outdoor enthusiast get into this business? What advice would you have for them? If not, why?
Consider living in gateway communities. If you can run your business in Moab then do it. It’s nice to live somewhere with clean air and no traffic. I think there are tons of opportunities for entrepreneurship in rural Utah. In the outdoor recreation side of things there is something awesome about helping people have fun and connect with the natural world. I know they’ll remember the trip for the rest of their lives. There was a time when there wasn’t a lot of money in the industry, but that time has past. It’s very seasonal, but at least you know when you’re cash flow is going to stop! Basically, getting people outside is fun.
- What misconceptions about Utah do you encounter when working with your clients?
They think there will be no beer. The liquor laws always trip people up. But that situation is improving. Also they sometimes assume that Utah is very conservative and closed minded. But while we may be conservative, we are also very nice. I mean the governor just stepped up in defense of Syrian refugees. If we persist in fighting the feds people will think we don’t appreciate being Americans.
- What is the best advice your parents have given you?
Don’t take anything too seriously. My dad always said even the most advanced autopilot system doesn’t fly in a straight line. Just put your head down and go, then look up and readjust. It’s not perfect. Just go out there and do a great job and then change it when you need to. If you’re too serious you can’t move. Get on with it. Do your best. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
- Would you ever consider moving out of state? Why?
If the state took over all the federal land. It would create so much risk for my business.
- Is there anything else you want to add?
Utah is poised to attract and keep talented people. including our youth. Outdoor recreation businesses are a growing component of the Utah economy and to maintain that sector we need to be extremely thoughtful about how we manage public land.