This is the sixth 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!
I met Kirstin Peterson of Rim Tours for breakfast on Main Street in Moab. Seemingly every person who walked in the door said hi and caught up and commented on her thumb that was wrapped in gauze. She had just gotten surgery after crashing on one of Moab’s famous mountain bike trails, Captain Ahab. She filled me in on the learning curve of taking over a business, the community in Moab, public land and Edward Abbey.
- What brought you to Utah and why did you stay?
I first came 1989 to go mountain biking in Moab. I was living in San Francisco at the time and I had never been to a place like Moab. It had a huge impact on my perspective of what was possible for mountain biking and the beauty and wide open spaces were amazing. I never thought I’d move here. I came back a year later to ride and got offered a job. It was supposed to be short term and it was a good opportunity. I took the work and I’ve basically been here ever since. My work lasted longer than initially planned and then I had the opportunity to take over the management and buy into the company. Around this time I needed to settle in so I bought a house. I got ingrained in the community within a year. I’m originally from east coast and it’s so different from what I’m used to. It took a few years for this to feel like home. I love it now.
- With all the other outdoor recreation companies based in Utah what made you decide to set up shop?
Rim Tours was the first mountain bike guiding company in Utah, and maybe even in the U.S. It had already been established for five years and they had the model down really well.
Utah is a good place to capitalize on the public land resources.
- What is your niche market?
People love the outdoors. They want to be immersed in it and do an activity. The people who come on our trips have to want to leave society, sleep on the ground, get dirty etc.
- How do you set your business apart from the competition? Or, what is your unique sales proposition?
Our experience. We’ve been in business for 30 years. Staffing is key. Some of our guides have been working with us for 24 years. They have the firsthand experience to show our clients how to live in the backcountry. They all have skills you can’t learn in a season or two. They are very competent and experienced. The clients know they’re in good hands.
- What do you value about doing business in Utah?
The culture and tradition of working with the land. Whether it’s ranching, mining, recreation, business etc. People get it. You aren’t fighting an uphill battle. It can be difficult to deal with other land agencies in other states. They’ve created all these regulations. Utah really balances the pressures on public lands.
- What could be improved in regards to doing business in Utah?
Continued appreciation and protection for the investments that have been made in our natural resources. They’re really valuable for the state and the people. There is a lot of pressure to open up every square inch of public lands to mining. We need to put limits on that, just as there are limits to recreating on the land.
- What was an unexpected obstacle you faced when taking ownership?
I didn’t have a business background. I learned by doing the job of running a company. I didn’t have a model to follow or training. I’ve learned through mistakes and successes to see what worked and what didn’t. Taking at least a few business classes might have helped.
- Would you recommend an outdoor enthusiast get into this business? What advice would you have for them? If not, why?
Well I think I’d recommend it for some people. Understand that recreation businesses are lifestyle businesses. You need to have a passion because you won’t make a lot of money. Your success needs to be internal, because it won’t be what society thinks success is. But you get the opportunity to create your own reality. You set your own schedule. I think you just have to be realistic about what you want to get out of it.
- What is the biggest mistake you’ve made with your business? How did you recover? What did you learn? Would you change anything if you could go back?
Not staying in touch with different opportunities. Using public lands you need permits to access different areas. We missed a window to get some permits, we needed more forward thinking. You have to do a lot of work to stay in touch with everything that’s going on. I had to learn everything from scratch… I just didn’t know enough. Early on I focused on fun, there’s a balance to work and play.
- Has anything turned out to be easier than you first anticipated? What’s been the most pleasant surprise in starting and running your business?
Over time things get easier. You’ve already weathered a stressful time. Seasons, the economy, so many things affect the health of your business. One thing that really helped me is that when I go into the field, there is no sense in worrying about the office. I just need to focus on what’s happening in front of me. I can’t do anything about what is going on somewhere else. As a small business you have a lot going on at once, and I’ve gotten better with dealing with that.
- What advantages does Utah offer compared to our fellow western states?
Accessibility of public lands and so much of it. That’s a definite advantage. People come from all over the world to ride and recreate here.
- Do you have a favorite book to bring on trips?
I’ll bring Edward Abbey, read it around the campfire. He really captures this area. I also bring interpretive guide books.
- Any recommendations to someone looking to explore what Utah has to offer?
Get a good map. Tell someone where you’re going and be prepared for the elements. If you have enough food and water and equipment you can do a lot. I know a lot of people who end up on these epics when if they had just brought the proper supplies it would’ve been fine. You have more fun when you are prepared.