This is the fourth 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!
Melanie and I caught up over the phone as she was driving back to Park City after spending the weekend escaping the cold in St. George. We talked about taking risks, finding your passion and what it’s been like to change gears and develop an online training course to help teach others everything she’s learned over years of guiding.
Park City, UT
- What brought you to Utah and why did you stay?
I’m a fifth generation Utahn. My people settled Utah with handcarts. I grew up in Utah. I left and came back, then left for another 10 years and came back. I came back because of the small business climate in Utah compared to California.
- With all the other outdoor recreation companies based in Utah what made you decide to set up shop?
Sol is different than just a cookie cutter guiding service. I’m interested in using the outdoors to promote being healthy mentally and physically. I spent six years training in DC and my clients started hiring me to guide them in Utah.
- What is your niche market?
- What do you value about doing business in Utah?
The cost is very fair regarding actually getting your business started, registering with the state and things along those lines. Wages are low, but housing costs are relatively low compared to bigger cities. I would like to see Utah value their workforce more. If we bring in huge companies like Goldman Sachs then wages should be commensurate with the job. I really value that there are so many state-supported entrepreneurial groups.
- What could be improved in regards to doing business in Utah?
I would like to see more women in business. It’s on women. They need to take on the challenge. I don’t want to waste energy shaming anyone; I can’t blame the state for there not being more women. I’m giving a call of action to women in the state to find something they’re passionate about and go for it.
Also, just because we enjoy a low cost of living doesn’t mean there should be low wages. I’m in the service industry. My clients hire me with discretionary income. I don’t have customers from Utah because they feel financially strapped. I have local people who WANT to go on trips but can’t afford it.
- As a woman in business, what are the challenges you face vs. those faced by your male counterparts?
I’ve faced a lot of bias and judgement since returning to Utah. Things like “why did you choose to have a business over getting married” etc. Well… I didn’t choose one over the other. I’m just living my life and I haven’t gotten married yet.
It’s difficult to get financial resources as a small business, but it is probably that hard for a man too. I don’t have brick and mortar so I don’t have collateral, and banks see me as a higher risk. Owning a small business is very draining and it can be lonely. I don’t have many women peers in the state, I depend more on my male friends and women out of state for support.
- Are these challenges unique to the outdoor recreation business, to Utah, or to business in general in our country?
I spent seven years in DC and three in California. From my experience, I think these challenges are unique to Utah. Outside the state women aren’t faced with one ultimatum choice. There is support for different lifestyles. It’s not either get married or get an education or start a business.
The outdoor rec industry is very male dominated in Utah. You need a ton of confidence to dive into the outdoors and say “I’m your guide, I’m in charge.” Maybe women weren’t raised in the outdoors like I was, so they didn’t develop the confidence at a young age.
The days guiding can be really long, sometimes 14-16 hours. If you have a family that is really hard, if not impossible. I don’t have children, but if I spend too much time guiding it’s easy for my work life balance to get thrown off.
As a tour operator, I feel as if the outdoor recreation industry puts the emphasis on product rather than service. I think that experiences need to be valued equally to their material counterparts.
- Now that you have an established business, can you look back and identify any misconceptions you had about starting an outdoor rec company that turned out not to be true?
I had the idea that because I’d had a five-year career as a wildlife biologist and environmental consultant, plus a long career as a personal trainer, that creating a business that utilized both specialties would be easy. But business is so multi-faceted. You have to learn the essentials of marketing and social media. I knew I had the skill set to plan trips and work with people, but I didn’t have the business acumen.
- Would you recommend an outdoor enthusiast get into this business? What advice would you have for them? If not, why?
I would recommend it – but don’t give up your day job. Find a way to share your outdoor passion. People need a connection and the people who have it are the ones who need to share it. Realize very few in the industry are rich. We do it cause we love it.
I developed Sol Guide to fast track people through what took me many years to learn. And there is so much to learn from branding, to getting permits, making money, guiding etc. If someone wants to start making money taking people outdoors I invite them to check it out.
- 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?
I’m a risk taker. I have taken financial risks with my business that others might not. The Sol Guide online training course I developed…I thought I had a distribution partner. I wrote it and they were to market it. That deal fell through and I was left holding the bag. It was a tough break, but I’ve learned that everyone goes through it. I’m transitioning from being a guide service to selling an educational product, to teach others how to do it. That’s a new challenge for me.
- What do you tell people when they ask what it’s like to live in Utah?
I love it here. That’s why I came home after living in some of the best cities in the world. I tell people they need to find an outdoor passion. Utah isn’t the place for people who can’t appreciate the outdoors. People I meet from outside of the state are open minded to the culture, but they have to have patience with the slow mountain pace.
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