Success means never having to fake you're sick on a powder day

When you’re a dirt-poor ski bum who’s stealing toilet paper rolls from the newsroom bathroom, the picture of “success” is pretty damn simple  … A ski pass, two healthy knees, and a dog that actually comes when it’s called.
Once you head down the slippery slope to that first five-day job though, the hopes and dreams slowly and steadily start piling up. Like hoping to earn your age in salary, or having an open bar at the office holiday party, or finally scoring a car with seat heaters. Ask and ye shall receive, dude.

But for those who aspire to even bigger things (or blew out their knee in December), there is the outdoor industry.

Throughout the next month, the big tent that shapes that industry will be on display in trade shows from Nevada to Germany. Maybe you're headed out to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and the SIA Snow Show. And depending on how you swing, maybe you're headed to ISPO and SHOT Show too.

If you’ve never been a trade show lurker, it's not tough to imagine. Just close your eyes and imagine multiple nights of a massive college reunion, punctuated by seven or eight hours of wildly variable business meetings between 8 am and 6 pm every day. You’ve got your crowds and parties, you’ve got your billion thank-God-for-nametag moments, and you’ve got yer occasional unforgettable train wrecks (see also, First-annual, last-ever OIWC Drag Show).

The reunion anaolgy is also spot on because of the inevitable yardstick moments … when you bump into "that guy" on the plane, or "her" in the coffee line, and you subconsciously (or maybe consciously) take a deep breath and measure part of you against somebody else’s part. Insert innuendo here.

Some days that measuring up is merely rampant insecurity. On others it’s gleeful schadenfreude. And on the best days it’s a healthy dose of totally appreciated inspiration.

When I sent out a couple dozen high priority faxes looking for a few outdoorsy people’s personal, honest definition of success …I didn’t know what to expect.

And then I got this.

…”(Success?) It looks like a mess. When I try to figure it out, my instinct is to run out the door and ski into the hills with my dog. I have been incredibly frustrated with my lack of success and progress, and scared by my financial situation -- all my fault. For me, short term success is paying off a deep line of credit. Mid-term success is getting at least some of the jobs of which I am more than capable of handling…”

And then this.

“… I'm afraid "success = never having to work with idiots ever again" may not go over so well….”

For some folks, starting a casual conversation about “success” is the same as shining a spotlight on a 42-foot tall stress ball in the corner of the room. It’s taking that that yardstick out of the shadows and laying it right on the table for everybody to see.

In the outdoor world, success can be a hard thing to pin down personally, if only because of its abundance. There are many who’ve achieved real, concrete stuff — women who’ve founded incredible companies or skied an epic first descent, guys who have shattered barriers in physical performance, climbers who’ve Instagrammed successfully from the Dawn Wall, and freelance writers who've managed to stave off the beast of a full-time job for yet another year..

There’s also what seems to be an infinity chocolate fountain of mind-blowing travel tales. (The print zine Mountain Gazette dug into that idea a years ago in a thing called the “Readers’ Reverse Bucket List”. Truly one of the coolest things I’ve ever read.)

And finally -- and maybe a bit unexpectedly for the outdoor world -- there are many, many true careerists who are impeccably dedicated to their craft, whatever it might be.

The brutally honest definition of success can be a tough question to answer, out loud anyway. There’s the answer you give friends and family, and then ... there’s the answer you only tell yourself during those quiet morning moments on the trail. 

Maybe it’s “never lift a damn finger again.”  Maybe it’s “I have no fucking clue.”  But chances are good that it still includes a ski pass, two healthy knees and a decent dog.


I think time is the most valuable thing we have, and we may not have as much of it as we think. Given that most of us spend an inordinate amount of our time chasing the almighty dollar to survive in this society, I figure that to succeed in life one must find a way to spend that time doing something they are truly passionate about. Otherwise, you just end up pining for a vacation that only comes a couple times a year.
-- Chris Figenshau, Photographer

Day starts with a trail run, accessible from our small mountain house, with at least one dog. Work—and by that I mean write—with a two-hour guilt-free slot for napping and reading. Have enough time and energy to make a good dinner, watch the sun go down, and sleep deeply.
— Dimity McDowell, co-author of Run Like a Mother + Train Like a Mother

My view of success is less materialistic and more associated with freedom. It is the ability to have freedom of choice. Not having to do things but doing them because I’m following my passions … I have this vision of a bison ranch on a trout stream with epic mountains for skiing in the back yard. For me it is symbolic of the freedom to do some of the things I love (skiing/fishing) and working a farm/ranch (passionate about land and food) while surrounded by friends and family sharing my passions. I hesitate to say that is my vision of success because things are dynamic and where isn’t as important to me as what (doing what I’m passionate about) and how (with friends and family).
— Erik Snyder, CEO Armada Skis

I have an intermediate thing in my head that defines success, and that's employing people. Knowing that their livelihood is on my shoulders makes me work hard; not in a fear-based way, but just in the sense that it's an enormous responsibility that I can't dick around with. In the long-term, success means retirement. I love my job, I love my work, but I have plans, man. I truly look forward to laying down the mantle of responsibility, getting the kids out of college on their own, and winding down my work in 15 years.  Because there's so much to do!  I suck at golf, have ignored tennis.  I haven't traveled enough, haven't bought a horse, and far too seldom look my wife in the eye and say, "So really, how are you?"  Those days will come, and when they do, that'll mean the ultimate success.
— Gordon Wright, President, Outside PR

My big thing is I still can't believe people pay me to do what I do--things that, in some cases, most folks would pay tons of money to do-- like being part of a historic kayaking expedition on the Congo or rowing a gondola in Venice. I feel so blessed and lucky that I've had these amazing opportunities over the years and the chance to share it with others through writing and film. My goal has always been to write a book, write a movie, and write a country song. I still have to write that country song.
— Mark Anders, writer and filmmaker

The bar is always moving. Ten years ago I was in the magazine business. Now I'm in the media business. And media is changing so fast, we're all trying to keep up.... The good news, and the thing I always come back to, is that at the root of my job, I'm trying to recruit new outdoors-people while still preaching to the choir of veterans. To inspire more people to love being outdoors, to be safe and happy and comfy out there. Cheesy, right? But true.
—  Kristin Hostetter, Gear Editor, Backpacker

Living abroad with my family. Learning to surf. Climbing at least 30% as much time as I spend at the desk. Windows down, golden sun, loud music, driving toward the horizon. Fish tacos on the beach. A cold pint pretty much always works, too, regardless of region/climate/IBUs.
— Shannon Davis, Editor, Climbing Magazine

We half ass too many things. For me success is putting my heart and full attention into something and then seeing it come to fruition, even if it didn't work out as planned. So when I stress and freak out and work without sleeping to put out a magazine or write something, I feel incredibly proud when I get it in my hands. We made this, despite how easy it would be to let it slide. I am, however, often scared to open it up and look inside because I will see nothing but mistakes and faults and things I think I could have done better. But sometimes, years later, I will pick up an old magazine or story I wrote and look through it and say... this was damn good. Just put your everything into it. As the comedian Bill Hicks used to say, "Play it with your fucking heart." — Doug Schnitzspahn, Writer and Editor (Elevation Outdoors, Mountain Gazette, SustainAbler)

I come to work every day and it is hard for me to leave. I never can believe I get paid to market the idea that you should make the most of every day, have fun and live your life to the fullest. I find the freedom for creativity and accomplishing dreams is endless here.  I would do this job for free. The paycheck is a bonus."
— Tyler Lee, KAVU marketing manager

I see only two enduring measures of success. One is internal and comes when you know you've lived or worked true to your values and beliefs. The second is external, when you see your good works reflected in others — but only when you see them reflected in actions, not words. It's easy enough to collect praise, but that's ultimately empty. Making a positive, tangible difference in someone's life is when you know you're on the right track
-- Steve Casimiro, Editor and Publisher, Adventure Journal

Although some part of me still believes that (Olympic and World Cup) medals are the true test of success, after all is said and done, I measure success by one simple rule -- did I work my hardest before the competition and did I ski/perform to my highest potential in the race when the pressure is on. If I did that, no matter what the outcome, I was successful. The medal or prize that you win at an event is not the goal. What that medal represents -- commitment to a goal, working hard, and performing at your peak --- is the measure of success.
— Doug Lewis, Universal Sports Alpine Analyst, 1985 10th place finisher Hannenkahm, 1985 downhill bronze medalist in World Championships at Bormio, Italy

Like most people, my dreams are a little conflicting – both simple and complex. I want to feel I’m impacting the world because of my professional work. I want to have a family that thrives, is connected and has a positive impact on their community. And I dream of spending my winters in a little house on a beach in Baja, traveling through all the warm places in the world, and summers in a cabin on a river. Ultimately, I just want to feel that I’m always trying new things, pushing my boundaries personally and professionally and that I am not complacent. As cliché as it may sound, I see "arriving" as a great journey, taking advantage of the opportunities given. For now, I’m too hopeful and excited about all the stops on the way to focus on the end game.
— Stasia Raines, Director of Marketing, Outdoor Industry Foundation

My dad had a great analogy that I'll share about this; there are 3 circles of truth; how all who know me see me, how I see myself, and the ground truth (how things really are). The more aligned these circles are (goal being directly overlaid, one circle really), the more honestly I'm living in the world. The more disconnected they are, the less in touch I am. It's another measure of success, I suppose.
Kenji Haroutunian, bass player, OR All Star Industry Jam Band

On a very rare occasion, I am able strike a balance where I am happy with my performance as a husband, father, manager, mentor, athlete and community member. These times generally are my most stressful, but most fulfilling.  I know when I’ve achieved this balance through interactions with family, friends, co-workers and teammates. (And I’m willing to sacrifice a good night sleep in order to accomplish this.)
— David Fee, VP Sales and Marketing, Benchmade Knife Co.

Success means being able to live where you want, in the way you want, without using more than you need. To be healthy, and to meet the unknown with open arms and an open mind. And I think I am actually getting a little bit closer. Though actually, getting to heli ski all the time sounds pretty good … maybe you should talk to my brother.
— Ted Wardlaw, marketing man

Every time I finish a freelance project I feel successful. Every time I see a story I wrote or photos I took published, I feel successful. It's not a lasting feeling, or really one that is even recognizable at times. But when the dice rolls my way and one project is knocked down after another, a feeling of accomplishment follows. I would liken it to the pursuit of winning individual stages of Le Tour, rather than the conventional concept of "success" being the finish line of said race, if that makes sense. Having said all that, life works in such a way that not all projects or all days go as planned--there are too many disappointments to count. It requires constant effort to achieve these small, minor, perhaps insignificant successes, though that effort is what makes each worth doing. Finding pleasure in the small wins may in the end translate to an overarching feeling of success at the end.
-- Graham Hiemstra, Senior Editor, Cool Hunting

“For the most part, my business ego has already been stroked. I’ve started a company, built the brand, and get enough inquiries about buying the company that I can gauge some value and worth to what I’ve done for the last decade or so. So success at this point is really about the next generation … getting my kids to adulthood. To a place where they can start making their own choices, good and bad, but not sacrificing any part of the great outdoor lifestyle that we enjoy now.” 

— Pete Hixson, CEO Pistil Designs

As a career mountain guide I've taken over a thousand people on various wilderness adventures, helping folks to achieve their personal goals, whether it be reaching a summit or the completion of a long trek. And I've seen that ultimately the common thread among people is not the fleeting act of, say, standing at the summit that is the actual reward, but rather that their accomplishment signals the completion of a process that includes dreaming big, working hard, and earning all of the life lessons and experience that comes along with the token goal. So I view success as the conclusion of a very personal adventure; an adventure that manifests within many levels, and where we can come away having bettered ourselves and perhaps paved the way for others to follow.
Colby Brokvist, GM/Senior Backcountry Guide, Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides

I’m in the Bahamas... Is that success?
— Porter Fox, Editor & Publisher, Nowhere Travel Journal


  1. I just turned 35 and am enjoying my 15th year in the outdoor industry(canoe trip outfitting). I decided in Highschool that success was waking up each day and looking forward to going to work. There are days when that doesn't happen, but more often than not it does. I have seen many people leave the industry seeking "success" in other fields. Although I am fairly convinced that just being in a different industry was a success for most of them. I often have had people ask me "when are you going to get a real job? My response: "Real jobs are for suckers"

  2. Nice blogs, Thanks for giving me some info. Awesome.


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