Bridging The Gap in the Outdoor Industry

By: Cassie Ubaldo, Upper Canyon Outfitters

I have had the unique opportunity to grow up and live in an environment of duality.  I am a fourth generation Montana native that has grown up in an isolated and rugged environment, I am also a first-generation college student that has had the opportunity to experience the opportunity of city living, travel and convenience.  I can embrace my traditional femininity in motherhood, caregiving, nurturing, connecting and communicating; all while leaning into the world of what is considered masculine through my career of training Special Operations Force teams in Horsemanship and Pack Animal Training, training, participating and being an active board member of the local search and rescue, and overall getting my hands dirty. 

I understand that there is value in honoring and respecting the wisdom and knowledge of the generations that have come before me and I am inspired and encouraged by the vision and ideology of those coming behind me.  This life of duality has created an opportunity for me to bridge some of the gaps that live in our Outdoor Industry. I have done this by mixing my childhood lessons learned through growing up at my family’s guest ranch, working long hard days, and with my formal education received from my bachelor’s degree in psychology and my master’s in counseling and education.  In this article I will go over a few of the foundational themes we incorporated in our business to build an inclusive culture in the world of outdoor recreation.  Three themes I will review in this article are laying out clear expectations of self and others, acknowledging the differences that exist within our team, and tips to connect with people in an authentic manner.  

Riders on horses crossing a mountain pass

Photo by What's Your Wild

Set Clear Expectations

At Upper Canyon Outfitters we work hard to be very clear of the expectations we have for all staff members.  We state as clearly as possible that days are long and the work is hard.  I am sure to mention hours and work detail in our very first contact with all new staff.  We also express the importance of helping fellow staff in all departments in need.  All of our employees know that they could be asked to help with housekeeping, kitchen duties, saddling horses or any other task at any time.  Something we then do to counter the high demand of this job, is we hold ourselves to the same standard.  My husband, Fredy, and I are full time managers that run activities, manage staff, lead in customer care, and do at least one dish shift a week.  We work long hours and do the hard jobs we ask others to do. We are not only assisting in running the business, but we are also in the trenches doing the dirty work, not all of the dirty work, but certainly some of it!

Acknowledge Differences

One of the dualities I have noticed gaining more distance from one another lately is how each generation looks at work.  My parents still live at and operate our business.  Their approach to work is all encompassing.  Our family guest ranch was their entire world for many years.  They never understood the concept of a day off as the family business was part of their identity and required all of them all of the time.  Younger generations are starting to express the importance of work/life balance, which is a foreign concept to people in my parents’ generation as work was their life.  It is important for me to honor my parents' perspective, but I also must acknowledge the values of our younger team members.  Something that we have implemented is providing set time off for all our team, each person has two scheduled days off (as often as possible, hunting season they get 1.5 days off).  During these days, we ask nothing of our them.  It allows them to reset and come back to work rejuvenated.  We also work hard to have a set, weekly schedule so our team can plan activities outside of work.  As for my parents, they have agreed to come in later (9 am, rather than sun up) at least one day a week.  

Focus on Authentic Connection

The last theme we like to incorporate is the practice of intentional connection with staff and guests.  This pillar of our foundation is based on Dr. Bruce Perry’s idea that growth happens in connection, so we have made it our mission to authentically connect with our team.  We work from the perspective that if we connect with our team and connect with each other, that that connection will seamlessly transfer to our guest experience.   Some of the ways we work to connect with our staff is to create a predictable environment, that means that staff know what to expect when they show up to work each day.  They know that if there is a problem, the same steps will be taken each time.  They understand the consequences for actions will be the same across the board.  This creates a sense of safety.  One more helpful tip- when providing feedback to staff is to try to give two positives to each negative.  It is important to identify areas of necessary growth, and often this information is better received when areas of strength are also recognized.  

Incorporating these themes will not magically cure all businesses of disputes and HR problems, but it will give the company a foundation to solve problems effectively when they happen.  Running an outdoor recreational, seasonal business is hard in our current culture of dichotomies.  We focus on finding strength in duality, not weakness or otherness.  It is an incredible asset to be able to realize that two things can exist at the same time.  This new mental framework will allow for company growth and inclusiveness.  

About the Author:

Cassie Ubaldo manages her family business, Upper Canyon Outfitters, in Alder, Montana. Cassie has had a unique opportunity to mix her formal education of a bachelor's degree in psychology and a masters in education and counseling with the wisdom she has learned from growing up with horses. At her family ranch, Cassie leads horseback riding adventures, wellness retreats, Equine Facilitated Leadership Courses, Cognitive Optimization Courses and Equine Military Trainings. Through these courses, Cassie has found a way to share her passion to help others find their path to health and wellness through working with horses. She appreciates the authentic and honest lens through which horses respond to people and their energy.

Cassie_Ubaldo_and_family smile at the camera

Photo shows Cassie with her mom (Donna McDonald), dad (Jake McDonald), and Son (Eli Ubaldo).

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