This post, while mostly written in my voice, was a collaborative effort between Andrew Commander and myself.
A middle-aged flight instructor, a student, and a multi-million dollar corporation walk into a bar…
What do they have in common? Nope, not a joke, and the student almost couldn’t get in because he was under-age. I’ll leave the bar unnamed to protect the innocent. The only hint I’ll give you is that there’s a photo floating around social media of me perched on the deck-top commode they have displayed. That should have you looking for a while.
So why would this motley mix of unlikely cohorts hang out together? What bond could they possibly share? That’s what I want to share in this post. The middle-aged flight instructor is me.
First some 411 on each of us:
You know my story somewhat if you’ve been visiting my site. I’m one of those people who only recently figured out what I want to do when I grow up. I’m an aviation-curriculum writer for 40+ hours a week, and then the adventures begin. I climb, backpack, cave, rappel, ski, paddle and generally look for ways to keep the adrenaline moving while outdoors. I’ve been through tough times and look to nature to soothe my soul. I’m a little unlucky in love, but that’s okay because I can count on outdoor adventures to keep me company. That said, one thing I always need is solid gear to keep me safe and comfortable while I play hard. When I showed up at the bar I didn’t know the young guy who got stopped at the door…
Andrew Commander is a telemark skier and Ultimate Frisbee player attending the University of Colorado. He’s lived in Colorado his whole life but has traveled around the United States extensively. The mountains are his favorite place to spend time skiing, hiking, and fishing. He knows what it means to push himself physically and mentally in the outdoors and like me, he depends on quality gear to perform at a high level in is outdoor activities. Once he got into the bar, he didn’t know me from anyone in the crowd. By next day we were counting on each other…
What about the corporation? How do they fit into the story? In 1938, a family of German nationals purchased a small hat factory that went on to become Columbia Sportswear. Times weren’t always easy. Both the family and the company survived challenges. When Gert Boyle’s husband passed away, she went from housewife to CEO overnight. Today her son, Tim Boyle, serves as CEO, but she is still very much a presence in Columbia’s headquarters. Two things remained constant, the family’s appreciation for their humble beginnings, and a love of the outdoors. The corporation is more like a family, and it’s the reason that Andrew and I had gathered in the Park City bar. In addition, another thirty-something adventures had been brought together for the same occasion. Why? Read on.
A deep connection to the outdoors is something that Columbia Sportswear has never lost sight of. They strive to remain in touch with the users of their product, the adventurers, the motley crews of people like Andrew and me. Instead of leaving customer feedback to chance, Columbia Sportswear created a program called the OmniTen. The concept was to recruit outdoor adventurers to try Columbia Sportswear gear and provide honest feedback about the products. Columbia was brave enough to select media influences for this task, knowing that we would be vocal about our thoughts. Then they went a step further and encouraged us to share our real thoughts, good or bad, with our followers. Nothing like taking on some pressure, they had configured a scenario that would make most PR pros squirm. But like the OmniTen, Columbia is inspired to perform at the top of their game. They even dubbed the tag #inspiredbygreatness to express their commitment.
Each OmniTen group serves for either a Spring/Summer or a Fall/Winter. During that time they receive gear to use a review, plus travel with Columbia Sportswear representatives and designers on an epic trip. Mine involved whitewater rafting on Oregon’s Rogue River, sleeping under the stars, and unprecedented wildfires. The entire time product designers asked specific questions about the gear we were using, what we liked, and didn’t like.
Back in the Park City bar, four seasons of OmniTen participants had gathered for something new, the OmniGames. We had no idea what we would be doing, or with whom. Columbia Sportswear had some tricks up their sleeve. All we knew was to arrive in Park City and get to know each other. So we did.
The next morning, some of us felt better than others after a night of socializing. I was among those feeling a quantity of pain. Dressed in winter as instructed, we boarded shuttle busses to an undisclosed destination.
Barking dogs greeted us. Not just a few, but dozens. What was this place? Wind whipped snow all around us and lined up in neat rows in the distance were snowmobiles. We headed toward a simple lodge that turned out to be warm and inviting inside. It was time to learn what we were up against.
Each Fall/Winter OmniTen member pulled a name out of a hat creating teams of two. Andrew pulled my name, one of the oldest members of the OmniTen, while he was the youngest. There we were, brought together by Columbia Sportswear and our mutual love of the outdoors.
Soon we learned the events of the competition:
Needle in an Avalanche – Using an avalanche transponder, we had to locate a “victim” in the snow. We sank to our thighs in powder on the first step and were thankful for good snow gear. We found the poor soul’s shoe and the beacon in 28 seconds. He “lived.”
Dog Days of Winter – This event was something I’d never experienced before and was the reason we heard dogs on arrival. It was a dog sled ride followed by a knowledge test at the end based on our conversation with the musher. The dogs were sweet and playful. I’m a bleeding heart, so it was important to me to see how well cared for they were.
Snowmobile Drive-by – I don’t have fond memories of snowmobiles after being stranded miles off trail by one. Our task was to ride roughly ten minutes out to meadow, then shoot four arrows at a target. Andrew handled the sled like a champ and hit the target with his bow and arrow. My aim failed me on all but the practice shot. At least we have some great photos thanks to David Creech. Somehow he managed to make us look pretty fierce.
Hot Chocolate Run – The goal was to start a fire, boil water, and make hot chocolate within a time limit. The tough part was starting the fire with a magnesium block, snow was blowing sideways, and we just couldn’t get more than a brief flame. Note to self…pack extra matches and fire starter.
Our House – In 20 minutes, we had to build a shelter using supplies on hand: a tarp, two sticks, a shovel and some string. We pretty much nailed this event and would have survived the night in our shelter.
Lookout Below – This was the high ropes course at the Utah Olympic Park called Summit Adventure. It was a true challenge for me, while Andrew moved right through. Neither of us fell and it was sooooo much fun! I was surprised how mobile I felt clad in Columbia ski clothes. They stretched and moved with my body while keeping me warm. Not quite how I expected to test those pieces!
Bridge The Gap – This was the Canyon Adventure ropes course at the Utah Olympic Park. We opted to do this easier course second, to save our energy for the higher, more challenging course.
Leap of Faith – This zipline tower drop event is well described on the Olympic Park website, “This advanced-level adventure is designed to test the thrill-seekers with a 377-foot long zipline high above the treetops finishing at the 65-foot high Drop Tower. From the Drop Tower there is ONLY ONE WAY DOWN – simply step off the platform for an exhilarating, 65-foot free fall.”
Unfortunately this event was canceled due to high winds so we added 30 minutes to the next event.
Downhill Derby – A competition to rack up the most vertical feet skied at Canyons Resort in an hour and a half. While I held my own for a blue run skier, this is where having Andrew as a partner rocked! He cleaned up lap-after-lap on Docs Run.
Charles Dickens – The final event of the games requires telling a story, which is what I’m doing right here. The OmniGames weren’t a competition sponsored by some cold, impersonal, corporation. They were about a real company and real people with a common love of the outdoor experience. We all came together to share stoke, stories, friendship and support.
But there was another purpose to the OmniGames, it involved something greater than our crew, it was about testing good gear to make it great. It was about the hard work done by scientists and designers making new products such as Turbo Down, dubbed down on steroids, but legal. In the end, it was about creating better products for you. Yes, we had a heck of a good time testing it, but that is only part of the story. We were trying stuff so that people who buy Columbia Sportswear products can have confidence in their innovation and quality.
By the end of the Games, Andrew and I were ranked 2nd. The top five teams will become season five of the OmniTen program, trying more stuff in Jordan.
A middle-aged flight instructor, a student, and a multi-million dollar corporation walk into a bar…what do they have in common? Now you know, we all have a passion for outdoor sports that transcends age, gender, financial status, or life’s difficulties. We all strive to perform at the top of our game, we are all #Inspiredbygreatness.
So far I’ve shared the event through my eyes with lots of help from Andrew. Now I’d like to share his own words and thoughts on the OmniGames, from the time we arrived at the bar, to his overall impression of the experience.
In Andrew’s Words:
I felt so welcomed when meeting everyone the first night as a huge group. Shaking hands with people for the first time that I had been following on twitter was a unique experience. Everyone was nice and the stoke level was through the roof. We were on the heated patio outside which served a perfect arena to let loose and get to know each other.
Columbia Sportswear provided me the opportunity to stay and play in the mountains of Park City while testing winter gear. The theme of the trip was #TryingStuff that I had never done before such as riding in a dog sled, going to a fashion show, and watching the World Cup Moguls in person.
It was also about #TryingStuff that I have already done such as shooting a bow, walking a high ropes course, and skiing fast. Random pairings of #Omniten competed in a series of challenges that tested mental and physical skills. My partner for the #Omnigames that I picked out of a hat turned out to be @Active_Explorer, Erika Wiggins. We teamed up to compete in the events, which had only been announced to us on the first day of competition. Together we tried our best to get high scores in each event of the games. After the second day we were in second place out of fifteen, which is in position to win a trip to Jordan with Columbia. With one event to go, we hope to maintain at least the top five to win the trip.
This program is beyond amazing and I feel honored to be a part of the #Omniten. The quality of this trip to Park City was beyond anything I have ever experienced and I thank everyone who was a part of the #Omnigames. Getting to meet the people who put this circus together at Columbia was inspiring. The effort they put into their work was shown constantly throughout my time at the Canyons Resort. I had a blast with everyone from my season of #Omniten hitting the slopes and getting to know each other. I also had fun meeting all of the previous seasons of Columbia’s #Omniten that had been chosen before me. The people that I got to meet are what made this opportunity so special to me.
To learn more about the places we stayed, our evening activities, and the gear we tested, watch for future posts and a VIDEO! To read more posts about the OmniGames [there are some really good ones] visit the OmniGames page on Run.Around.Aroo.
It really is interesting how different everyone in the group was…yet with so much in common. You two are a perfect example, although the toilet flower pot should have been a big hint to the success you’d have!
Haha! Yes, posing on a throne is generally considered an indication of someone who is in it to win it!
Love the “middle aged flight instructor, a student…etc”, Erika! PS See you for OR next week!
Thank you! I’m so excited we get to see each other twice in a month!
What a great writeup, Erika! I love your sense of humor and the time you put in to recalling all these events. It’s great hanging out with both of you.
It was great hanging out with you too! Thank you!
What a great write up Erika! I’m so jealous of the #ominten and the #omnigames, especially since so many of my friends are part of it!
Sadly too I won’t be at the Winter OR show, so we can’t tag team our media appointments like we did for the summer show 🙂
Thanks Eileen! I’m bummed you won’t be at OR:( Let me know if you’re ever in town, I’d love to get together!
Nice work Erika!!!! Loved this post.
Thanks Anne! I miss you already!
Excellent write up. You two made one heck of a team!
Thanks Heidi! It was great to have time to hang with you at the games. Wish we’d had more.
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Your blog is awesome! Your talents certainly complimented each other. We hope you are Jordan-bound this spring!