Must be doing something right

When I offered guided trips for the first time under my own company in 2011, it was a trial balloon of sorts — Will anyone even sign up?

Thankfully, a few did — eighteen, to be exact.

But that made me curious — What could this become? So for the next three seasons, I tried to find its upper limit by satisfying all demand with additional supply — if the scheduled trips sold out, I put more trips on the schedule.

It was clear to me by 2014, when I ran 18 trips with 153 clients, that I was onto something. But I was also fried — I’d organized and guided every trip, and had spent 76 days in the field, not including travel. Alas, a passion had turned into work.

Autumn in Alaska’s Hayes Range, an ambitious location for a new guiding program and relatively inexperienced guides

I downsized the program in 2015 and ran no trips the following year, focusing instead on rewriting the Gear Guide, publishing more web content and high route guides, and running competitively again while I was still young and fast.

But I missed guiding and it seemed foolish to walk away from something with obvious potential, so I revived it in 2017, but with the express goal that I wouldn’t let it burn me out again.

The keys to this plan were expanding the guide team and running concurrent sessions, whereby a pair of exorbitantly competent guides — like Alan Dixon and Jessica Winters, or Brian Robinson and Christy Rosander — take out one group while I take out another at the same time. But the concept was unproven — Would anyone sign up for a trip that I wasn’t guiding, and could the quality be maintained?

Thankfully, again, the answers were affirmative.

Traversing the Clark Range on the Yosemite High Route

Since 2018 I’ve again been pondering the potential of this program. It’s already a healthy lifestyle business, but all signs are that it could be much more than that.

The interest in our 2020 trips has been flattering, even a bit bonkers. It’s not even February yet, and I’ve received nearly 300 applications, have sold out 22 of 29 trips, and only have 10 available spots out of 244. These number change a little bit each day (view the schedule for details), but are still record-setting in every way for us.

So what exactly are we doing right? Above everything else, I think it’s because we prioritize backcountry education and because we send our clients into the field with backpacking experts. When I started this program I didn’t identify this combination as being our unique niche, but that’s what it’s become. In short, we stand alone in teaching backpacking skills at this high level.

Of course, having a good idea is not enough. But I don’t think we could be where we are because I’m good with spreadsheets or because we encourage clients to smother their dinner with Fritos.

My big task last week was reading through applications and assembling rosters. With that now behind me, we’ll soon be transitioning to the Planning Curriculum, an 8-part online course to help clients prepare for their trip that includes modules on researching conditions, selecting gear, planning food, making maps, and training. If this sound interesting to you, apply now for one of the remaining spots.

Posted in on January 27, 2020


  1. Fionahiker on January 27, 2020 at 10:38 am

    It’s the ultralight focus- your trips are the only one I know of that offer that perspective. Lots of other backpacking trips out there but yours is the only one with leaders skilled in using ultralight gear.

    • Andrew Skurka on January 27, 2020 at 11:07 am

      I see that as being a sub-component of having expert guides. If your guides still pack like it’s 1995, then they’re not experts.

  2. Steve Sims on January 27, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    SO F’ing proud of how you have grown this part of Andrew Skurka INC! Not my cup of tea but clearly many others. You have no idea how many fellow Dukie’s with big time professional careers envy you and what you have done!

  3. Glenn S. on January 28, 2020 at 6:56 pm

    A great business plan (at a perfect time) implemented by a guy with a passion for the outdoors and for sharing that passion with others in an uncompromising and unpretentious way. A recipe for success – even without Fritos!

    May you have as much success as you want!

    PS – I am guessing there is plenty of envy from non-Dukie’s too!

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