by John Cumming
There’s no guidebook on how to feel at a time like this. Usually, during periods of challenge, fear, high anxiety and uncertainty, my reaction is to go skiing, to go to the mountains where I feel most grounded. But for now, the mountains will have to wait.
We are in unsettling and uncharted territory. Like many of you, I’ve felt at times that this is all-encompassing and overwhelming. The list of worries in my head is long, as is yours I imagine, from the health and safety of my own family and community to that of our POWDR family and communities. It may sound cheesy, but I care so deeply about the lives of the people I’m working with.
March and April are typically financially strong months for ski resorts, they’re up there with the holiday period. But I know that closing and suspending resort operations starting on March 15—therefore losing most of March’s business and what looks like at this point all of April’s as well—was the right thing to do. It is what we could do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and deliver on our top priority of protecting the health and safety of our employees, guests and communities.
As I have conversations with people today about how they’re handling this crisis, and as I reflect on my personal health struggles and business challenges, I’m reminded of what it is that carries us through these types of challenging times.
My past career experiences of personal stress and uncertainty—in the mid-90s during the dot.com bust when we thought our financing was going to dry up, in 2001 post-9/11, in 2008 with the financial collapse, and from 2012 to 2014 with the drawn-out public lawsuit and eventual sale of Park City Mountain Resort—and the health challenges I’ve endured following my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, the two bone marrow transplants and medical complications that resulted in two 60+ day quarantines—forced me to adapt and adjust to survive. The common threads through each of these challenging times, were, first, a return to my core values and, second, the creation of a new moment-by-moment, day-by-day pattern of behavior.
In the face of each challenge, it was at first hard for me to accept the new reality, and then admit I must adapt and adjust. Today, these feelings resonate yet again, and I imagine you may feel the same. But what I learned is that by taking things one day at a time, and returning my focus to my values and to what matters most, I was able to make each situation less daunting and, surprisingly, more rewarding and fulfilling in the end.
To minimize the stress and anxiety that naturally comes with unpredictability and an entirely new reality, our default has to be our values. If at POWDR we rely on our strong value system, which we’ve put into place over the past 25 years since the business was founded, as our compass to navigate through this, I know we will persevere.
Particularly in these challenging times, we cannot forget our value to be enduring [which I’ve written about in the past], to be a community steward of adventure experiences for generations to come. In order to do so, we certainly cannot sacrifice the subjective for the objective or vice versa [another topic I’ve previously written about]. That is why we suspended our operations. While we all desire to ski, and while the decision was painful both personally and financially, it was the right thing to do for our collective well-being and safety in the long run.
In addition to relying on our values to navigate this challenge, I will share a few things that have helped me day-by-day to endure the curveballs thrown my way:
Take one step at a time
I had to recognize what I could do to make myself feel well, and then do those things, one step at a time, to get through the day. Like one of my favorite climbing aphorisms, “Every step up is optional but every step down is mandatory, the goal is to climb another day,” my patterns become my goals and then my predictability. When life shifts to these incremental goals, these moments in time, I can cope with almost anything if I am able to turn my focus into tiny little steps – just like climbing.
Taking one step at a time slows things down. From this slower pace a new pattern takes shape, and over time, ‘uncertainty’ disappears because ‘certainty’ is the step just before me. After a while of marching to this new rhythm, you look back and say, “Look at all the trail I’ve kicked in, look at the time that’s passed.” And instead of being overwhelmed by the uncertainty ahead, we are just doing our little part every day.
Appreciate the small things
Every experience leaves an imprint of memories. Looking back on the memories during these challenging times—despite the pain, uncertainty, and anxiety—I always feel a sense of warmth, simplicity and closeness. Even in those darkest moments fighting for another day, another moment to live in the recovery from my two bone marrow transplants, when I would close my eyes and not know if I was going to wake up, I have a fondness for those times. It’s the contrast that makes those moments so bright. In the face of such severe challenge, the simplest things can just become glorious. I remember the love and warmth I felt from my family, how beautiful the sunsets were. That’s what remains if we take it slower, one step at a time and be present to appreciate the small things.
Today’s public health and economic challenge is no different, and we are fortunate that POWDR is well-positioned to weather this storm. As a private company, owned and operated by me and my family, we are financially sound, and our focus remains on the long game, and on building enduring relationships with our teams, our guests and the communities we serve. And right now, we have the ability to act accordingly, and we are committed to adhering to this high standard of practice.
In terms of being thankful, as we face this challenge and navigate it together, I am deeply grateful for many things, including the team that we have, all our employees, our leadership, the culture that we’ve developed over the years, the value system we have that includes being enduring, our communities, our crafty strategy, and that we are privately held and family owned.
While new information is constantly coming in, and our situation could change, I feel really good about where POWDR is, all things considered. We have lots of people dealing with lots of uncertainty in our company, I’m cognizant of this as we make decisions to ensure a strong, enduring future for us all. When we get through this, which we will, we will all have been enhanced by it. There will be light, things which brought us joy, things we have learned that will make us all stronger, and make us a better community.
If our job is to make people’s lives better, then what we learn from this will be worth it in pursuit of our ultimate mission: to deliver memorable experiences, enhance people’s lives, and have fun doing it. Now is the time to remember who we are, what we do, and how we do it. We are committed to being an enduring company. We bring people together with the people they love to do the things they love. And we do it in a way that brings our teams, our guests and our community together to play forever.