Success in Leadership, Not Management
- Guide in Alaska and Antarctica
- AK Rep for RAMP and Fly Low
- All around badass
Alaska is one big small town. “It’s a big place but tourism is such a small industry, so once word got out I was on the job market people started coming to me. It’s just neat to be at a place in my life where that is happening.” For many, however, success living seasonally is elusive at best.
The seasonal lifestyle is easy to burn out in. Countless workers lose faith in their first few seasons and the tourism industry makes an easy scapegoat by providing unsustainable, low-paying jobs. Conversely, however, few people are bold enough to chase their passion toward an unmapped outcome. Such career paths aren’t as straightforward as climbing a corporate ladder and are often financially risky. Brooke, however, is an example of how seasonal work can be elevated to a professional level. In her case, she weaved her passion for skiing with additional talents—such as inspiring others to push their boundaries—and developed a way to make the ski industry profitable for her. Through dedication and flexibility she’s built a professional lifestyle-resume that has put her in demand.
Case in point, Chugach Powder Guides (CPG) hired her without a position in mind, because they knew they had to snag her while she was available. Essentially, she became Brooke, the Jill of All Trades, which was perfect for her. “I’m ADD, I love variety. I just really appreciate them going out on a limb, like, ‘we don’t know what we want you to do but we want you on our team.’ ” In a better snow year, Brooke aspires to heli-guide, something she will undoubtedly accomplish. Before Brooke began at CPG, however, the door opened to another great adventure.
After stepping down from managing Alaska Wildland Adventures (AWA), Brooke had no idea what she would do next. Within two weeks she’d secured the position with CPG and was also invited to guide in Antarctica with G Adventures. The previous guide was unable to go last minute, was scrambling to fill his own spot. and hoped Brooke might be able to help. “He called to see if any of the guides [at AWA] would qualify to do that position. I was like, I’m not telling any of them. I’ll take it!” she laughs unabashedly. “I applied for it and threw my name in the hat. His boss had told him he had to find his replacement for ditching out late in the game and he was like, ‘I have her! Hire her, hire her, hire her!’”
We know of only two animals that migrate between Alaska and Antarctica: the arctic tern and the seasonal nomad. To take on the longest migrational path in existence, experts say the tern must be able to adapt to almost every condition to survive. Similarly, the seasonal worker needs a vast quiver of skills to succeed in both latitudinal extremes. Brooke jokes that her role in the Antarctic expeditions was “camp mistress” (camp master). She coordinated big logistics with extensive equipment, learned to drive a zodiac, took people sea kayaking, and facilitated camping in a highly regulated area for 60 people at a time. “It was light all night so we’d get there, set up camp, go for a hike up a mountain and then be out all night with the penguins singing.” The tern migrates to maximize sustenance options, while the seasonal nomad is galvanized by a propensity for wonderment. “Penguins have these different songs,” she laughs. “The gentoos purr.” The nuances of a landscape, such as the sound of penguins purring, is the nomad’s sustenance.
Surprisingly, although these were multi-thousand dollar trips, the clientele wasn’t necessarily exclusive. There were deep discounts for last minute sign-ups ($4000 trips discounted to $2000) which invited a younger, adventure-based crowd to participate, including Australians on their gap year and many solo women travelers. “I was so impressed with how many women of different ages had decided it was their dream to go to Antarctica to be on all seven continents. They didn’t want to wait for anybody to go with them so they just did it. That was super inspiring to me.”
One of the trips she guided followed Shackleton’s route. Sir Ernest Shackleton was the leader of perhaps the most harrowing survival story in human history. He captained the 27-man crew of the Endurance to Antarctica with the intention to traverse the continent via dog sled. Before it arrived at its intended point, however, the ship became trapped in a drifting ice floe that froze around the hull. Over the next year, the crew floated helplessly for several months, eventually became forced to abandon ship as the the Endurance was slowly crushed by the thickening ice floe, and ultimately watched their ship sink all together from the second ice floe camp they were forced to erect.
The desolation of a failed mission, impending darkness, and seemingly infinite ice entrapping them would be enough to crush any crew’s morale and invite doom. Yet, miraculously Shackleton kept every single man alive and eventually they escaped on three small boats, an impossible feat in itself. Unsurprisingly, Brooke was was drawn to this historical character and through onboard lectures gained deep respect for him as a leader.
“The human history was just mind-blowing. Shackleton had incredible foresight to manage the human element. He kept his men always preoccupied with tasks; he kept them engaged and he kept them mentally alive more than anything. Physically alive he knew he could do but the reason people would die is they would mentally give in to the bleakness and the despair and he did a great job of piecing the positive people with the negative people, and giving negative people certain jobs to be proud of and all that. So I went to his grave in South Georgia and poured whiskey on it and did a shot and cried,” a sweet yet sorrowful laugh breaks her lips. “He was an amazing human being.” Beyond the facts of how Shackleton kept his men alive, Brooke absorbed the underlying leadership values that governed Shackleton’s decisions, and tries to implement them in her own life—albeit on a far less harrowing scale.
“He really spoke to me in the human understanding of leadership and that it isn’t just about being a charismatic person it’s about really reading your audience, reading your people, and bringing out the best in each person; making them shine making them proud of who they are. To me that’s what makes the best leader. It’s not that person being in the limelight, it’s about making others shine.”
That philosophy has produced great rewards for her in return, as well, including involvement in the first all-female skier movie.
More than just a Pretty Face
Pretty Faces, premiering this fall, is the female response to male dominated ski movies. Every year, a slew of ski porn is produced to stoke the rad for the upcoming snow season, yet very few women ever make it beyond the cutting room floor. Conversations with the few women who have made it to the silver screen reveal a deeper issue. “What I learned from Ingrid Backstrom and powerhouses like Rachael Burks is that they had spent quite a bit of their own money and their whole winter just to get that 30 seconds on the screen. This floored me.” Brooke hoped to gain access to the discarded footage and supplement it with her own. She purchased film equipment and aimed to capture the women who inspired her out in their element.
While filming a freeskiing comp at Revelstoke she met Lynsey Dyer, one of her biggest idols, who had the same idea. Both girls lived in Jackson at the time and they grew a friendship rooted in their shared dream. Lynsey is the one who was finally able to bring the concept into fruition by founding the production company Unicorn Picnic, getting SheJumps involved, tapping into industry connections, and using Kickstarter to exceed their financial goal. “Her motivation, drive, and experience launched this into a real production.” Brooke couldn’t be more excited, as she sees this as the beginning of a new era. “From here forward, girls and women will no longer be regarded as the token female for a 30 second shot in a film, we will be respected for the unique power and beauty we bring to this sport that we are all passionate about.” It isn’t about men or women being better, but rather embracing the strengths and differences of each sex.
Lynsey kept Brooke involved along the way. “My favorite moment was getting to film with one of the all-time greats, Rachael Burks. Lynsey and the other girls decked Burks and I out in glow in the dark LED lighting and Alyeska patrol allowed us to film after night skiing. Rachael and I laughed to the point of tears as we raced around in the dark, throwing spread eagles and crashing in powder piles we couldn’t see dressed as light-up aliens. We all ended up post-shoot in the Sitzmark with Lynsey and the girls dancing in our tutus and lights and long johns with ski pants around our ankles. Pants-off dance-off. My dream at that point had already come true.”
That dream began for Brooke at 20. Now at 42, Brooke continues to evolve her relationship with the outdoors. She is currently co-teaching a one-month course on expedition leadership with Heather Thamm at Alaska Pacific University. The course comprises one week in the classroom and three weeks backpacking 150 miles in the Talkeetna Mountains.
Perhaps at this point in her career it’s easy to see that Brooke is on her destined path. Early on, however—before this was all mapped out, when she was just a wandering soul drawn to the dramatic oceanside mountains of Alaska—it would have been easy for anyone to advise her to seek the financial security of a “real job.” Thankfully, no one close to her ever did. “It’s funny, my mom and my grandmother came on one of my trips when I was guiding for Alaska Wildland Adventures. My Grandma was 87 and somebody asked, ‘Aren’t you concerned that Brooke is never going to grow up?’ My grandmother was like, “No, I’m proud of her,” It was great because my grandmother was so conservative. She was a surgeon’s wife and really never understood my lifestyle until that trip and then she got it; she totally got that I was doing what I was set out to do in this life.” Although carving an unconventional path can be daunting, Brooke continues to prove that if you follow your passion you’ll never be lost.