We talk a lot about bootstrapping and starting up a brand-new business on this podcast. But this week I’m getting input about a different kind of entrepreneurial challenge: taking over a legacy brand.

Sarah Carpenter is sharing what made her and her partners decide to buy the American Avalanche Institute, and how they’ve been working to refine and expand the idea of its founder. It’s all about passion and commitment to a greater, shared vision.

We’re getting into the benefits and challenges of having business partners, working on a team, and the importance planning ahead. Sarah’s also talking about the value of community in the outdoor markets, and taking advantage of her resources.

This is such an insightful episode not just for those of you taking over an older business, but for anyone working in a community.  

Bravery in Business Quote

“The approach that has helped me is just a willingness to learn, a willingness to take in information and adapt to new ideas, new approaches.” – Sarah Carpenter

(click to tweet)

The Cliff Notes

  • Before you start a new venture, ask yourself “Am I able and excited to carry on this project?”
  • Think of your business partners as a sort of second marriage. You’re committed to them and to a bigger project, so you work hard to communicate clearly and respectfully.  
  • Look for the big picture. Don’t just hire people who share your vision, but look for people that are also industry professionals and bring their own skill sets to the table.
  • Have a plan and a conversation about it with your team before you walk out the door or start a new project. Don’t plan to make decisions along the way.
  • Always be willing to learn and take in new information and ideas.  You can be strong-willed and opinionated, but don’t block out the input of other people.
  • Be a resource for your customers in as many mediums as possible.
  • Respect the value of the community you work in, and take advantage of the resources and expertise of others in your field.


“But I think the beauty of our industry is not only are we passionate, but we also come from this place of wanting to do good.” – Sarah Carpenter

(click to tweet)


Facebook: American Avalanche Institute,

Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat : @avyinstitute



Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Sarah Carpenter, welcome to the Intrepid Entrepreneur Podcast.

Sarah Carpenter: Thank you. It’s great to be here, Kristin.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I know you’re calling in from beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Yeah. So you and the [inaudible] were going to get into a great story. That’s my nickname for them. So if you guys are listening, forgive me. That was not Sarah’s idea. But Sarah is the co-owner of the American Avalanche Institute based up in Jackson Hole. She is here to talk about what the journey has been like to purchase a legacy brand, and bring it into the new century, if you will, with digital and improved curriculum, and how you’ve really extended the good name in reputation of what was built there into the curriculum community and the consumer community and the outdoor and snow industry. So it’s awesome to have you here. You exemplify so many traits of an intrepid entrepreneur, and I just want to give you a heartfelt welcome.

Sarah Carpenter: Thank you very much. I’m excited to be on the show today.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Cool. Well, tell us a little bit about–before we get into kind of the fall season which I know is like a blender in your world, can you tell us a little bit about the founding story of AAI?

Sarah Carpenter: Yep. The American Avalanche Institute was founded in 1974 by Rod Newcomb. He saw a need for formal avalanche education. It’s the oldest avalanche education school in the country, and Rod really led the way in teaching people about snow and avalanches, both for recreational pursuits as well as for professional pursuits.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s awesome. Sarah and I served on the American Mountain Guiding Association Board of Directors, too, which is where you and I became friends. And you’re also in the Intrepid Alliance, so thank you so much for your friendship and for being part of the alliance, Sarah.

Sarah Carpenter: Oh, absolutely. It’s been a great journey.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Cool. I just have to ask–again, before we get into the fall swing here–what is it like to own a business with your husband and another gentleman by the name of [inaudible]? Can you give us a little information on your partners?

Sarah Carpenter: Yeah. My two partners, like you said, one is my husband and one is one of my best friends. We bought the business from Rod in 2009. We knew that he was looking to sell it, and all of us had worked for Rod for years. So the 3 of us sat down and talked about– “Are we able and excited to carry on Rod’s legacy?” And we jumped in the deep end. So [inaudible] is a long time [inaudible] ski guide up in [inaudible] as well as a very highly regarded avalanche educator who [inaudible] and also–we’re working with the Appalachian Mountain Club.

And [inaudible] Carpenter is a very talented educator. I’m a bit biased as he’s also my husband, but a great communicator, great educator, got his start in the outdoor industry working for [inaudible] for a lot of years in the winter program and the mountaineering program, and has since moved more towards guiding and avalanche education. So I think we’re a pretty darn good team. Over the course of the years have figured out our strengths and weaknesses, and I think we do a great job complementing each other.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Well, and the fact that you’re all friends, I think, helps a lot. I read broad market entrepreneurial magazines and whatnot all the time, which I know you do, too. And you and I are both podcast junkies. But how often do you read about how entrepreneurs burn through friendships or it ruins a marriage? I just feel it in our industries because we’re tied into the passion, we don’t do that. I really feel like I just hear less stories about that, I don’t know why. Do you agree?

Sarah Carpenter: Yeah, I do think you’re right. I think going into business with friends or spouses is–I look at AAI, and I think all 3 of us do like a second marriage. So you’re handling big things, you’re making decisions regarding money, you’re heavily invested, you’re passionate. But I think the beauty of our industry is not only are we passionate, but we also come from this place of wanting to do good. Also, I think we’re better communicators in the outdoor industry. Maybe not all of us, but I think there’s this foundation of good communication and striving for something bigger than all of us. But at least at AAI has made us a stronger partnership rather than blown us apart.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s great. I also know you’ve bought the business, I think, at a time when there was a lot of interesting, relevant, and frankly, life-saving curriculum added to your community. When I say your community, I mean the Avalanche Education community. Because I’ve learned firsthand over the past 3, 4 years working with Verde. Our giveback is to obviously promote and support as much as we can, Avalanche Education. We’ve worked together a lot in the past, but since we’ve started to do that–and I think you came into the picture long before that–

Obviously, you were professional before you bought AAI, but can you talk a little bit about kind of the behavioral in the team and some of the things that you’ve added into the curriculum because I know that AAI is so incredibly well-known for their just high, high level of teaching, and you’re always updating to bring your curriculum current. Do you have anything that you’re going to be planning for this year for example, for winter ’16-’17?

Sarah Carpenter: We do. We’ve got some great things coming up. The great thing about AAI is all the people that work for us are industry professionals. So everyone who’s teaching the AAI courses is also working as a ski patroller or an avalanche forecaster or a ski guide, and has that framework of thinking big picture and evaluating snow and avalanche is not just for themselves, but also for a team. So that’s one piece that I’m just so proud of. I think it makes us who we are. Over the course of the years, in terms of teaching avalanche education, the focus has gone from really in-depth science and standing in snow pits for hours and evaluating what crystal type something is and evaluating layers to–we still do that, but at a lesser and much shorter bursts.

We do a lot more building a team, having a conversation before we even walk out the door, having a route plan, recognizing avalanche train, and also just having a systematic approach to traveling in the back country and communicating with partners. So that’s sort of how it’s transformed, and where we’re pushing it forward this year is we’re now adding in an online learning component. So everyone who signs up for an AAI course in the next few weeks will be getting a link to an online digital component of that learning. There’s video components I’m testing, some livestreaming of a how to navigate certain websites that folks will be able to see before they go into the class.

The goal of that is to hopefully retain the materials more effectively, to not just see that information for the first time when you walk in to your level 1 or your level 2, but to have seen it a couple times and then have the opportunity to ask questions of an industry professional, and then practice with some supervision in coaching, so.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: All I have to say is genius. Why wouldn’t you do that? It’s such a powerful, powerful medium. I think that people will probably access it after as well, I would imagine.

Sarah Carpenter: Yeah, that’s the goal is to built something that folks can access during the year that they took the course. And they’ll just continue to build a community around snow and avalanche education, and continue to engage the people that have taken our courses.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: My God, it makes me proud like a mama. By the way, Sarah and I are not related, at least that we know of. We may be.

Sarah Carpenter: We may be somewhere down.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: But that’s awesome. I just really can’t congratulate you enough because I know how much work goes into that. It’s going to make a huge difference. So you opened enrolment, you told me in our pre-call that the courses are filling up really well so far in October of 2016.

Sarah Carpenter: They are, it’s remarkable. And I can always tell where it’s snowing by course enrollment. So that’s [inaudible]. But we operate mainly in 3 areas–in Jackson, Wyoming, at [inaudible] Montana, and then also down in Salt Lake City. We end up traveling outside of that. We do a lot of training with ski areas. So any custom courses with ski areas we’ll travel to you as well as some military trainings, so. It’s going to be a busy year in avalanche education, I think.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Well, you also have a couple of good workshops coming up. I’d like to share that with my audience. Obviously, you were just at the ISSW in Breckenridge earlier this month. What else do you have presentation-wise coming up here in the 3rd quarter?

Sarah Carpenter: We’re excited. We’re traveling all over the west to present to these snow and avalanche workshops. Every year, all the regional forecast centers or search and rescue teams host these workshops to bring the latest information to the public and also the professional community. So this next weekend, I’m headed over to Seattle to talk at the Northwest snow and avalanche workshop. I’m going to be on the professional panel, and then I’m going to talk about making decisions with checklists. That’s something we’ve been working on for the last 5 years, which has been a great development.

The end of October, [inaudible] is going to be talking at the Wyoming Snow and Avalanche Workshop, highlighting what we took home from that international Snow Science Workshop that was held in Brackenridge. Then the next week, I am headed up to Montana State University to talk at their snow and avalanche workshop. [inaudible] folks a basic framework of how to prepare for the season, and basically, an intro to avalanche education.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s awesome. So I have to ask a maybe obvious question, what is it like to be on the forefront of the education community in North America as a female?

Sarah Carpenter: It’s wonderful. I feel incredibly privileged to work with all the people that I work with. I started my career as a ski patroller and have sort of moved through a variety of careers. I’m still guiding in teaching. I think as a female, I’m excited to be in that role, but honestly, the most exciting piece is just being surrounded by so many talented people and having access to folks like Carl [inaudible] who’s one of the foremost researchers in our industry who’s up in Montana, and Ron [inaudible] who’s back in Colorado. Really, more than anything, I just feel lucky to be surrounded by the community I am surrounded by.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s awesome. I was expecting that very answer, to be honest, because I have not–that is, obviously, I think pretty male-dominated, but for some reason, that community does not seem to have a boys club or a bro thing going on at all.

Sarah Carpenter: No, it really doesn’t. I feel really supported in the industry that I’m in, and I think the approach that has helped me is just a willingness to learn, a willingness to take in information and adapt to new ideas, new approaches. Not to say that I am not headstrong and highly opinionated, but I also just appreciate other people’s input.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I think that that’s maybe the prerequisite to be in the club is to have that strong opinion.

Sarah Carpenter: It is, yeah. I think, a bit.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I can remember being a freelancer writing for climbing magazine and [inaudible] who’s now the owner of [inaudible]. But at the time, he was with climbing. I was writing assignment for him, and I would hit send and send it into him, I would literally be like, “Oh my God.” Because everybody reads every word of every single article they did at the time. I hope they still do. I know I do. But in your community, it’s like that. I mean, no word goes unnoticed, nothing you stand for isn’t seen. And I think that’s one of the reasons also that you guys are building this entity to be such a leadership entity because AAI is really blazing the way forward in terms of a digital presence. You’ve done it with social media, content sharing, and also now with your new digital program for members.

I just think it’s awesome what you’re doing, because you’re bringing really important information to more people who frankly aren’t bombarded with information that they don’t even know like, “What should I believe or do?” Before it was from the industry, maybe they’d buy their skis and their avalanche safety equipment, and the manufactures would have one conversation with them, maybe they’d take, hopefully, some field courses, and that would be another conversation. But it really seems like the way that you’re communicating is kind of leveling the awareness around best practices for everybody–consumers and industry alike.

Sarah Carpenter: Yeah. Our goal is really to be a solid resource and give folks an avenue to ask questions and to continue to get up-to-date information. We try and do that through our courses, we also try and do that by connecting with folks through social media. Last year, we started a series where whenever we are in the back country–and all the owners live in the [inaudible] so it’s somewhat [inaudible]-centric, but we’re working on getting our Salt Lake and our [inaudible] folks involved.

But basically, we just posted a 1 to 2 minute video on current conditions and what we’re thinking about. That was really well-received by folks, and I think it can continue that dialogue. So if you take a level one, there’s a lot of information to sort. Our goal is to give you a systematic approach to sorting it, but that learning doesn’t stop when you walk out of that classroom. The learning really begins and definitely continue. So our goal is to help people on that journey in terms of here’s how we prioritize information. We try and do it on Facebook, we try and do it on Instagram and Twitter. I even opened a Snapchat account this year. So we’ll see how [inaudible]. I mean, the teenage coach.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s awesome. I think and honestly, I feel like if that’s where your people are consuming content and you have the bandwidth to bring the level of quality you’re known for, good on you. Because that’s just going to get it out to more people.

Sarah Carpenter: Yeah. That’s definitely our goal. I’ve also just been doing a big video build out for the last few years of just how-to videos on Vimeo and on YouTube. So folks can definitely access those for the pre-season refresher.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s cool. So I have to ask you this as a mother of a freshman in high school which I still can’t believe. I’m like, “Wait, I thought I was a freshman in high school 3 years ago.” So my son has just decided that he wants to do the big mountain team this year, and we don’t have the type of resource that you’ve providing to the schools in Jackson. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Sarah Carpenter: Yeah. So we have this amazing program in Jackson. Rod [inaudible] started it, and with one of the teachers in the Jackson High School, [inaudible]. And we took it and ran with it. We’re in the Jackson High School where we hit every high school senior, they get 10 days of avalanche education in the school then they get a full field day. Then if they’re interested, they can take 2 more field days and get a level 1 out of it. Freshmen and sophomores can do it before school and walk through the whole program. So we presented about this program at the International Snow Science Workshop, and there was such a great reception on it.

Folks were really psyched about getting into their community, so hopefully, in the near future, we’re going to have a packaged program for people to bring into their communities so that there is a way for teachers to present avalanche awareness curriculum within the school day, and knowing where it fits into the common core curriculum. So that’s one thing that we’re really fired up about.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I have to say I’m equally fired up about that.

Sarah Carpenter: I’m so proud of this program. It has grown and evolved, and it’s very activity-based, and definitely focused more on some of those learning styles that aren’t always addressed in adult education. But we’re working on addressing them there, too. But lots of hands on, lots of using technology in order to take this material and actually grasp it and process it.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So tell me this: obviously, you know my audience [inaudible] audience. What can we do to kind of spread the word about obtaining a level of awareness. If they can share this episode or maybe you can give your website or where can people find out more and share what you’re doing?

Sarah Carpenter: Yeah, I would love if folks shared this episode, this podcast. If you want to find us, our website is And then social media–Facebook we’re American Avalanche Institute, and then everything else, we are @avyinstitute on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. I am the one that gets the e-mail, so if you have ways, great ideas in terms of getting our message out to a broader audience, I am always open to it.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: It really is an important cause. I mean, people accessing the back country–I think multiple disciplines of that, continues to be the fastest growing segment of snow sports even with the downturn in the snow sports industry due to seasonality and retail that’s still churning in the numbers. We have more and more people curious about it, wanting to experience this amazing–just back country is where it’s at. That’s the peace, it’s the zen. People are really discovering it and [inaudible] so education and just a proactive confidence about how to travel safely in the back country no matter what you’re on is critical.

And I love the program you’re doing with the kids. So if you could maybe name three things that people can do to get in the right mindset now, that would be great. And then obviously, all of Sarah’s links and social will be in the show notes page at

Sarah Carpenter: To get in the right mindset now for the winter season. A few things I would recommend, one is to actually just tap into whatever local community you’re in if you’re in a mountain community and go to one of these snow and avalanche workshops. You can find information on them–you can just Google it or you can go to a website called, and there should be a listing of all the upcoming snow and avalanche workshops. The other thing I would do is check out our Vimeo page, and there’s a whole list of videos of–if you’re new to the back country, how do you [inaudible] for the back country? And what do you put in your backpack and how do you get ready.

If you’re more familiar with the back country, there’s review on how to measure slope angle, how to recognize avalanche terrain, how to do stability tests. Those are things I would do, and then I would also just make sure that you and your partners are on the same page. It’s great to refresh your personal knowledge, but I would also encourage you to make sure your partners refresh their knowledge and go out and do a one day rescue clinic or go out and practice with [inaudible] either in the front yard or in the grocery store before you even go travel in the backcountry.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I love that, the grocery store. That’s a cool idea.

Sarah Carpenter: Yeah, it’s kind of fun as long as you don’t get thrown out.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Well, Sarah, I wanted to have you on the podcast for so long and I thought, “Hey, it’s starting to get cold. We’ve had a few dustings of snow.” I know you’re getting snow up there in the [inaudible]. The time was now. And thank you so much for spending time. I just want to tell everybody who’s listening, Sarah and her team at AAI are the most passionate people I’ve ever met in the industry. What they do is so effective, they offer the best resource and the best, most consistent instructors out of any resource you could tap into for avalanche education in the entire country. So, hats off to you guys for building an amazing organization. I hope everybody will check out their site.

Sarah Carpenter: Thanks so much, Kristin. I really appreciate it.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: All right. Have a great winter and we will be talking soon.

Sarah Carpenter: Sounds good.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: You, too.


Join the Conversation