What to do when you move to a small mountain tourist town – McCall – because your husband takes a job with the Forest Service but you don’t have a job waiting for you?
Many find whatever work they can, often stringing multiple gigs together to add up to something resembling full-time work. That’s life in a tourist town.
For those more willing to embrace some risk, another option is creating your own gigs. That way – because you are your own boss – you set your own schedule and have more time to enjoy all the outdoor recreational amenities that make living here so wonderful.
Gwen Abbott Asmussen is just such a risk-taker. As a kid growing up in Aspen, Colorado, alpine skiing and ski racing was her life. Quitting ski racing in 2001, Gwen took up free ride skiing and skier cross, racing in the 2002, 2003 and 2004 Winter X Games. Skier cross is a sport that combines alpine racing with freestyle. Six skiers start shoulder-to-shoulder, battling for space and speed as they make their way down a course resembling a regular race course except there are jumps to negotiate, built in different forms and shapes, the top three of each heat moving on until a final heat of six determines who stands on the podium. Speed, skill, nerve and a willingness to embrace risk are required.
Climbing Inspires a Business
Even before moving to McCall, Gwen had started a home-based business making dog toys. Chews On Belay is the brainchild borne of Gwen’s love of rock climbing, which she started doing in college, and dogs. Her husband Jess – they married in 2011 – was a climbing ranger in Colorado, and when they added canine Cook to their home, Jess made a leash out of old climbing rope. Gwen liked it. While shopping for dog toys at Walmart, Gwen saw a $1 rope toy and thought, “I can make that better.” She started playing with combining climbing rope and tennis balls, tested them on Cook – a strong chewer – and then took some to a nearby off-leash dog park where the feedback was instantly positive. Other dog owners asked her if she sold the toys. “I do now!” Gwen replied, and two days later made her first sale at the park, insisting it really was that simple for her to start her dog toy business.
A pet supplies store in Estes Park, Colorado loved the toys but asked that Gwen use non-toxic, non-acidic balls rather than regular tennis balls, to protect dogs’ teeth, so she has incorporated those ever since. Chews On Belay toys are still sold in a few stores in Colorado, as well as in McCall Pet Outfitters and Bark ‘n’ Purr in Boise, but mostly Gwen sells online through an Etsy page. In winter months, she may make as few as four toys a month, but in summer – when she attends arts and crafts fairs, something she started doing in 2017 – she sells a lot of toys, making anywhere from 100-500 toys per month. She has sold as many as 300 in a single weekend at a fair, and so she asks – begs – for people to help her make the toys when really busy. (She pays them for their time.) When asked if making so many toys – which involves tying several knots in the climbing rope and punching holes in balls – is hard on her hands or wrists, Gwen replies, “I use my feet a lot! I show others how to use their feet to make them. I guess all those friendship bracelets I made all those years ago paid off!”
This summer, Gwen plans to sell her sturdy, long-lasting dog chew toys at Donnelly’s Huckleberry Festival, the Roseberry Arts and Crafts Festival, and fairs in Boise and Coeur d’Alene. You can learn more about Gwen’s unique, hand-crafted dog toys on her Facebook page and buy them on her Etsy page.
Sharing a Love of Fitness
Gwen has always been athletic; she and Jess venture into the forest in all seasons to ski, mountain bike, hike and run, paddleboard and climb. She shares that love of staying in shape by teaching at gyms. Gwen currently teaches PiYo – a combination of Pilates and yoga – at The Club McCall. In March, she went to California to acquire certification to teach trapeze yoga (also known as aerial yoga or hammock yoga). “Inverted yoga; TRX meets yoga,” is how Gwen describes it, TRX being a Navy Seals-inspired form of suspension body-weight exercise training. She’s eager to introduce area residents to this fun type of yoga, where one’s body is supported in the yoga poses with a cloth/silk hammock with handles suspended from a beam or other overhead support. The hammock hangs to within a couple feet of the floor and allows one to do poses they might not be able to accomplish on a floor mat. It combines yoga with Pilates, dance and acrobatics. “It’s great for back problems; it’s like gentle traction,” says Gwen. “It’s also good for hip flexor muscles. I always feel so good after a session.”
Gwen will be offering some free “discovery” classes at McCall Pilates for a few weeks, 20-minute one-on-one sessions to introduce people to the concept. She’ll then teach classes there – private or two-people sessions to start – until interest grows enough to offer larger classes. “I really hope it catches on,” says Gwen. “I’ll only teach beginning and intermediate levels, changing things up to keep it interesting. It’s so good for people with back issues, knee pain; we can work around those sorts of problems with the support.”
If a recent comment on Gwen’s Facebook page from a married male friend reacting to photos of her doing some of the poses – “Man…if we had one of those, I’m afraid we’d have more than three kids…” – is any indication, trapeze yoga will find plenty of fans.
After Making Toys and Teaching Yoga, One Needs to Party and Unwind
In September 2017, Gwen began working as a sales representative for OneHope Wine, a charity wine company out of Napa, California with the mission, “Bringing people together to celebrate and serve the world.” Or, put another way, to inspire people to indulge while doing good. Through its OneHope Foundation, OneHope Wine donates half of its profits to charity, with each varietal supporting a different cause or organization.
As a rep, Gwen not only processes orders, arranging for the wine to be delivered directly to the purchaser’s door, but also hosts parties where people can sample various wines (tastings only, not servings). When hosting a party, the host or hostess get to pick a charity where an additional 10% of qualifying wine sales go back to a cause of their choice. Gwen always chooses Parkinson’s research because her dad passed away in 2015 from the disease. Parties can also have a theme, chosen by either the party’s hosts or Gwen. For example, Gwen has coupled wine samples with: wine and cheese, Girl Scout cookies, Halloween candy. Ruby’s Kitchen hosted an evening where Gwen’s OneHope Wines were matched with each of the five courses served, and Gwen recently provided wine tastings at a private party featuring musician Tyler Edwards. When guests at parties hosted by someone other than Gwen make purchases, ten percent of purchases of cases, half cases or gift boxes goes to the host’s chosen charity, the only stipulation being that the charity be a 501(c)(3) and non-political.
“So far, my sales have provided between $7,000 – 8,000 toward global charities,” says Gwen, something she’s justifiably proud of. Gwen says the commission she earns from sales is generous, and she’s looking for people to join her in representing OneHope Wines.
You can learn more about how to order wine from Gwen, or how to ask her to provide a tasting at your next party or fundraiser by visiting her at Gwen’s OneHope Wine for a Reason on Facebook.
When Gwen isn’t working to sustain her various local businesses (or create a new one) and isn’t out playing in the forest with her husband and dog, you might see her driving around town in the summer months in the 1929 Model A roadster pickup that her father left her. Gwen restored it herself with some help from McCall Auto Club, a group that provides know-how to those restoring classic cars. You’ll undoubtedly see a big smile on Gwen’s face as she tootles around town in her hot rod, wind ruffling her hair and her dog Cook or some other lucky passenger riding co-pilot as she contemplates her next adventures in business and in life.[Cover photo: Gwen’s dog Cook ready to ride co-pilot in her restored Model A roadster pickup. All photos courtesy of Gwen Asmussen.]