Katie Craig decided to make McCall her home in late 2016. Now nearly 31 years old, she followed a roundabout and serendipitous path getting here, a place she feels is perfect for creating and growing her outdoors skills business, Alpine Antics.
Born and raised in Logan, Utah, Craig played team sports as a kid but wasn’t necessarily outdoorsy. After high school she attended Utah State University, studying graphic design and art. At age 21 Craig left home for the first time and went to work in Alaska for a summer where she was bit by the travel bug. Working for a cruise line on a passenger train running between Anchorage and Fairbanks, bartending and guiding groups to Denali National Park, Craig enjoyed “an office with a view.” The job entailed 90-hour weeks full of 16-hour days, but Craig was 21 so it didn’t seem so bad. “The job and Alaska inspired me,” she says. “Fellow employees traveled the world after working so hard at those jobs and saving their money. I decided to do the same. I went to S.E. Asia backpacking and intermittently using cruise company perks to get around. I had always thought of world travel as being out of reach for me, but you can give up some luxuries, work hard, save, then travel. It totally changed my perspective on what was attainable.”
Craig moved to San Diego in 2011 with friends she met from Alaska. While living in San Diego, supporting herself with service industry jobs, Craig truly began appreciating the outdoors and developing a connection with the mountains. During the summer of 2014 she took on an internship with Outside the Lens, a nonprofit providing photography and videography classes to at-risk youth. “It was an attempt to insert myself into the San Diego art scene, hoping to find a new career path,” says Craig. Finding herself on the first day of the internship sitting at a desk for six hours doing data entry and research, she hated it but persevered. Good thing, because eventually she was given the opportunity to be a teacher’s aide working with homeless families and at-risk kids, doing art and photography, and jumped at the opportunity. “It was an intense environment, but very rewarding,” says Craig of that experience. It also started gears shifting in her head in terms of what she wanted to do with her life, planting the seed of working with kids.
Craig started accepting other outdoor education jobs; working as a field guide for a nonprofit facilitating outdoor field trips for fourth-grade students was her first experience. That led naturally to other jobs: a rock climbing program for kids during the summer, assisting a local guide for a youth rock climbing retreat. “The jobs kept coming my way,” says Craig. “I had no vision of working with kids, it just happened.”
During this time, Craig’s primary job in restaurant management stalled, leaving her frustrated. Her mother had moved to McCall, so Craig visited for the summer of 2015, taking a break to re-evaluate her way forward. She returned to San Diego revitalized, and in the autumn of 2016 found work with Positive Adventures, a company that partners with organizations or schools to create unique and customized learning adventures and retreats. “I love their programming,” says Craig, who is especially drawn to programs with a backcountry setting where there isn’t any cell service, no phones distracting people. She remembers a trip in southern Utah, into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area where she experienced her own sense of growth, feeling stronger, braver, and developing grit. “Spending a significant time in the outdoors has most definitely guided me through personal struggle and growth in a noteworthy way,” Craig says, adding one discovers their strengths and weaknesses in the outdoors, and learns how to survive when there’s no one else to rely upon.
Following these life detours, Craig never did finish college, but has no regrets; she discovered her vocation in teaching kids outdoors skills. Instead of college courses, Craig acquired life skills and now focuses on obtaining various certifications that apply to her Alpine Antics work, such as Wilderness First Responder. Craig tries to do two enriching or certification courses every year.
Moving to McCall in December 2016, Craig embraced the seasonal gig lifestyle common in small tourist towns like ours. She sees seasonal work as an opportunity for her to stay afloat financially while networking and focusing on developing Alpine Antics, the business she created in and launched the summer of 2017, offering outdoor adventure learning and training for kids.
During the summer of 2017, Craig’s Alpine Antics joined with Roots Forest School, the outdoor preschool in McCall, to create all-day camps for kids, scheduling three weeks of camps for preschool age kids in June, and two weeks for older kid camps in July. It was a success, and for summer 2018 the folks at Roots Forest School suggested she take it on herself. Alpine Antics has, with kids already enrolled.
Alpine Antics has programs for kids ages four through eighteen. In June, Craig will again offer three weeks of day camps for preschoolers, two camps of three hours duration each day (one in the morning, one in the afternoon), Monday through Thursday. Then in July, she’ll offer two weeks of backcountry skills day camps for kids ages 12-14 and 15-18, with all-day camps on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 9:30 am – 3:30 pm. “I’ll teach them Leave No Trace principles as we hike, learn how to filter water, use backcountry stoves, and use a map and compass,” says Craig. “I also want to do an overnight trip on Thursday/Friday that will tie all of the skills they learned together into a cohesive backpacking trip.” Craig plans to have a male MOSS graduate come along so it’s co-ed both in instructors and students, and maybe a parent, likely taking the overnight group to Boulder and Louie Lakes where there’s cell service and a short hike to the exit trail head should there be any problems. Craig’s eyes light up and a big smile crosses her face as she talks about this summer’s programs, imagining the fun she’ll have teaching them. It’s obvious that working with kids in the outdoors is what Craig loves doing.
Alpine Antics will offer a progression of difficulty and skills over the years, so kids can keep coming back every summer and push their knowledge and skill base. This summer, Craig hopes to add adult workshops and community education classes. “I have no expectations or pride attached to Alpine Antics,” says Craig, hoping for steady growth over the years as word-of-mouth spreads, an attitude that will serve her well as her business experiences the usual growth hiccups of any new service enterprise.
Since living here, Craig has noticed demand for a way for people to meet up for hikes and other outdoor activities, particularly among her own 20-40 age demographic, so she hopes to create a way to make that happen, especially for seasonal workers. Having worked in the service industry since age sixteen, Craig understands its unique demands and hurdles, including the sense that one loses friends and contacts as the seasons change and people come and go.
Creating connections for climbing in our area is another goal for Craig. While living in San Diego she was introduced to and quickly became enamored of rock climbing. For a time, she worked at Mesa Rim Rock Climbing Gym & Fitness Center as a summer camp coach and youth climbing coach. An injury caused her to take a break from climbing. Aware there are climbers in the area and lamenting the lack of a local climbing guide book or climbing gym, Craig wants to “bring local climbing to the surface.” She likes the idea of teaching outdoor climbing along with a respect for the land, learning to enjoy nature while challenging one’s self. “I’m not a certified guide,” says Craig. “I need to get back into climbing shape and brush up on my skills before I can teach climbing off of the ground, but maybe I can help organize a guiding service from Boise or Stanley to come and teach.”
Proving she understands the lifestyle of the seasonal gig worker, Craig took a part time job at Brundage this past winter and learned to ski. “I took a job in the restaurant with the goal of learning winter sports,” says Craig. “I loved it.” She also works part time at Salmon River Brewery, where she has worked off and on since the summer of 2015. “They take good care of me,” says Craig. She also still works for Positive Adventures in San Diego a couple weeks each year which gets her into the outdoor education mindset, seeing how they execute trips and learning from other outdoor educators.
Craig is excited to see how this summer’s offering of kid camps through Alpine Antics plays out. She’s upbeat about her prospects and looking forward to sharing her own sense of joy and wonder in the outdoors with area youth, teaching them hiking, camping and survival skills as well as how to keep the beautiful forest that is their backyard playground clean and pristine.
It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Katie Craig is the perfect person.[Cover photo: Katie Craig in Arches National Park, Utah. All photos courtesy of Katie Craig/Alpine Antics.]