Alpine Adventures - Mountain Adventures In The Adirondacks Since 1985 - Instruction & Guiding For Rock Climbing, Ice Climbing, Mountaineering And Backcountry Skiing
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Alpine Adventures was born in early 1985 during a fierce, two-day storm in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Alone, sequestered in a tiny mountain hut by the atrocious weather, with no sign of the storm letting up, climbing was out of the question. We (R.L. and Karen Stolz) found ourselves with an unexpected opportunity, and plenty of time, to ponder our future. We were near the end of an eight-month around-the-world odyssey of climbing and trekking and it wouldn’t be long before we had to return to the “real world” and get on with our lives. Our dreams and aspirations were far from traditional and we needed a plan to realize them. On a brown paper grocery bag, we sketched out our ideas for a business and a lifestyle that became Alpine Adventures. We have never looked back. 

Karen, Southern Alps, New Zealand, 1985

Karen and R.L. in Nepal, 1984

R.L., Blue Mountains, Australia 1985

Before Alpine Adventures
Although many people have been a part of Alpine Adventures as it has evolved, we (R.L. and Karen Stolz) have always furnished its energy and direction. R.L. was an active climber and skier in the 1970’s and met Karen while teaching a climbing course in 1979. We began to climb together regularly and what started out as a climbing partnership turned into a life partnership. 

In 1981 R.L. accepted a position teaching climbing, skiing, backpacking and paddling in a therapeutic adventure program based near Philadelphia but operating over a much broader geographical area. Karen took a job working as a computer systems analyst in the Philadelphia area. Together, we started Crag Courses, our first business. Crag Courses provided seasonal rock climbing instruction on local crags, when free time from our other jobs allowed. Crag Courses helped us learn the basics of running a business and it allowed us to “test the waters” of independent professional mountain guiding. We liked just about everything about it. 

The therapeutic adventure program where R.L. was employed received considerable recognition for its staff’s work on academic accountability and other areas of experiential education. Early in 1984 a representative from the largest social services agency in Australia made plans to visit the US and observe one of the courses R.L. was directing in West Virginia, with the intent of launching a similar program in Australia. During that visit, R.L. arranged to go to Australia with Karen, to provide training for the new program’s staff and to help get the program started. This provided the impetus for a major change in our lives. 

We decided it was time to leave our jobs, close our small business and take an extended, around-the-world trip, including a stop in Australia for staff training. Our other destinations included England, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand, French Polynesia and Tahiti. Our purpose was to climb and see the world – the rest would just have to work itself out later. 

That brings us, more or less, back to that brown paper bag, storm-bound in the hut. We had a fairly clear idea of what we wanted our business to do but we needed the right place to do it. We had already experienced the frustration of working with limited resources in Pennsylvania, so we were only willing to consider places that offered a major mountain region with a wide variety of resources. We decided it was essential to be situated within a day’s drive of our primary market and we figured we would be way ahead of the game if we were already very familiar with the area we chose. We were not interested in moving in on someone else’s territory and lastly, we wanted to be reasonably close to our families. 

It didn’t take us long to realize the Adirondacks excelled in every area we had defined, and that Keene was the ideal location. In the end, it was almost a “no-brainer”. By May, 1985 we had purchased a house in Keene and begun putting the business together. We called our company Adirondack Alpine Adventures (a few folks still think of us by that name, which was shortened to Alpine Adventures when we incorporated in 1990).

The First Few Years (1985 thru 1988)
Our business plan (the brown paper bag was a good start but hardly a real plan) was built around providing highly personalized service in small group settings, still the cornerstones of our business. Initially, we saw instruction as a far more important component of our business than guiding. This was partly because professional guiding was still in its infancy in the US. We envisioned growing the company to include five full-time instructors (including ourselves) and a small office staff, but not much larger. We have always valued the benefits of being small and nimble. 

Our first season was filled primarily with clientele from Crag Courses, our previous business. In 1986 we published our first Catalog of Courses and began an aggressive marketing campaign. In this catalog we described our programs in detail, including maximum student to instructor ratios (unheard of in those days). We were rewarded with enough business to encourage us to start construction on the Alpenhaus, our base of operations, the following year. We were also able to hire two part-time assistant instructors to work with us; Jeanne Panek and Eric Miller. 

During those early years we sometimes guided 30 days in a row without a break. By the end of 1988 we were frequently booked beyond capacity, and it was clear that Adirondack Alpine Adventures was a viable business. Our Alpenhaus (featuring one of the first commercial climbing walls in the East) was complete and we had three assistants (Jim Belcer joined us that season) instructing with us. The climbing industry was coming to life.

Our original sign, 1985

Karen and R.L., Adirondacks, 1988
Photo by Eric Miller

Peter Gill, guide & poster boy, 1990

Expansion & Growth (1989 thru 1995)
In 1989 we began to explore the possibility of expanding our operations into New Hampshire’s White Mountains and, to that end. R.L. ran a few pilot programs there. In the Adirondacks our business continued to grow and it was clear we would need help beyond our part-time assistants. 

1990 was a very busy year for us. We hired Peter Gill, a guide from New Hampshire, to work for us in the Adirondacks for a season. He would then move back to New Hampshire and run our new operation there. Todd Morgan also joined our Adirondack staff that summer. We also incorporated our business that year, dropping the “Adirondack” from  the name to better reflect our expanding company. Another major accomplishment in 1990 was the implementation of our Alpine Mastery Methods, which had been in development for five years. 

1991 saw us continue refinement of our Alpine Mastery Methods and greatly expand our annual Catalog of Courses. With Peter running our New Hampshire operation, we were able to hire two more full-time guides, Chris Misavage and Dawes Strickler for the Adirondack rock climbing season. With a staff of five full time guides (including ourselves) we were able to approach a volume of 1,000 client days that season – all at ratios averaging less than two clients per guide. We also hired Pamela MacDonald as an administrative assistant, a job she held for six years. We had achieved the business goals we established for ourselves at the outset and the future was very bright. We also concluded that part-time guides, no matter how skilled they were, could no longer adequately stay in tune with the increased demands of instructing and guiding our programs. 

1992’s most significant event was the birth of our son, Kevin. Karen was excused from her guiding duties for most of that year (she had her hands full with other duties) but continued to run the office. Peter decided he liked the Adirondacks better than the Whites and returned to work here while Chris took over guiding in New Hampshire. Todd Morgan returned to guide for us again in the Adirondacks that season. We also began to explore privately arranged trips to destinations far from the Adirondacks that year. 

In 1993 Karen returned to almost full-time guiding and Jamie Brownell joined our staff, followed by Trip Barden later in the season. We also decided to discontinue our instructional programs in New Hampshire due to the awkwardness of managing operations from two states away in the Adirondacks. We continued, however, to run occasional guided climbing trips there and elsewhere. 

1994: In addition to Jamie and Trip, Rob Eccleston joined our rock climbing staff that year. R.L. continued to focus more on guiding away from the Adirondacks and we completed an addition to our home, which took all of our spare time. 

1995: Our tenth anniversary found us with a new guide, Jesse Williams, in addition to Trip, Jamie, and Rob returning from previous seasons. We also ventured into retailing climbing equipment. Alpine Adventures reached its largest size that year. The climbing industry was growing very rapidly and our Adirondack operation was running smoothly – it was time for something new. 

The Vision Changes (1996 thru 2000)
By 1996 it was becoming apparent that the challenges of professional guiding were considerably more intriguing to us than those of running a business. Climbing was growing at its fastest ever and the outdoor industry was starting to displace people who loved the mountains with others who were driven primarily by economics. “How did these people end up in the climbing industry?” we wondered. The mountain guiding industry was changing. R.L. ran private trips to Europe and elsewhere that year while Jamie and Jesse continued to instruct and guide for us in the Adirondacks. Downsizing (from four guides working for us to two) allowed us more time consider new direction. 

From 1997 through 2000 our focus continued to move toward the “profession” of mountain guiding and  away from the “business” of mountain guiding. We spent a lot more time dealing with people in the mountains and a lot less time dealing with processes in the office. This was in sharp contract to the most of the mountain guiding industry, which was rapidly moving in the direction of delivering mountain guiding services as a de-personalized commodity. To us, this trend, although efficient from a commercial standpoint, seemed to be more suitable for the sale of products than services. 

We counted many capable climbers among our regular clientele and this allowed us to focus more on custom-crafting private trips specifically for their interests and abilities. We put tremendous effort into these trips, sometimes spending nearly as much time researching opportunities and preparing as we did climbing. South America was added to our growing list of destinations in 1998. 

In the Adirondacks, we continued to place emphasis on our instructional programs, especially at the advanced levels. Jesse guided for us through 1997 and Jamie completed his seventh, and final, season with us in 1999. In 2000, we hired Colin Loher to guide for us. We also decided to discontinue most of our retailing activities – the industry was becoming too cutthroat for our tastes. 

As we moved more toward advanced instruction in the Adirondacks, and highly demanding guiding objectives elsewhere in the world, it was becoming clear to us that our professional skills were far beyond those of any guides we could hire. We were still growing professionally, but twenty years of guiding had taught us a lot. Because we were finding much greater satisfaction actively pursuing mountain guiding ourselves than we ever found growing a business, we decided to focus our attention in that direction. Alpine Adventures became a two-person operation again, after 14 years. 

R.L. preparing to climb for television crew, first aired 1996 on public tv

Beth, queen of Owls Head; our faithful mascot from 1989 through 2003

Guides and clients in far-flung places

New Goals (2001 thru present)
“Going it alone” was one of those scary decisions you know you will look back on and wonder about. In retrospect, it turned out to be one of the best choices we have made since starting Alpine Adventures. Unencumbered by the need to manage employees, we can now concentrate on expanding our professional abilities and improving our services. We have more time for client/guide relationships and we are better able focus on the unique needs of each individual client. 

In 2002, despite the previous fall’s terrorism incident, we completed more global travel for our private trips than ever before. R.L. was away from the Adirondacks guiding for more than half of that year, and Karen was away a good part of the remainder. We were away so much of the time that we have since established limits on how much we will allow ourselves to travel.

Our current goal is to continue personally sharing the mountains through instruction and guiding in the Adirondacks, and trips to the world’s far flung places – pretty much the same goal we wrote on that brown paper grocery bag, on the other side of the world, in 1985. Our lifestyle has brought us abundant satisfaction and this web site is as much an effort to articulate who we are, what we believe, where we’ve been and where we are going, as it is an attempt to market Alpine Adventures.

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~ Mountain Adventures In the Adirondacks Since 1985 ~

Alpine Adventures, Inc.
10873 NYS Route 9N, P.O. Box 179
Keene, New York 12942 USA

(518) 576-9881

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