How an Alpine Adventure Inspired a Business
What can the Matterhorn, a 14,000-foot alpine peak, teach an entrepreneur about running a business? For Roger Beaudoin, the lessons he has learned scaling the Swiss Alps and rappelling down mountains closer to his New England home have had a far-reaching influence.
“Starting a business and climbing a mountain both require a sense of adventure, knowledge, stamina, and persistence,” says the Babson College alum. Beaudoin speaks from experience. He opened the Matterhorn Ski Bar at Sunday River in Newry, Maine, 18 years ago after being inspired by the North Wall Bar, which sits at the base of the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland.
The first time he saw the Matterhorn, Beaudoin was halfway through his MBA at Babson and in the midst of an internship in Milan, Italy. “I’d taken a train to Switzerland one weekend, and as soon as I got off in Zermatt and saw the Matterhorn in the distance, I became obsessed. It instantly looked like something I wanted to be a part of.”
Compared to the other climbers with their packs, crampons, picks, and ice axes, Beaudoin stuck out like a sore thumb on that day in 1988. Determined to touch the mountain, he embarked on what would ultimately be a 10-hour hike wearing only a T-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. Underprepared and without food, water, or a change of clothes, he says the adventure was a eureka moment that changed the course of his professional life.
“Until that day, my definition of success had been money,” said Beaudoin. But, despite the paycheck and benefits, the corporate experiences he had didn’t match up to his passion for climbing. Although Beaudoin’s business wouldn’t come to be until a few years later, he credits that first hike with redirecting his career. “Don’t follow the money. Follow your passion, and treat that as your business. Let your own happiness be your guide.”
As Beaudoin discovered, passion alone is not enough; he had a lot to learn about climbing. Characterized by its steep rocky faces, the Matterhorn demands intense preparation and knowledge. Beaudoin took rock climbing classes at home and summited several alpine training peaks. Each offered unique challenges, ranging from staying balanced on a 2-foot knife-edge to safely climbing a day after an avalanche.
“Those training climbs were useful for giving me the confidence and knowledge I needed for the Matterhorn,” said Beaudoin. And, just as he prepared in anticipation of his climb, Beaudoin took a similar approach to opening his ski bar. He traveled to Naples, Italy, with his business partner to learn about authentic wood-fired, brick oven pizza making. The secrets they learned in Naples are used today in the restaurant. He also kept his inspiration, Zermatt’s North Wall Bar, in mind when designing the interior atmosphere of his ski bar.
Stamina is another quality that has been integral to Beaudoin’s character and success. As a second-year MBA student, he set his sights on landing a position as Donald Trump’s apprentice. Beaudoin wrote Trump a letter once a week during his final semester, and, finally, got a terse reply: “We cannot continue this ridiculous correspondence.”
Although the letter-writing campaign proved fruitless, Beaudoin’s tenacity and belief in himself would come into play in the Alps. Twice, he traveled to Switzerland intending to climb the Matterhorn but was stymied by weather conditions. He returned a third time in 1998 and finally reached the Matterhorn’s peak. He recalls being completely overwhelmed by the experience, laughing and crying hysterically at the top of the mountain and shouting “That’s great! That’s great!”
However, weather intervened again. After years of dreaming about the Matterhorn’s summit, rapidly changing conditions forced Beaudoin and his guide to descend after just 10 minutes at the peak. The situation demanded adaptability, a trait Beaudoin had honed as an entrepreneur. In addition to his thriving ski bar, he had opened a Mexican restaurant nearby. The business failed to take off, testing Beaudoin’s stamina and flexibility. Ultimately, he decided to shutter the restaurant and learned that failures can be just as instructive as successes.
The biggest test of all was one of persistence, more than 3,000 miles from the dangers of the Alps. In 2010, Beaudoin was climbing near home and had forgotten to double check his gear. He suffered a near-fatal 60-foot fall, shattering his heel and hitting his head on the way down.
Scared that he’d be too physically injured or mentally rattled to climb again or get back to business, Beaudoin leaned on the motto he has followed his whole life: “Take the next step before it’s taken for you.”
Since his fall, Beaudoin has recovered fully and taken the Matterhorn Ski Bar to new heights. The business just had its most successful season in its 18-year history. And personally? Beaudoin summited the Matterhorn a second time in 2011, spending a full hour at its peak.
“Everybody has a Matterhorn in their life,” he says. “Go after it. Pursue your Matterhorn.”
Posted in Preparing Entrepreneurial Leaders