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Basking in the Afterglow

In an unconventional move for an independent owner of a specialty retail shop, Brendan Madigan of Alpenglow Sports launches a new podcast series that explores what makes famed outdoor athletes tick.

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Brendan Madigan wears a lot of hats on his long, wavy, auburn locks. He runs a successful specialty outdoor retail shop, Alpenglow Sports, in Tahoe City, California, a full-time job in itself. Job #2 is putting on the Alpenglow Mountain Festival twice a year: huge, intricate community events with over 60 individual tours, classes, seminars, presentations, sessions, and moving parts. Job #3 is organizing the Alpenglow Winter Film Series (WFS), a free, five-show athlete speaker series that draws over 600 people per show and has raised over $128K for local North Tahoe non-profits. And now he’s added a fourth gig to his already overflowing plate. The 39-year old is about to launch his next passion project: a new, self-produced podcast series called Afterglow.

The underlying goal? To spread the Alpenglow love, says Madigan.

SNEWS: What prompted you to get in the podcast world? Don’t you have enough to do with running your shop and putting on two huge consumer events?

Brendan Madigan stands in front of Alpenglow Sports
Brendan Madigan, owner of Alpenglow SportsCourtesy

Brendan Madigan: Yes, I have a lot going on! However, I never wanted to follow the traditional retail model of just turning the key on the front door each morning. I feel strongly about doing things differently.

Heritage specialty retailers have always been about building something of lasting value in their communities. A big part of how we do that is through our free Winter Film Series, perhaps the premier athlete speaker series in the country. Five times a winter our mountain tribe comes together and is inspired by someone like Lynn Hill, Tommy Caldwell, or Jeremy Jones. These aren’t just athletes, they are storytellers. In my mind, we can potentially make the world a better place by sharing their tales of personal growth through adventure.

First, the podcast falls into our community-facing business model of supporting those who have supported Alpenglow for nearly 40 years. Retailers must add value to be relevant. Second, it’s a direct result of me looking for the next challenge. And third, it came from a personal epiphany I had after two years of being sick with a rare and relatively untreatable auto-immune disorder. While in the midst of insomnia from a dose of steroids more suitable for a gorilla, I was listening to a Ted Radio Hour titled “The Act of Listening.” Something Dave Isay said rocked my world:

“Hearing a story from someone you thought was very different than you and recognizing a little bit of yourself in that person…has tremendous potential to build bridges of understanding between people. Hopefully one day this can move the needle in helping us recognize the power, grace, and beauty in the stories we will find all around us when we take the time to listen.”

I realized that I had access to some incredible world class athletes who come to our Winter Film Series. When we pack the house with 800 to 1,000 people for a free show with a storyteller like Tommy Caldwell, and raise $6-8K for a local non-profit, and the community is inspired, that’s powerful, special and unique.

I wanted to build on that, to take a deeper look into these athletes as people—their motivations, their flaws, their regrets—so we can learn from them.

SNEWS: Who helps you put these podcasts together?

BM: I’m working with my wife (Christin Hanna, a professional ballerina and choreographer) as the producer and two other Alpenglow folks for sound and editing. I actually wanted to quit many times over but my wife wouldn’t let me. I was really scared to put my own story of struggle out there as one of the motivations behind the series, but she told me that any artistically creative endeavor is scary. She reminded me that when you bare your soul to the world, it’s intimidating, but if you follow your heart everything works out. Without her I would have quit many times over. I want people to know that if they enjoy our podcast, it’s in large part due to her dedication.

SNEWS: How does your podcasting/retailing/and event-building intersect?

BM: I see them all as related and intertwined. I’m always looking for new ways to make our business more well-rounded, diverse, and protected, while sharing the stoke with our mountain tribe. People call Alpenglow progressive, but I don’t really like that description. We’re just doing what we do, trying to be creative and following the passions that drew us to the mountains in the first place. ​Being sick has taken me out of the skin track and off the trails for over two years now. I had to find another passion to devote that time to. I’m a creative person at heart and working so closely with my wife to produce something special (I hope) has been tremendously rewarding.

SNEWS: Will you make or lose money on your podcast series? Do you care?

BM: For better or worse, I’m not motivated by money. I’ve listened to some podcast conversations that have literally changed my life. If we can tap into our amazing WFS athletes in an intimate and organic fashion, and share their stories, it truly transcends money and fits into Alpenglow’s community-centric mission. It’s exciting to think that through the globally-accessed podcast platform we could potentially spread the love to passionate mountain tribes across the world.

However, I’d be remiss to not say it would be great to have a financial sponsor as the endeavor has cost around $10K to get off the ground. But the bottom line is that it’s really a labor of love and emotional exploration (for both me and my guests). For me, that’s fulfilling enough as a creative person looking to add value to the world.

SNEWS: Is Afterglow filling a niche that doesn’t exist in other podcasts?

BM:I think so, but that’s also my own brain telling me that! We vetted the idea and trailer, as well as some of the rough-cut edits with outdoor folks that I respect and admire and the feedback was very positive. It’s our hope that our approach will potentially fill a void in the outdoor space. I think the outdoor industry does a great job of focusing on the extreme feats of our heroes. But we haven’t really deeply explored what drives them as humans in a long-form, intimate, conversational format. We’re less concerned with the latest climb or ski descent and more interested on the stories of personal growth that their adventurous lives have yielded.

SNEWS: Do you conduct your interviews in person? Do you get star struck?

BM: In person is the way to go, if your budget allows. Unless you’re Terry Gross, I think you should be recording in person so that there’s a human connection and not some abstract voice on the other end of the phone line. We record the conversations in my dining room, which is full of our favorite books and has a great and comfortable energy to it. It feels like home and acts to really disarm the athlete when we welcome them into our home. The result is that they are willing to connect with you on a more intimate level.

Afterglow Alpenglow Sports
Behind the scenes: Brendan Madigan talks with Chris Noble and Doug Robinson for an episode of Afterglow.Courtesy

So far, I haven’t gotten star struck, as many of my guests have been close friends (Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington). Yes, they’re rock stars, but I’ve found they’re really just normal people who are both amazing and flawed like all of us. I talk to them like old friends and that seems to work.

SNEWS: I’m calling you out on this: Why are there no women in your initial lineup?

BM: It’s a very fair criticism, particularly amidst our cultural reckoning regarding sexual harassment and gender equality. For us it was really a function of not having any women guests in our Winter Film Series last year, not because we didn’t try, but because we couldn’t get companies and/or athletes to work with us.

We’re also doing the entire thing without any financial support so I have to take what I can get. But we’ve got Hilaree O’Neill on tap this year and I’ve scheduled recordings with Emily Harrington and Michelle Parker, as well. Personally, I’m very much looking forward to some interviews with women.