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These talented outdoor industry folks are the real deal.
Talent in our industry is hard to define, but easy to spot. The people featured in this series here show it in their approach to their work, their lives, and above all, in the passion and authenticity they bring to the industry and beyond.
This is the first in a series of stories highlighting the 26 most talented folks this industry has to offer.
30, Editor-at-Large, Climbing
Even before Julie Ellison became the first female lead editor of Climbing magazine* a little over a year ago, she had already achieved the climber ideal of living in a van and spending her time at whichever crag was next on her list. With the cred that comes from living the life she writes about, Ellison quickly figured out new ways to engage and expand her audience (by 20 percent in one year) and bring new voices—and participants—into the climbing world. “Julie is an unapologetic, staunch supporter of women in climbing,” says Shelma Jun, founder of Flash Foxy and the Women’s Climbing Festival. In a sport that resembles a tribe more than a hobby, Ellison knows her audience—and that’s key.
24, Adventure artist
Most of us can recall being awestruck by the outdoors, but it takes a rare talent to capture that feeling across different media. Rachel Pohl, who often travels by ski to her subjects, has had her paintings printed on BlackStrap face masks and starred in an IMAX movie, National Parks Adventure—not bad for someone just a year out of college. “Any of her prints legitimately put me in that place, better than almost any picture or other medium of art you see in the outdoor industry,” says Jim Sanco, brand manager for BlackStrap Industries. “No matter whether it’s winter or summer, and no matter where you are. It’s puking snow outside my window right now, but I look at [her painting of] Zion, and it takes me there immediately.” Most recently, Pohl has been in ads for the state of Montana, where she lives, aimed at skiers who want to experience her brand of backcountry awe.
37, Founder, Semi-Rad.com
Brendan Leonard would never claim to be a gifted athlete. And that self-awareness is the main part of his charm and appeal. In a media environment full of chiseled pros and trips that are the stuff of dreams but only few people’s realities, Leonard’s work stands out for its attainability. He has so zeroed in on the common aspects of the outdoors that all people find his work relatable, says Christian Folk, consumer marketing manager of Outdoor Research. The brand sponsors Semi-Rad, and gets a ton of site referrals out of the deal. “He brings a bit of fun and humor to what can otherwise be a fairly intense and more hard-core message,” Folk says. In that relatability lies inclusion and inspiration—and a growing following.
28, Campaign manager, content producer for outdoor advocacy and community
Katie Boué took a part-time media social gig with OIA and turned it into a full-time job traveling the country in a van to chronicle stories about the industry and the people who are its future. Along the way, she doubled OIA’s site traffic, says Jenn Brunson, director of digital marketing for OIA and Boué’s former manager. “She’s kind of an anomaly,” Brunson says. “It’s rare that you find someone who is so, so passionate about what they do and how they recreate.” Such passion inspires others to work harder toward industry goals, and also helped loosen up OIA’s all-business reputation—no small task.” She has a magnetic personality,” says Kenji Haroutunian, an industry veteran who now runs a consulting firm and Outdoor PressCamps, “and it will have a halo effect on the organization she will lead someday.”
*Climbing and SNEWS, which produces Outdoor Retailer Daily, have the same parent company, Active Interest Media.