In today’s episode, we speak with our guest Jayson Simons-Jones, CEO of Lotus Alpine Adventures, an alpine rock, ice, and ski mountain guiding company, and the 95th American to earn his IMFGA/ UIAGM Mountain Guide License.
Jayson has spent the last two decades of his life and career as an outdoor educator and mountain guide, which is his most authentic passion. Now he dedicates his career to mentoring others in the outdoor world and finds the most joy in witnessing his clients’ deep personal development.
Listen as Jayson Simons-Jones talks about guiding clients through challenging terrains like rock, ice, and snow, building a brand based on your ‘why,’ and the power of learning something new and applying it immediately.
Watch the podcast episode:
Get the latest episode of The Ultimate Dish delivered right to your inbox every week.
Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. Today, I’m speaking with Jayson Simons-Jones, a New England native and CEO of Lotus Alpine adventures, an alpine, rock, ice and ski mountain guiding company.
Jayson has spent the last two decades of his life and his career as an outdoor educator and mountain guide, mentoring his clients through all types of challenging terrain, like rock, ice, and snow.
His career started at the age of 24, as an instructor with the Colorado Outward Bound School. He later moved into the AMGA tract of professional guiding, becoming the 95th – only the 95th! – American to earn his IFMGA/UIAGM Mountain Guide License.
When he’s not educating outdoor enthusiasts, Jayson works as a professional writer and pho5tographer, with featured work in National Geographic Adventure, the New York Times, the Denver Post, and many more.
Join me today as I chat with Jayson about what it’s like to mentor in the outdoor world, how he’s created his successful business rooted in the passion for climbing and skiing, and what it takes to fuel an active outdoor lifestyle.
And there he is! Good morning, buddy. How are you?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Good morning. Thank you for having me. Super excited to be here.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. That was one heck of an intro. I’m a little winded. I’m not going to lie. There is a lot there. We’re going to dive into it.
We haven’t met before, so I’m super, super excited to finally meet you. We’re going to kick it off with a little Crested Butte. Our guests will tell really quickly that we’re in Colorado. We’re both in Boulder right now.
Crested Butte 2007-14ish. Do I have that right-ish?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Those were the years I owned my business there, but I actually stumbled my way into Crested Butte in 1998, I believe.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh wow. Okay.
Jayson Simons-Jones: And I left in 2017. I spent basically almost 20 years there.
Kirk Bachmann: We have a connection there. My family moved to Colorado in the 70s. A little bit older than you. I spent a lot of time in Crested Butte. It’s an absolutely beautiful part of the state. Two towns. You’ve got Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte where the ski resort is. My family had a hotel down the road in Gunny, as we referred to it – Gunnison – for a bunch of years.
I’m just going to put you on the spot right off the bat because their classics: favorite Crested Butte restaurants that you can remember?
Jayson Simons-Jones: I’m a little bit partial. One of my first jobs for a number of years there for me in Crested Butte, I was actually working as a prep cook at the Les Bosquet.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh my God! It’s on my list. I can’t believe it. Remind me of the chef’s name.
Jayson Simons-Jones: It was Vic and Candy.
Kirk Bachmann: Yes, Victor, right off the bat there. Yeah. Wow!
Jayson Simons-Jones: So I’m a little partial to them. I learned a lot about life watching those guys run a kitchen, French food and all that. Slogar is a classic, but I’m probably partial to Soupcon and the Timberline as well. The Timberline was around, too.
Kirk Bachmann: I have to share with my guests that none of this was prescribed. We didn’t talk about this, but on my list: Soupcon, Slogar, Wooden Nickel, Les Bosquet and Timberline. Funny story about Timberline and Tim. You know Tim, right.
Jayson Simons-Jones: I do, yeah. Tim and Darlene.
Kirk Bachmann: Tim and Darlene. A little bit of drama. I think they had Timberline for 20-plus years, right?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Might have been, yeah.
Kirk Bachmann: Spectacular restaurant, but I think the drama centered around Darlene being Heidi Blair Montag’s mom. I forget what the television show was, but she was all the rage in the 90s, I think.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Yeah, even in the 2000s, I remember, occasionally the restaurant would be shut down while they were filming whatever the reality TV show was there with Heidi in town.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh, that’s awesome. I just love it.
While we’re on the stacked ranking themes, I absolutely love this. Crested Butte’s an incredible place. When we got there in the 70s – I still bother my dad about this. “Dad, why didn’t you buy all the land surrounding Crested Butte in the 70s.” Favorite runs in the mountains?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Let’s see here. I would probably say the Third Bowl, off along the extreme limits of the north face terrain that’s up there.
Kirk Bachmann: Knew you were going to say that.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Partially because it seemed to be my time on ski patrol there for five years, part-time. It was rare that Third Bowl was open. It meant it was a good season, because it was at the far boundary of the resort. If we had time to open Third Bowl, it meant it was a really good season. That’s one.
Carving turns down International right below the Silver Queen there at the afternoon on the west-facing light was always a classic, too.
Kirk Bachmann: Beautiful. For Third Bowl, is there any kind of lift up there, or you actually have to walk over? Or is there a lift?
Jayson Simons-Jones: No, it’s the same old North Face lift, and you would still traverse and walk around there.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh I love that. The knees are going, and I’m getting older, but I could still manage my way down Jokerville, and I’ll just leave it at that.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Everything on Crested Butte is quite stiff for the ratings, so to speak.
Kirk Bachmann: Let’s talk about you a little bit. Upstate New York, that’s where you grew up, right?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Yep. I was actually born in New York City, but my parents moved upstate when I was super young. I grew up in the Berkshires and the Hudson Valley, rolling farm country.
Kirk Bachmann: Beautiful. Beautiful. Then you’re not a native to Boulder, obviously then. Walk through when you got to Colorado.
Jayson Simons-Jones: I grew up in upstate New York. I went to college in upstate New York. I went out to Ithaca College in the Finger Lakes. I grew up being active. I played in all the team sports – football, baseball, that kind of stuff. I grew up running on the side of a little New England Berkshires ski resort, called Catamount. All the kids would go night skiing after school. Parents would pick us up. Really, that was my childhood: skiing and snowboarding from a super early age.
As soon as I got done with college, I bee-lined it out west because I wanted to be a ski bum for a couple of years. That’s all I knew. Then I would figure out a career in life after that. I guess that still needs to happen.
Kirk Bachmann: I just love the growing up. We see it a lot here. It’s 18 miles to the closest mountain here. I sort of had a little of that as well. It’s addictive. It’s real easy – especially being in that Gunnison area. You could literally just step out onto your porch, look up at the mountain and say, “Let’s go.”
I’m really curious where the passion to stick with it [came from]. Obviously, you’ve made a life out of it. You’ve made a business out of it. You’re branded by big companies like Stio. How did you fall in love with the outdoors the way you did, to the extreme level that you did?
Jayson Simons-Jones: That’s an interesting question. I think as a kid, I grew up without iPads and iPhones and all of that stuff, and it was farm country. There was a sense of a place to play and be energetic as a kid where you could focus some energy towards progressing in an activity and getting better. Seeing some of the results and rewards there is what got me into skiing and snowboarding and the outdoor kind of stuff.
That’s kind of what I followed, my dream of really skiing. When I got out to Colorado, that’s when I got more into rock climbing, mountaineering, ice climbing. They were all basically different variations of the same theme that skiing had, as well. Being just absorbed in an activity where the rest of the world just falls away because it requires the focus to be super absorbed. To be able to progress in skills and see yourself get better, as well as being in tune with the rhythms of the natural world at the same time.
Those things stuck with me. Maybe I had the ability to focus on one thing at the expense of other things sometimes. Sports gave me that opportunity. I think when I was an especially impressionable college kid, where it really sunk in. That was the first time I went rock climbing. It was the first time I went winter camping. It was part of a collegiate course I took.
Being that age in life, it was one of the few things where, as a kid that was impressionable, I learned the immediate consequences of my actions. If I made a mistake here, or I did this wrong, I was going to be hungry. I was going to be in danger. I could be injured. I felt like at that time in life, there were a lot of people telling me, “Doing this stuff in your college classes, and then you’re going to need this when you become an adult and you have a career.” I had a really hard time learning in that environment. These outdoor activities gave me instant feedback and consequence, and it made me really focused. It just captured my attention in that regard.
Kirk Bachmann: Really beautifully said, Jayson. The entire time you were sharing that story, I’m thinking to myself that I’ve heard similar stories from students in our vocation. How cooking has driven to a place of stepping outside of the norm, feeling great. The beautiful surroundings. It’s interesting how aligned your journey has been with a lot of other folks that I meet every day that are in this pursuit of passionate cooking. Making other people happy.
That’s part of it, too, right. Now you’re in a place where you’re giving back a lot. People are entrusting themselves to your experience, your expertise, your guidance. A lot of pressure there at times, huh?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Oh yeah.
Kirk Bachmann: A little bit.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of pressure. The giving back idea: those types of experiences have offered so much to me with regards to personal growth and confidence building and trust in others, as well as an opportunity to experience and see these amazing places on the planet that so few people actually see that it’s hard not to want to share that with other people.
This is probably even more at the heart of cooking, to be honest, but I’ve always looked at it as: it’s amazing to go skiing in these places and climbing in these places, but you can’t stay out there. It’s more like, “What do those things teach you that you can bring back to the rest of life and other people?” I can imagine that’s at the heart of cooking as well. You’re presenting a dish for somebody else to enjoy in some regards. All that hard effort.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s the core of hospitality. It’s the core of us being able to serve others. An expression of ourselves. That’s really well said.
I want to connect. You mentioned Ithaca College. It sounded like you found what you needed to study there. Tell me a little bit about the field of study of outdoor education. What’s involved with that? Again, my 12-year-old son’s been in scouts, and he’s moving his way up. He’s getting close to being an Eagle Scout. There’s some of that in there. Obviously very controlled environments, but still, learning how to take measured risks. He just loves that outdoor world. What was it about that program that really stuck out for you?
Jayson Simons-Jones: It’s interesting. Reflecting back on it, I don’t know if I actually needed an undergraduate degree in what I do, to get to where I’m at now. This is 25 years ago. The outdoor industry was much less robust than it is these days.
I was a little bit of a lost college kid. The thing that really stuck with me and resonated was this ability to learn something and apply it immediately. I think what really drew me to the outdoors in that time – I’ll never forget. I was actually in school to be a physical therapist. I was taking anatomy and physiology and bio-mechanics classes. They were really hard. I was, again, being told, “You’ll apply this stuff years down the road.” Which was kind of frustrating for me to learn concepts and not apply them. Maybe I’m just impatient.
I had some friends who were going rock climbing and backpacking and getting the same amount of credit. They were in the outdoor program. I thought, “Man, that seems way more fun.” So one of my electives, I thought I would experiment. I took a winter travel and survival class. We went winter camping outside of Buffalo in some state park in New York in the winter. It snowed a ton, of course, and it was freezing cold.
I remember: the instructors forgot about half of our food somehow. We were all out there for a couple of days and we only had a little bit of food. Everybody was kind of freaking out. As people were deciding, “Do we have to go back? Do we cancel the class? Do we go get our food?” It was decided we would make do.
I remember thinking, “Wow! This is amazing. We spent all this effort to get out here. One decision, and now everything has immediate impact on our whole experience for the next couple days.” It got me really engaged, I guess. I just saw the consequences of what, seemingly, would be a small decision, how that could ripple. Some people I think it scared out of the industry – it was too uncomfortable. But for me, it engaged me in the situation that I hadn’t been engaged. It’s kind of what sparked it.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that story. We hear similar stories, about that moment. It was that moment in time when you knew, “I’m okay with this. I’ve adapted and I want more.”
Jayson, you hold a Colorado blaster’s license for avalanche control, a level three certification from AIARE, both the IFMGA. You’re probably going to have to fill us in on some of these certifications, but let’s just talk about the avalanche control. Right there, I don’t even know where to jump off, pun intended. What’s that all about?
Jayson Simons-Jones: In Colorado, especially in a place like Crested Butte. That’s where I got my blaster’s license at the time was when I got hired on ski patrol. I think that’s every young ski bum’s dream is to throw explosives and go ski powder and get paid to do it.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s one way to look at it.
Jayson Simons-Jones: I jumped at that opportunity. Crested Butte being somewhat of an extreme mountain and a little smaller, all the patrol there has to also do avalanche control work. It really is a family/team effort. Having the blaster’s license means using explosives to go out there and basically hunt avalanches to make the place safe for the public. I guess as I first got into Crested Butte, I started working for Outward Bound.
This was around 1999 in Colorado. They had a very young snowboarding program at the time. They would take Outward Bound teenage kids out in the winter camping to go snowboarding. At that time, I had transitioned from skiing to snowboarding years prior. There wasn’t really a lot of people that had the skills in Outward Bound to take people snowboarding. I kind of got fast-tracked into that role as an instructor because I could snowboard.
Here in Colorado, that meant to take anybody in the backcountry in the winter, you had to be educated and savvy around avalanches, which is not the case on the East Coast. Again, it was a consequence thing. “I love being in the mountains. I love going snowboarding. It’s amazing, but I have to learn these skills, otherwise these consequences could happen immediately.” Again, it was something that engaged me right from the beginning to be able to have to pursue this.
Then I just went through all the classes and certifications and trainings. I got my level three, which at the time was the highest level through the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education. That’s AIRIE. Ironically, it was founded in Gunnison, in Crested Butte.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s awesome. Who knew? Wow!
Jayson Simons-Jones: That was founded in the early 90s in the Gunnison/Crested Butte area. Now that curriculum is offered around the world.
Kirk Bachmann: I was just going to ask. It’s probably a loaded question. Are there a lot of people that can achieve that level, or do people get weeded out? I imagine it’s not easy.
Jayson Simons-Jones: People definitely do get weeded out, for sure.
Kirk Bachmann: This isn’t as fun as I thought it would be.
Jayson Simons-Jones: It’s a lot of work for sure. It’s one of those things that once you start to see what could go wrong out there, you can’t ever un-see that. Therefore, it’s always in the back of your mind that you have to manage this type of danger or risk out there.
I think there is some statistic that’s roughly 85 percent that take a level one avalanche course, which is the foundation, never go on to take another. That might be recreational or professional. It shrinks drastically the higher that you get.
Kirk Bachmann: Did I read that you continue your education? You’re seeking additional education in organizational leadership and development. Is that accurate?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Actually, I just completed a Master’s degree in organizational leadership here at CU in December.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s amazing! Congratulations!
So you’re a Buff. What about Dion Sanders coming to town. It going to be a lot more Instagram.
The education part of all this is just fascinating to me, Jayson. First of all, I’m only going to go to the mountains with you as my life goes on. When I ask this question: how important is education in this field – not necessarily for you – but how educated do need to be as people who are recreational in our mountains: skiers? How can we get more education? I’m guilty of it in high school. We did stupid stuff that we should not have done.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Obviously as a professional in the field, I’m a big believer in education and formal education, even for people that just recreate out there. Especially in the winter time, Colorado is one of the more dangerous places for that.
I think what’s also quite cool these days is that education is much more accessible as well regarding these types of activities. You always want to know the credentials of who you’re getting educated from, but when I started, you had to take certain formal courses and show up in person and do that. That was the only opportunity. Now, there’s all type of little snippets on YouTube. People will build online curriculum courses. People are even educating through Instagram and TikTok, things like that.
As long as the quality of the education, the person behind it is good, there’s actually a lot more availability out there for that stuff which I think has driven more people into the mountains recreating in places like Colorado. Summer. Winter. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think being educated and not going into this stuff blindly or ignorant, especially when there is so much more available is highly recommended.
Kirk Bachmann: Connected to that – more the emotional, coming back to that hospitality theme we had early. When it comes to guiding clients, I’m sure you mentor and have met a wide range of people with varying skills all over the board. I imagine it’s unbelievably rewarding to witness breakthrough moments where you see someone who’s experienced personal growth, maybe because of your assistance or your guidance or your mentorship. That’s got to be really rewarding.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Yeah, for sure. I actually think that’s the coolest part of my job and my profession, and why I’ve done it for so long. It’s not necessarily the activities, but the people and the relationships and the experiences that we get to have. I feel like because of my role as a guide, obviously it’s a little bit of a certain economic bracket there for people that can afford to hire a guide. A lot of times, I feel like I wouldn’t normally interact with these people just on the street. We come from different demographics, per se. But now I’m on the side of the mountain and it’s getting dark, and we’re in a snowstorm. I might have a guy who is a Wall Street guy, or a financial guy, or an ER doctor. We’re tied onto the same rope together. We’re equals in some regard, on a team. Maybe I’m tasked with the responsibility of it. It’s fascinating how I get to interact with people like that and the different types of people. that’s really what is the heart of what I do more than anything else. That personal connection, being able to see people grow.
At this point, 20-plus years into my career, I would say 80-85 percent of my guiding is a return clientele base that I have built up over the years. We’ve had these relationships for over a decade. Someone might have taken an avalanche class with me, and then they got really interested in this. They started hiring me as a guide. I look at it a little more as facilitating people’s own growth as opposed to just tying in keeping up with me and “we’re going to get you to the top and trophy hunt.”
It’s been amazing to see them have some goals. I see it as my role when they choose to come to me to up their training and put them out of their comfort zone a little bit, to push them. Then they can go back and do some things on their own, now that their comfort zone has been expanded. Then they might seek me out again.
A mentor of mine when I got into guiding, Jean Pavillard who was arguably the first guide in the Crested Butte area, a Swiss guide in the early 90s. He was my mentor. I remember him telling me that it’s really about finding people you can grow old with in this profession.
As a 20-year-old, I was like, “What? Are you kidding me? I’m never going to grow old.” He’s still doing this in his 70s, I believe, and now I see it as well with folks. You want to form a relationship throughout their life as well as my life. Family happens. Children happen. Careers change, and all that kind of stuff. To be able to keep that thread going through all those things. I can say that some of the folks that I was originally hired that I was an educator or a guide for are some of my really closest friends now. We’ve grown together a bunch.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that story. So well said. As you were talking, I was thinking about how even in my industry, in the restaurant industry, the hospitality industry, school industry, return customers are the best. Those are free leads, if you think about it that way. They keep coming.
Are there any particular, or maybe even one particular characteristic or quality of that 80 percent that keeps coming back. Not to compare it to you, but what is that one thing that a person really needs to possess to have a good experience in this type of pursuit?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Man, that’s an excellent question. I think a lot of them – and I hate to be too generic or generalize on people – but it seems like they are also driven folks. Industry leaders, entrepreneurs in their own realms, or in leadership positions in their own careers outside of doing things with me in the mountains. Because of that, it’s a passion of theirs, a recreational hobby, but they want to really experience it at a high level. Because their other job demands so much – whether they are in charge of an organization or an emergency room of folks or whatever it might be – they don’t have the time to do all the requisite research on places to go and things to do, so they can afford to hire someone like me to do that stuff for [them]. They also have this passion where they want to continue to evolve.
I guess the underlying theme of it all is that guides as well as the people we take out and educate, and the people that we teach to, it’s people who want to continue to learn and get better and grow as individuals. It’s so inspiring to be around.
Kirk Bachmann: Such a great response. Very astute that you recognize that. I love that. Keep coming with the hard questions.
Jayson Simons-Jones: I love it.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s a fascinating – you’re fascinating. I love the background in Crested Butte. It’s very near and dear to me. If you were to give advice to someone, whether it’s a 12-year-old or maybe that investment banker who can afford to hire Jayson but just really digs it and maybe wants to do more, is there some advice? Is there some, “Hey, you should temper yourself into this? Or you should just go for it?” Is there a path of example before? You’ve given your entire life to this. You remember the time that it started. People get really excited about it. You mentioned it, social media. You see stuff on social media today and people will believe they can do anything. What would be your advice to me if I wanted to climb Mount Evans or something? What would be that simple advice?
Jayson Simons-Jones: I would probably first ask why, to be honest. What is it that drives you?
Kirk Bachmann: Good question.
Jayson Simons-Jones: What is it that’s driving you to do that? Then deconstruct things from there, I guess. I know it’s super cliche to say, it’s the journey, it’s not the destination. It really is. All of this stuff is hard. As a career, this has been incredibly hard and challenging to put together. As well as it’s incredibly uncomfortable to be out in the mountains in the cold and the weather and all that kind of stuff. Waking up at 1 a.m. There’s all these difficulties and challenges along the way. I think if you are really clear on the why and the purpose that’s driving you, then it allows you to take those things in stride and accept them a little bit.
But if you’re solely focused on the achievement component of it, to be able to be able to hang that as a feather in the cap, then those things along the way that it takes to get there are what become much more overbearing and too difficult. That tends to derail folks along the way.
Even in my career over 20 years, I’ve had to had a few heart-to-hearts with myself. What is driving me right now to continue to want to do these things? To go through all these discomforts and difficulties? I’ve had to circle back a few times. I think most folks in my profession has probably had to do that as well. It’s really getting clear on what is the purpose behind wanting to do this.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s a great response, and I think it will resonate well with student listeners as well. Great question to ask. It’s pretty simple and it’s really on you. Why? Why is this important to you? Why are you going to do it that way?
Jayson Simons-Jones: I can totally imagine it, having been in kitchens as well. It shows up in the finished product. It does as a guide. It does as a climber or a skier. If you are really clear on the purpose that’s driving you, on why you want to go through all this stuff, it comes through in how you approach the endeavor.
If it’s a little bit more of a shallow – you just want the achievement of it – it kind of shows when you go through how you’re going to achieve the product. It’s not as good.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s TikTok reel material there, Jayson. That’s good. I absolutely love that.
Hey, can we talk about Stio for just a bit? I see the hat. I have to share the story. Again, I’m Colorado through and through, maybe with a little Jackson Hole thrown in there. I absolutely love the lifestyle and the apparel and the activity outdoors and all of that. I get the catalog. I’m reading this fascinating article, and it’s you. I dig a little deeper and go to your website and, “Oh my God! Crested Butte.” Then I ping you on Instagram. It’s amazing today how you can just do that. Shoot you a quick note and introduce myself. We start talking.
I would love for you to talk a little bit about what sponsorship means. Talk about Stio a little bit. My favorite brand, hands-down. I love their approach to marketing and branding. Jackson Hole is a super cool place. All of that. Is this brand you to the core as well? Is this a match made in heaven?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Maybe. That’s a good question. It’s interesting.
My connection with Stio – I agree. The reason why I choose to be involved with them these days is they seem to be quite authentic in what they’re doing. They’re trying to sell the mountain lifestyle culture. They also are doing it quite consciously and organically, and it’s genuine. I really appreciate that. That really resonates with me.
I came about them via Crested Butte as well, ironically. I worked my way through different jobs in that valley, doing all sorts of things. I was shoveling snow, working in a kitchen, driving shuttles from the airport, started working for Outward Bound and then ski patrolling. Then I started working as a guide. I eventually took over the guiding company from the owner previous to me in 2007. Crested Butte Mountain Guides.
At the time, our apparel for the guides was Cloudveil. A lot of people don’t know this, but Cloudveil, that’s Stio. It’s the same founder. I had the connection with Cloudveil and they had created this first softshell-type materials, which for ski guiding and things in the winter of Colorado is perfect.
I always kept an eye on that, and then when Stio was founded, I immediately reached out to them. They were too small. They said, “We don’t have an athlete program.” Went and got involved with some bigger, very international outdoor brands for the guiding company to outfit people and have that recognition. But I always had my eye on what was happening with Stio because I knew it was the same founder. It was in Jackson Hole, and it continued to grow. I took a chance and reached out to them. I dug through my emails to one of those original emails back in 2010 or 11. Resent it. “Hey, this was me ten years ago.” We started having some conversations and connected. Get on the team.
I love it. I think they are doing what they can to really represent who they are, as well. Small Jackson Hole company that is focused on outdoor apparel in an authentic and conscious and genuine way. And selling the lifestyle. That is what drives so many folks into those types of communities in a place like Crested Butte or Jackson. It’s about living a certain type of lifestyle. I gave up a lot of roads in my life to go live that ski bum lifestyle in the beginning, and then the guiding lifestyle. It’s hard. I think they do a good job of representing that. I feel honored to be a part of that voice.
Kirk Bachmann: No, congratulations! You know what I love about it: to leverage the why conversation a little bit, I feel when I open up, I get a little excited. I get the Stio catalog. It’s not really about, “Hey, we sell outdoor apparel. We sell this.” What they do is explain the why. They have a little piece on you and others. They feature different people. They focus on that outdoor lifestyle. That’s the why. And then, “Oh, by the way, we also have all this cool stuff that you can get if you want while you experience that lifestyle.” I love your word, authentic. That’s an authentic, genuine, honest, transparent way to engage people to fall in love with your brand.
We try to do that at Escoffier as well. The why is in your heart. That’s why you want to pursue a career in cooking: because you want to make people happy, you what to cook good food, you want to do cool things for the environment, sustainability, food waste. All those things. And by the way, I’m going to be a great chef. That kind of thing.
Thanks for that, and congratulations all the way with that brand. I think it’s phenomenal.
I’ve got so many more questions. If you can hang with me for a few minutes. I’m going to preface this with the experience of mountain life. Very personal. You spend a great deal of time up in the mountains, as you’ve shared, guiding others, different terrains. I imagine it’s brutal up there at times. You can’t dictate the weather, particularly in Colorado. There’s a lot of wear and tear on the body. I’m sure there’s some mental fortitude that you have to endure some uncomfortable environments with people you’re entrusted to.
For the audience, not to get to silly, but can you walk us through a day in your life? I’m interested in nutrition and exercise. Where’s the stamina come from? Where’s the mind health? What do you do for yourself? Are you plant-based? Do you drink a ton of water? Do you exercise every day? What’s the secret here?
Jayson Simons-Jones: That’s a great question. I can say it’s evolved a lot over my career. I’ve probably gotten better at all those things. It’s changed a little bit. My thinking now, 20 years into the career, I’m able to more consciously think about a lot of those other things. As opposed to when I was younger in this career, it was just take as much work as I can get. It was a scarcity mindset. Therefore, personal health and all that stuff goes out the window, and you’re running completely on passion and excitement for experience. I made it through, to the point where now I can consciously be more direct in what I do and choose. If I could do it over again, I would have maybe not felt so fearful with that scarcity mindset in my early days.
To answer your question and to come around today, it depends a little bit on the activities as well. We’re in winter now. For example, if it was a day of backcountry ski guiding or an avalanche course, I would usually meet folks at eight in the morning wherever it might be. I’d probably be up at 5:30 or so. One thing for me that’s really helpful is the mental part. Just to get up and have a cup of coffee and sit down quietly and have a little bit of quiet time. 20 minutes with a cup of coffee to prep myself mentally for the day. I hate rushing out the door. It makes me feel like the whole day I’m behind, even if I’m not. It helps me set more of a clear mindset. I’ve done quite a bit of meditation over the years, too. It’s what I try to bring into the day.
Then, I might start working at the weather reports and the avalanche forecasts for the day, and what things are going to be like. Then start choosing my objectives of what I think will be the things to go ski or places to go learn on an avalanche course. Then, we head out into the mountains. It’s pretty much an active day all day. As a guide, I’m aware that I have the freedom and the responsibility to dictate the pace of the day a little bit. It’s not that there are necessarily lunch break stops, all that kind of stuff.
I’ve probably trained myself over 20 years. I continuously have clients remind me, “Hey, can we stop and eat and drink?” “Oh, right. Other people don’t do this every day.” It’s just built up endurance and stamina from 20 years of that, to be honest. Not specific training to it. I should probably always drink more water. I definitely don’t drink enough.
Kirk Bachmann: We all do.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Food and nutrition: I don’t subscribe to any certain, specific type of diet. I haven’t eaten red meat, honestly, in 35 years. That’s probably another story. You can thank my mom for that one. I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in 13 years. That has done wonders, to be honest, for helping me continue to perform into my mid-40s. I feel better.
I encourage folks that go out with me, as well as myself, to just take easy-to-eat food along the way, nutrition. Also stuff that’s real food, as well, and is easily digestible, things like that. In the wintertime, a lot of that might not be bars and things, because they tend to freeze and get quite cold. I might bring things like eggs, small wraps, sandwiches, with meat and cheese. I tend to try to eat real food as much as possible. A thermos of hot tea and some water.
What I’ve had a hard time doing is then my days will end around four or five, and I’ll come back. I’ve been go-go-go all day. Then I get home, and then I get hungry. For some reason, when I’m in the activity I’m not super hungry. Then I’ll get hungry and I’ll come home. I’ve had to be more conscious of filling the craving with whatever I can grab and eat really fast. I’ve learned that a couple of hours later, I don’t feel great. It’s the evening. I don’t want to eat dinner. I’ve learned to prepare stuff ahead of time that’s cooked food in the refrigerator that I can heat up. A quality meal that’s real food, or go out and grab some. That’s the great thing about Boulder: there’s really good food all over.
Kirk Bachmann: Great food.
Jayson Simons-Jones: I’ve started to look at nutrition as I age. I’ve started to look at it a lot more as recovery fuel. In the beginning, I looked at it a lot more as fuel. I had my days of living in Camp 4 in Yosemite and living off a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and a thing of Pepperidge Farm cookies. Climbing day after after day in Yosemite. That was fine, and I could get away with it, because it was calories. But now, I’ve started to look at food as more of the recovery health of it. It really makes a difference to me, how I wake up feeling the next day to go do all the stuff again.
Kirk Bachmann: Our friend, Kelly Newlon from RAD, she’d be so proud of what you just said about recovery. I’m going to have to tease her later.
Can we talk a little bit about Lotus Alpine Adventures? I’d be remiss if we didn’t.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Sure. Yeah.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. In my world, hospitality is the name of the game, and there’s no compromise when it comes to service others or helping others. In terms of how you engage with your customers, I’d love you talk a little bit about your business, but I’d also love to hear from your perspective, what are those most important elements to run your business successfully so that you feel you’ve done the best you possibly can? It’s a business, but yet Stio and the way you’ve lived your life as a guide, I’m sure that’s set up the foundation of the way you treat people in your business as well.
Jayson Simons-Jones: I’d love to talk about Lotus Alpine Adventures. It was born out of owning Crested Butte Mountain Guides for almost ten years in Crested Butte. I took that over in 2007. At that point was one of those re-evaluation moments in my life. “Can I make a living as a guide? Can I do this?” The owner came to me and said, “Hey, I’m going to sell the company. Do you want it?”
I said, “No. Can you come back to me in like 10 years when I’m ready?” Obviously, life happens when you’re not ready. I basically had a bunch of clients and family who supported me buy the thing for me. It was owner-financed, and they all believed in me more than I did. At the time, I was 30 years old. I didn’t know a thing about running a business. I just knew that I knew the business itself, what the product was, and I had a passion for it. I knew nothing else about running a business.
I was successful. I sold it to Irwin Guides / Eleven Experiences in Crested Butte. I learned a ton along the way, but it was like a fire hose for me. Because I was in some financial debt at the same time, I felt like that hung over me heavy. I wasn’t able to quite run that company the way I wanted to. I couldn’t quite be creative enough or personal enough or boutique enough with it because I had financial pressure there. In hindsight, when other friends of mine have asked me about taking over or starting guiding companies, my advice from that situation has always been, “Don’t grow too fast. Grow consciously.” I put this pressure on myself to grow really fast.
When I sold it, I had the ability to found Lotus Alpine Adventures. To start from scratch from the ground and do it much more intentionally and a little bit slower and to allow a little more creativity on exactly what I wanted to offer, how I wanted to offer it, what I wanted this to look like. To just grow it slow enough. When I eventually sold Crested Butte Mountain Guides in 2014, I remember the company was at a size with 10 employees and a full-time general manager.
When I would go guiding, my mind was running the business. I was not fully present with my clients, which obviously has all the safety concerns I was aware of. It was a little bit of their experience, too. Then when I was in the office running things, I just wanted to be outside guiding. I was still young. I was in my 30s. I could have an office job any time in my life. I wasn’t doing either of the things to my standard. Things were just a little bit too big. That was part of the motivation to take an opportunity that came my way and start over.
With Lotus Alpine Adventures, it’s allowed me to be a little bit more intentional and slower, and therefore much more invested in each of the products that I offer. It’s less about scale and size and more about quality over quantity, so to speak.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it. I just pulled it up for our guests, if they’re interested. LotusAlpineAdventures.com. They can follow you – am I okay to give your Instagram out?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Yeah, for sure. That’s how the world works these days.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s awesome Yeah, it is how the world works. Jayson.Simons.Jones. Lotus Alpine Adventures. I absolutely love it.
I’ve got a couple of things that I can’t hold myself back. Being a Crested Butte groupie, like you. Were you there when they painted the street blue, Main Street or Elk Avenue?
Jayson Simons-Jones: I was living there. I was actually in Europe at the time. I was in France that summer guiding. I remember they had a Bud Light thing.
Kirk Bachmann: Bud Light thing.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Painted a street blue and all that.
Kirk Bachmann: It was insane. It was insane.
Sometimes when I have fun conversations like this, I like to jump into “top three bands of all time.” Have you ever seen “High Fidelity” with Jack Black? If you haven’t, you’ve got to watch it. Anyway, so top three bands – Crested Butte – I don’t even care if they’re from Crested Butte. Mine are from Crested Butte. Top three bands that you’ve seen in Crested Butte.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Let’s see. I’ve seen JJ Grey & Mofro at the Center for Arts when they would have their free Monday evening concerts years ago. That was pretty amazing, out on the lawn with the whole town for free. That one’s up there.
I remember seeing John Popper from Blues Traveler –
Kirk Bachmann: No way.
Jayson Simons-Jones: -at the Eldo. He played in the Eldo, which holds like 100 people, it seems like.
Kirk Bachmann: I saw them in Vail when John was big. When John was really big, and I didn’t know who they were. That’s a good memory.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Amazing. God, I feel like I maybe saw the Allman Brothers up at Rafters, I believe, back in the late 90s, early 2000s.
Kirk Bachmann: When they were getting old. I think they played at Western as well.
Jayson Simons-Jones: I remember the sound quality was horrible in that building.
Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t it great? Now people know that Crested Butte was a place to be. My top: I cooked for Big Head Todd and the Monsters once, because I had a restaurant on the east side of Gunnison. String Cheese Incident, who was just in Boulder – no they were at Red Rocks – this summer. Did you ever hear of Eek-A-Mouse? They were a funky reggae band.
Jayson Simons-Jones: I didn’t know them.
Kirk Bachmann: They played at Rafters all the time.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Okay. Maybe that was before my time. Alright.
Kirk Bachmann: I’m a little out there in front of you. Crested Butte, skiing, great restaurants, fun restaurants. Soup’s On. How long will that place stay open? Unbelievable.
Jayson Simons-Jones: That’s another one. To me, this Soup’s On thing: it’s not just the food, it’s the experience there. That restaurant, two seatings. You have this tiny little, old miner’s cabin. The whole atmosphere of the thing is what really makes it so unique and special.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s absolutely beautiful. All of Crested Butte really is. Like I said, I can remember when there was no high school there. They’ve really expanded.
Buddy, Jayson, this has been unbelievable. I’m not going to let you go until you answer one more question. The name of the podcast is the Ultimate Dish. I like to ask people: in your mind, what is the ultimate dish?
Jayson Simons-Jones: Oh man! The ultimate dish – we’re talking food here.
Kirk Bachmann: Or experience! Or memory. Anything. It’s sitting around the table with family. We didn’t even talk about that, if food was a big thing in your family growing up.
Jayson Simons-Jones: The irony of it is, I actually shared with my family while I was home over New Year’s for my dad’s 80th in New York that I was going to be on this Ultimate Dish podcast.
Kirk Bachmann: No way!
Jayson Simons-Jones: My younger sister has her own catering company. My whole family is foodies. My younger brother lives in New Orleans. I’m probably the least foodie of the whole family because I’m never really around much of a kitchen any more these days.
Kirk Bachmann: But you’re the first to be on a podcast about food!
Jayson Simons-Jones: It’s the irony of it all.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it. Well, it’ll air in a few weeks, and they’ll be able to watch it.
Jayson Simons-Jones: To answer your question, I guess, when I think of the ultimate dish, I think of multiple experiences I’ve had. They’re all centered around food and family and friends. I think of one Thanksgiving when I was new in Crested Butte. We had one of those Friends-givings in the neighborhood there. I was young, in my 20s. We all went and skied Mount Emmons, Red Lady Bowl. This was back when it snowed a ton on Thanksgiving. I remember dropping in on some friends and skiing this 3000-foot backcountry ski run above town. The sun was setting, so everything was in pink alpine glow. I remember, it felt like skiing through cotton candy.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh my gosh!
Jayson Simons-Jones: I remember, we all got down the trailhead. It was dark, and we go to this Thanksgiving dinner with 30 friends. We’re exhausted, but happy. It’s just this gathering. A warm place to be, warm hearts, everybody was having fun. I still have Friends-givings in Crested Butte.
I’ve met people around the world in the mountains that I’ve actually connected with. “Oh, I was at that Thanksgiving in Crested Butte.” “Really, you were? You don’t even live there.” We’d cross paths.
I think, ultimate dish, for me, is experiences like that. I think about when I went through a phase of learning to surf in Mexico, and getting completely humbled and thrashed in the surf. Then coming back with a small group of friends and having fresh street tacos and tortillas that were made right there. Sitting on the beach at sunset, and just feeling content. It just brings people together.
To me, the ultimate dish is something like that. It’s the closing to an experience that leaves you feeling content with how the day went, the people you’re with. It’s all centered around that gathering.
Kirk Bachmann: I’m not going to lie. I’m chilling, and I’m tearing up. Skiing through cotton candy. Are you kidding me? It could very well be the best articulation of the ultimate dish that I’ve ever heard. Absolutely beautiful, Jayson. Gosh.
Jayson Simons-Jones: Amazing.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. You’re a storyteller, and I know that you do some writing and stuff. Really impressive. Thank you so much for joining us today.
By the way, come to the school anytime. We do community cooking courses. You just shoot me a note. We’re on Eventbrite. I’d love for you to come on down.
Jayson Simons-Jones: I would love to check it out. It would be amazing.
Kirk Bachmann: We’ll fatten you up.
Jayson Simons-Jones: It would be amazing. I would love it. And it’s been a real honor and a pleasure. I really appreciate that the questions are super thoughtful. It’s always a learning experience for me to have to reflect on my own experiences, too. Thank you so much for sharing a bit of what you do.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Thanks again, Jayson.
And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.