Pro of the Month: Laura Gaylord, Coombs Outdoors
Our Pro of the Month column celebrates the remarkable individuals within The Pro Collective. Enjoy inspirational stories shared by your fellow mountain professionals and see how Faction Skis allow them to thrive on the front lines. To be featured as a Pro of the Month, or to nominate someone you know, fill out the form linked at the bottom of this page.
Our January Pro of the Month is Laura Gaylord, Program Manager at our partner organization Coombs Outdoors; the Jackson, Wyoming-based non-profit is committed to empowering children and youth to reach their full potential through the life-changing power of the outdoors. Access to ski slopes and mountains, as well as sporting equipment, are luxuries that countless individuals and families simply cannot afford. The Faction Collective is honored to support Coombs Outdoors in its mission to empower kids through skiing and the outdoors, irrespective of socio-economic, racial or cultural barriers.
In her role as Program Manager, Laura facilitates year-round outdoor activities for youth ranging from the Kindergarten level all the way up through high school graduates. Read on to find out more about the amazing work of Coombs Outdoors, Laura’s role within the organization and the impact they are having on kids in Wyoming, and beyond.
Photo by Molly Watters
What does your job entail?
L: I am the Program Manager at Coombs Outdoors, a non-profit in Jackson, Wyoming that empowers local children and youth through the life-changing power of outdoor recreation. We work with families that would not otherwise have access to outdoor recreation due to either financial or cultural barriers. Many people might not realize that Jackson has a very large working immigrant population and our town is 30% Latinx. As Program Manager I wear a lot of hats, and my job has changed and grown so much since I started here, which is a very cool sign that the organization as a whole is growing, too. I am in charge of overseeing our middle and high school mentorship programs. These run year-round and involve groups of middle to high school-aged cohorts participating in outdoor activities in the Tetons, ranging from skiing and snowboarding at Jackson Hole in the winter, to mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, backpacking and much more in the summer.
Photo by Sofia Jaramillo
How did you get into this profession?
L: It’s funny, I always say if I could invent a job for myself it would be exactly this one, yet I feel like I really kind of fell into this position. I grew up ski racing with a passion for the outdoors and I studied Sociology and Spanish in college. I moved to Jackson because of skiing but knew I wanted to connect with the community beyond just skiing for myself everyday. I reached out to Coombs at just the right time apparently, because I started as an Administrative Assistant and very quickly took on a role as a Program Coordinator, since the organization was growing so much. I feel so lucky that my co-workers and boss trusted me to build and run our first winter mentorship program that has since grown from 25 to 100 kids in just three years. My parents still can’t believe I am using both of my college degrees and getting paid to ski with kids in Jackson Hole. Sometimes I can’t even believe it.
Photo by Charlotte Percle
What are the aspects of your job that make you feel proud to work in this role, and in this industry?
L: Wow, so many. I am very privileged to have grown up in a household that valued and had the means to participate in outdoor recreation — something I am sure I took for granted at times growing up. As I entered college, I realized how much I owe to my experiences in the outdoors. It's about so much more than recreation; it has taught me how to challenge myself, be confident, responsible and has facilitated so many meaningful friendships. I genuinely believe in the transformative power of outdoor recreation and that it is something everyone should have access to. I feel proud when I work hard to facilitate an activity for programs, like a season of skiing or a backpacking trip. Then I get to literally watch these kids transform into more confident people when I am outdoors with them, doing something they never thought they would be able to do. I am also proud to watch them grow their skills in the outdoors, because that means the curriculum we are implementing is helping them be able to continue to enjoy the outdoors beyond our programs.
Photo by Jonathan Selkowitz
Do you have one or two short stories to demonstrate happy or noteworthy moments on the job?
L: One of the first that comes to mind was a day skiing with the kids during my first season in my position. I love encouraging them to do spread eagles because one, it’s my favorite trick — ok, ok, my only trick — and two, it's fun to be silly, but also challenge yourself. I had the kids following me off jumps in the mini-park and at first they weren’t buying my spread eagle obsession, but after a few laps one of the kids courageously threw a spread eagle when I was barely looking. Upon landing they immediately exclaimed, “I did it! Laura, I did it!” It’s just really cool when you get to directly see the impact you had on a kid believing in themselves, knowing that is going to translate into life off the slopes, as well.
Photo by Grayson Tamberi
What kind of skiing do you do in your free time?
L: I mostly ski in the backcountry in my free time. The Tetons are an eternal playground for backcountry skiing and I feel lucky to have partners and mentors to learn with and from. Backcountry skiing challenges me to be humble but confident — it is basically my personal version of the mentorship programs I run. I love being able to travel in the mountains using my own power and energy and spending the whole day out in nature.
Photo by Nick Braun
Lastly, what summer sports are you passionate about?
L: I always say that skiing is to snow, as mountain biking is to dirt, as kayaking is to water. So in the summer you can probably find me on my bike or on the river, but I also love trail running and I am trying to push my climbing. There are just too many fun things to do in the summer!
Have your own story to share with The Pro Collective? Apply to be featured as our next Pro of the Month via this link. TPC - The Pro Collective is now taking applications for the 20|21 season. Apply today.