Love of outdoors led to US outdoor rafting

Wild GeeseKen Murphy, Glenwood Adventure Company, Colorado

Ken Murphy, president of Glenwood Adventure Company and Lakota Guides: “Having connections won’t bring you the whole way, but it will open doors for you.”

Ken Murphy, president of Glenwood Adventure Company and Lakota Guides: “Having connections won’t bring you the whole way, but it will open doors for you.”

 

Kenneth Murphy always wanted to work in the sports or outdoor recreation industry.

When he finished school in 1988, he was offered a place in St Mary’s College and moved from his home in Leopardstown to Strawberry Hill in London. When he graduated from the college with a degree in sports science, opportunities in Ireland and England were limited and he looked to opportunities overseas to further his career.

Having availed of the Morrison lottery scheme, Murphy got the chance to work in Boston, where he first worked on a shark-fishing boat out of Nantucket Island, just off Massachusetts.

Having spent three years working in the sports hospitality industry in Nantucket, his interests turned to the Mid-West, and the unique and constantly changing landscapes of Colorado.

“I was living the suburban lifestyle and I hadn’t seen a lot of the other states. One winter’s evening – it was Thanksgiving actually – I decided to go on vacation to Colorado for a week to try my hand at skiing. I went, and I loved it.

“I think a lot of Irish people make the mistake that America is just the east coast, and forget about the middle.”

Booming sector

Murphy took a risk, left his job in Boston behind, got a job as a ski surveyor and made the move to Colorado.

One job move later, he built his way up from a white water raft guide to become eventually the general manager of Rock Gardens Rafting.

“The rafting industry was growing so fast. When I started, our company were taking 5,000 people a season, but by the late 1990s it had grown to four times that.”

The continuous boom of the outdoor activities industry brought further opportunities and, in 2003 a colleague asked him to work for them as operations manager of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. In 2006, he returned to Rock Gardens Rafting and became general manager of its new venture Glenwood Canyon Resort.

In 2009, when the recession hit, Murphy saw opportunity.

“The outdoor activity sector is tricky because of two things – one, the permits which are essential to operate on National Forests, and two, the amount of capital needed because of all the equipment involved.

“So when the recession hit, I saw an opportunity as everything became a little bit cheaper and would allow for very competitive rates. So I did what I always wanted to do and I opened my own company, called Glenwood Adventure Company.

The company offers a wide range of activities, from fishing to hiking to horse-riding, and from skiing in the winter to water rafting in the summer.

The number of employees has grown from eight full-time employees initially to a team of 133 staff members.

Although only two of these are employed all year round, the seasonal employees come back every year, and the company is now one of the biggest recreation outfitters in the state of Colorado.

“Our growth is so strong at the moment, we’re wondering what route to take. We have growth of about 40 per cent year on year, so we’ve got two options – to keep buying more equipment and hiring more people to deal with the huge numbers coming through or pull the reins in and reassess how we’re doing.”

For those thinking of taking the same route he did, Murphy stresses the importance of connections when starting a business or looking for work abroad.

“When I first moved to Boston, and I was lucky that my uncle practised as an attorney there, so I had a roof over my head no matter what. Because I went to America every summer while in college, I got the opportunity to work for a variety of sports-related companies, taking every opportunity that came my way.

“Having connections won’t bring you the whole way, but it will open doors for you and create opportunities that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Well, they wouldn’t have been possible for me anyways.

Crucial integration

He hasn’t forgotten Ireland either and, in 2006, he returned home and interviewed Irish candidates with little or no experience as rafting guides, bringing 15 young people on J1 visas to his business in Colorado, and training them as white water rafting guides, as well as giving them valuable skills in other areas.

Murphy’s two daughters, Kailey and Elle, are accomplished skiers, both hoping one day to ski for Ireland.

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