Welcome to another addition of Making it Work in Montana! In this episode I interview “Go Find” author, Susan Purvis!
Susan Purvis’ writing has appeared in the New York Times. She is an empowerment speaker, explorer, educator and author of the bestselling outdoor adventure memoir, Go Find. Susan spent her entire career in the outdoors. Her book chronicles two decades of saving lives and teaching humans and K9’s to do the same. She found passion and purpose in training avalanche dogs, search dogs, cadaver dogs and became a K9 dog training specialist. Susan spent years leading wilderness survival trips, search and rescue training, and wilderness medicine courses. Go Find is a rare find if you are searching for avalanche books, survival books or anything between pet care and mountain climbing or a book about finding your way.
Learn more at: susanpurvis.com/
Check out her super informative outdoor survival organization, Crested Butte Outdoors, based in Whitefish, Montana
You can buy her book GO FIND here on Amazon !
Follow her on LinkedIn
Welcome back to Making It Work in Montana. My name is David Boye and I’m your host. And today we have a very interesting interview with somebody that I have a ton
in common with that actually I met through the podcast. So this is a very exciting first. One of my goals was to meet a lot of different people in Montana. And through the
first several podcasts, I was introduced to our guest through a friend of mine who heard about what we were doing and said, this person is somebody that you’re going to want to interview. And so to give you a little bit of background, her professional background includes a very impressive dog rescue in the wilderness and back country.
And she’s written an entire book on that called ‘Go Find’, which you can look up. And I will put links to her information on how to get a copy of her book. She’s traveled all
over the world doing lots of different mountaineering and backcountry professional exercises. One of her areas of expertise is avalanche education. And so she teaches
locally the A I A R E level one and two courses for people that are wanting that level of education. And she is making a living in Montana. She owns a company called
Crested Butte Outdoors. And our guest today is Susan Purvis.
[00:01:39] Welcome. Thank you. Good to be here.
[00:01:42] Now, when I was introduced to you, I started doing some research and I was very excited.
[00:01:49] A friend of mine turned me on to talking to you because everything that I was reading was all the things that generally interest me. My personal life when I’m not selling mortgages at my mortgage company is climbing mountains and backcountry skiing. And I’m always thinking about the ‘what if’ scenarios of, you know, rescue and how to
get out of a tough spot if I’m ever in one. And as I’m looking over your basically your life long journey, it includes like all those things that I’m interested in. So that’s
awesome that we’re both here talking today.
[00:02:28] Yeah, we have a lot in common in both ski racing background and then our connection to the Colorado ski world. And I’m not that much fun to go out in the back country with because I’m the ‘what if’ girl. All I think about is what if this should happen? So I’m not that much fun to be in the back country because I’m at my risk tolerance has
gotten lower as I get older.
[00:02:58] Yeah. So that’s something I’ve always heard about. Bringing people with you in the back country is you kind of have a risk taker and then a conservative person if you
have a nice group and then hopefully you’re balancing everybody’s needs out. So you’re always interested in getting home safely.
[00:03:14] Yeah. And also, it’s funny you say that the risk taker and the conservative is usually a guy and a girl.
[00:03:20] Yes. Women are the safer one. Right? Yes.
[00:03:23] Have a woman in your group. Always. Because they you’re we’re thinking differently, I think, than most men.
[00:03:28] Well, just to touch a little bit on that. Maybe people don’t all know my my background prior to becoming a full fledged adult with ski racing. And so I ski raced in Colorado.
The majority of my youth and skied a lot of different ski areas that apparently you spent a lot of time ski racing as well.
[00:03:47] Yeah, mostly in the Midwest, my vertical and my hometown hill with six hundred vertical feet. Yeah. So Midwest skiers are known for skiing on ice. So we’re really good
skiing on ice. And according to you, slalom.
[00:04:04] Yeah. When I was growing up, we would occasionally cross paths with central division skiers, which was that area. And and they would typically be amazing at slalom. And
then once we got the course to be longer than 30 seconds, then they started to lose their advantage. Yeah, probably because of that vertical drop. Well, hey, you’ve made
a life in Montana and there’s a lot that led up to that. So I wanted to first just start by having you give a brief overview of kind of highlights of where you know, where
you’re born and how you made it into Montana.
[00:04:40] And then we’ll jump into a few cool topics that your life definitely highlights.
[00:04:47] It’s as I was saying, I grew up in northern Michigan and actually when I was in high school, I actually did a trip to Montana to go backpacking in the Bob Marshall wilderness. And I open up with that story in my book as a scrappy little kid in. And I went backpacking in the Bob Marshall wilderness, where I guess the wilderness
became my teacher. I had to grow up pretty fast. Nobody was there to take care of me, feed me, not make sure that I had protection on my heels for blisters. And during
on that trip afterwards, I got to go ski racing at Mount Hood and we would always stop in Missoula on these trips West and I had this huge appreciation for the Rocky Mountains. So when it came time to leave for college, which I really didn’t have a plan, I thought I’m going to go to school at the University of Montana. I ended up going
to school there. I started in 1980 and I really wanted to make a career in the outdoors. And there were not a whole lot of role models for women who are making careers
in the outdoors. What were women doing back in the early to mid 80s? I didn’t really know. So I decided one way I could work outdoors is I got a degree in geology. And I worked as a geologist in Montana after graduation. But then I had to leave this big, beautiful state. Like a lot of people, because. I really wanted to come and live in Whitefish in the mid 80s. But how could a person make a living in Whitefish in the mid 80s? It was kind of tough going back then, so I left. I mean, I lived in places like Houston, Texas, Denver, Colorado. And eventually I landed in Crested Butte, Colorado, where my story takes place.
[00:06:43] And then in Crested Butte, how old were you when you arrived in Crested Butte?
[00:06:48] I was 33 years old. I was newly married. And my husband and I were commuting from Crested Butte, Colorado, at nine thousand five hundred feet. That’s the elevation of
our house, which when I look at the peaks in Glacier Park, Mike, my house was almost on the top of Mount Haven. It’s a lot different. It’s hard to believe. So I had one foot
in the snow and then we commuted two thousand miles to the Dominican Republic where we were. My husband and I ran a gold exploration project. We were the managers of a multimillion dollar project down there for years. And my, something was missing in my life. I didn’t know what it was. It was a lonely life down there. I was
speaking foreign language. I didn’t have any friends and I felt like life was passing me by.
[00:07:40] So I thought I said to my husband.
[00:07:42] I think I need to be on ski patrol in Crested Butte. I want to challenge myself. I was in ski patrol and when I was 16 years old in northern Michigan on my 600 foot slope,
and I thought, heck, I can do ski patrol. So I signed up for a ski patrol course at one of the gnarliest ski resorts in Colorado.
[00:08:06] As far as they have, like their avalanches and big terrain to boot.
[00:08:10] I think there’s 50 avalanche paths on the mountain in Crested Butte. And then in the surrounding area there is like over a thousand avalanche paths. I didn’t know
anything about avalanches. I didn’t know how to move through avalanche terrain. And I decided to get a dog. And I’ll tell you that story in a minute. But I knew nothing
about dog training. Really, the only thing I was taking care of us, myself, my husband and I didn’t even have a plant. Because we were so. Transient in our lifestyle.
[00:08:38] So so then you made a decision that what interested you most at the time was being involved in basically the safety of the ski resort and people there being an outdoors
and then you you wanted to basically just become educated to be successful at that.
[00:08:55] And that was in Crested Butte.
[00:08:57] My decision to ski patrol was really I needed to come alive. I didn’t really care about looking for gold. I did it for the money. But at this point, my life. you know, what I would encourage people to do is like, look, go find a place you want to live and the rest will happen. And so I came alive in Crested Butte. I was, you know, I woke up in the morning when. Yes. I get to walk up my door and ski or bike or hike. There’s not that many people there like Montana. But here’s what how my life changed. We call that
an inciting incident in book writing. I was on ski patrol during this one hundred inch storm cycle. I was a rookie, brand new. And the patrollers said, hey, did you hear
about that avalanche that happened across the street in Mount Crested Butte six years ago? And I’m like, no. So as a Sunday morning, a storm just moved through 9:00
a.m.. Three little toddlers from Texas were outside playing in front of this condominium. Dad was putting the luggage inside the shuttle bus to bring them back to the
airport. And the dad heard something funny. He looked up and this wall of snow came down and buried all three kids. Wow. You know, the avalanche flowed into the
parking lot. And so now for four and a six year old were buried at 9 a.m. on a Sunday, there was no organized search and rescue team at the time in Crested Butte. So
everybody just showed up, the pagers went off, everybody showed up in there, you know, tennis shoes, pool hooks, breaks, whatever they could find to probe for these
kids. Two of the children were found in respiratory arrest. They were blue. The medics pumped life back into them and they survived. And in the meantime, at Crested
Butte, had a trained avalanche dog at the ski resort. And they brought it over to find the last remaining kid. And Im like, what happened.
[00:11:00] Did the dog find the kid in the patroller, said no. The dog didn’t find the kid.
[00:11:06] Like, what do you mean isn’t that the dog’s only purpose in life is to find humans? If it’s a trained avalanche dog. So I’m saying what happened? What happened? And their
answer that gave me wasn’t good enough. So that night when I walked, I had to stay up in Mount Crested Butte because of all the roads were closed and I was walking up
that same area where that avalanche had happened. And still the town hadn’t warned tourists. They hadn’t closed the road. I’m thinking nothing has changed. And at the
time, the ski resort didn’t have trained avalanche dogs. And it was that moment I said, what if I trained a dog to save a life? And I vowed at that moment to never leave
anyone behind. It was the same year I said, till death do us part with my husband. And that sent me on a huge journey to get a dog and train it to be the best search and
rescue dog possible.
[00:12:03] And then again, your book is like a parallel journey of that and your life, right? Yeah.
[00:12:10] Moving the dog through its entire life cycle of being a search and rescue dog and you training the dog. But then all the other things move it along. So that kind of shows
you how your life went through that process. Right.
[00:12:24] Yeah. What I discovered in the book writing and living that life is, you know, if you have purpose and passion. I had one goal and that was to save lives. But, you know,
and I had a big agenda. And by golly, like I was a bull in a china shop. What I had to learn that is the politics of playing in a small town. I was an outsider coming in. I’m a
little lady and I’m up against a bunch of six foot two, you know, 250 pound men who have a different agenda than I do. So I had to learn how to basically play in the
sandbox with ski patrol, search and rescue. I had to join a search and rescue dog organization. I had to learn how search and rescue work. Who’s responsible for it? And I
just wanted to save lives.
[00:13:16] You know, that’s that’s an interesting point you brought up that I hadn’t thought of before this.
[00:13:19] But when I moved to Whitefish, I was a ski racer for my whole life, and I assumed my first job was going to be at the ski resort doing something. And I went up there and I
had a pretty good pedigree of ski racing background for this area. But nobody knew who I was. And I went up there and I talked to a few people and they had zero interest
in hiring me. And I was completely shocked. And that changed my whole life because I had spent my whole life, you know, excelling at ski racing and various things like
[00:13:51] But when you move into a new town or just an environment where you’re not an approved expert, you’ve got to basically somehow establish yourself.
[00:14:00] So maybe that would be a good point. How did you overcome that or what did you do? Because you had something that you wanted to do. There was a local crew that maybe didn’t even know whether you should be involved or not, but you had this passion all the sudden. So what was the main thing that helped you get to where you were actually doing professionally, what you wanted to be doing? Since there was already a group of people there who were like, OK, fine. Right. So explain that process.
[00:14:29] Yeah, that’s a great question, because there’s no manual about how to do this stuff. You know, I wrote a book about it now. So if you’re interested in search and rescue
dog training, you can read about all the the conflict I had to go through. There was no mentorship. I think mentorship is huge in any activity you do, whether it’s in the mortgage business or, you know, playing outside. I ended up one of the characters in my book is Poodle Lady, she lived in Aspen and she had a standard poodle. But I had
a joint first I joined a volunteer search and rescue dog group in Colorado. So I ended up traveling all over the state. You know, you’re familiar with some of the places in my book. I did go to the front range. I had to go to Boulder to go to Fort Collins. I had to go to Aspen. Summit County because those were the dog experts, then the other.
They dog group says, well, you have to join your local search and rescue team because you have to be deployed with an agency and you have to get some training.
[00:15:31] Remember, I’m a rookie. I don’t know anything about dog training. I don’t know anything about search and rescue. And I want to be an avalanche professional. So one way to get to the fast track of avalanche profession is to join the ski team, ski patrol. I had to be on ski patrol. I need to learn about avalanches. I needed to learn about medicine. And so now I am juggling two volunteer groups, a paid position. And I have a puppy, a husband and I work sometimes two thousand miles away. So I fast track
everything. I was asked by orthopedic surgeon who ran a clinic at the base of the ski area. Hey, so you’re an EMT. Do you want to come and work for me? So I get to learn
about ski area medicine, which made me really competent. The one specialty I had going into all this is I was a geologist and I always knew where I was. I knew how. As
far as search and rescue goes, I could read maps. And that’s like one really important skill to have.
[00:16:31] So one thing I heard you saying there is you’re in a small ski town. There’s a lot of things you need to be successful at where you’re headed. And you went and sort those
things out because there wasn’t really an infrastructure in place like, hey, I want to be a dog rescue trainer and search and rescue like there’s no road map for that. So
each time you encountered a an area of expertise that you needed or training and you went and sought it out so that you would have to come back to where you wanted
to use it.
[00:17:02] Right. Yes. And every organization has their own infrastructure and politics and leader mismanagement. And I’m in it’s mostly run by men. And, you know, I’m an outsider.
They didn’t really care about my agenda. So again, I had to prove myself in every aspect. Probably not one time like a guy would have to, but probably three times as the
labor and intensity just to say, oh, yeah, I’m I’m here in the arena with you and you better pay attention.
[00:17:35] You know, it’s funny cause I hear you say all that and I’m looking back at my own ski racing childhood.
[00:17:42] And there were a couple of women that were kind of leaders and coaches, but they were all strong women.
[00:17:48] And I guess as a guy, you just don’t realize like how big of an obstacle that is until you hear so articulated back to you.
[00:17:56] But that, you know, to be a woman in the 80s and the 90s and trying to get into these types of work.
[00:18:03] Basically, it’s all you know, the people that are running the infrastructure don’t care whether you make it or not. Is that pretty much? Yeah. And if you happen to excel,
they’ll be like, okay, come along. But they’re not reaching out to you trying to make it work for you.
[00:18:18] Yeah. They look at you all like your skills sets not up to par. Swipe left next person. But you know, so it made me like stand my ground, find my voice, speak out because
nobody was going to stop me from my dream.
[00:18:34] This is a completely like self-directed mission and it’s on you to get it on. Yeah, that’s a great experience. So it kind of fits into a lot of the things that you’re interested in
[00:18:44] Yeah, it made me grow up, you know, in in geology. It was the same thing. I was like one women in in a field crew in the you know, in in Mexico and the Dominican Republic where I worked, you know. But I got to lean and hide behind my husband. This was one endeavor where I couldn’t lean on him. I had to show up and and take
control of my destiny. Sure.
[00:19:07] Makes a lot of sense.
[00:19:09] And as I dig into these topics with you, I realize that we could probably do like a six hour interview. You have a lot of content. What are the things I wanted to. It was it was just a one sentence in your book. When I was looking to Go Find.
[00:19:23] But you mentioned something along the lines of moving to Montana.
[00:19:28] And so you did. The Crested Butte is kind of where you’ve got your area of expertise and you’ve branched out to all these different areas for training. At some point, you
decided to make a move to Montana. But in there you mentioned like you were headed there for a reason.
[00:19:46] And I was noticing that a lot of people come to Montana to either get away from something or they have a big expectation on when they land in Montana. What’s going to
[00:19:57] And there was kind of like a note in the book that, you know, everything kind of comes along with you, your your life. So just a lot of people, I think, do that.
[00:20:04] They come to Montana to like get a whole new ballgame and then they get here.
[00:20:10] And since you wrote about your book and you’ve experience your life, maybe just talk a little bit about that whole idea moving off to some new place to try to get a better
life. What happens? Really?
[00:20:21] You know. Yeah, experience. You’ll find out in the end of my book. Might. My rebel, my relationship with my animal had its really strong bond, and because I was so driven.
I started to see cracks in my marriage. Just like you’d see in the snow pack during the winter. It’s a huge metaphor for my book that I was the expert at reading the snow
pack. You know? And yet I couldn’t see all the flaws that were happening in my marriage. So one of the things we were my husband, I were pretty miserable. It was the
end of my dog’s career. We did accomplish everything I set out to do. You know, Lifeline’s I worked in water, avalanche in wilderness and cadaver rescue. So we we
decided to come to Montanan, you know, restart, to do a timeout, like, stop, stop. Let’s like re fresh rekindle our relationship. And luckily with me, what I had was my
business. I had started a business in nineteen ninety eight. I recommend to all of your listeners if you want to do one thing for yourself, it’s start a business and it could be
super small. I was teaching wilderness medicine and avalanche courses because I became a specialist. So I could really do that job anywhere. When I got here, basically my life fell apart. And I had to recreate and reinvent myself, and I I nearly fell to the ground, I’m like, oh, my God. I left Colorado with a huge business and clients. But when you’re good, your clients will stick with you. They will follow you. And so I my my basic life, as I knew it fell apart. I had to restart here. I’m still here. I’m thriving. I
have a business. I still do everything I’ve always done. And I wanted to come here because of the proximity to all the water. There’s not the population that we see
everywhere else in the world. The airport’s amazing. And it’s a nice cross-section of people living in Montana. And so I feel like this is my home and I make it work. I scrap
everything together to make a living here.
[00:22:56] Yeah. Looks like you’re pulling all the different experiences you’ve had. And and it’s something I imagine you’re running basically several different business venues
through all that experience while residing in Montana.
[00:23:10] Yeah. And I can make it work.
[00:23:12] And so that was a good point that I wanted to bring out, because you mentioned we were we had a quick chat before this interview and something that I think a lot of
people don’t know about Montana is that there’s really good opportunities to get some types of mentorship because there’s a lot of different people coming, a lot of
different places to try out Montana to live here.
[00:23:39] And you you mentioned that in your writing career, you found like a group of people here that actually helped you prosper, that which is a later in life endeavor. But maybe talk about that group that you found. And I I’ve met different successful business leaders in Montana. And I had this one lady say to me that you have a better
chance of making it big with a business idea in Montana than you do in a metropolitan area, because you might be just like sitting in a restaurant next to some famous
person and have the opportunity to talk to them. Whereas if you were in a big metropolitan area, you wouldn’t have that opportunity because everyone is just here. But
you’re into writing. And you mentioned a group that you’re in. You want to talk a little bit about that?
[00:24:24] I came to Montana with the purpose of writing a memoir about my experience of training my search and rescue dog. I don’t know what really drew me here, except for
those other reasons. So when I landed here, I’m like, I got to write a book now, kind of like I have to train a dog now. I’m so specifically driven. I didn’t know how to write
for the life of me. I didn’t know how to assemble a book together. And all of a sudden I start looking around and there’s a writing organization called Authors of the
Flathead. They’ve been or they had been around for 20 years. And I started going and they have weekly meetings down at Flathead Valley Community College is a
nonprofit organization. And their motto is Writers Helping Writers. And I started to learn how to write. How about story structure? And I have created this amazing bond with mostly women. For 12 years I call them my midwives. They helped me birth my book. And this year they’re having their 30th writing conference. So it’s been the one
of the biggest gifts in my life is our relationships with people. And I last year my book came out last week I wrote an essay for The New York Times Modern Love column, which is the most commonly read column in The New York Times, and they published it. So.
[00:25:59] I have Authors at the Flathead to thank.
[00:26:02] Yeah, I think that’s just that was something that really caught my attention because I’ve found that Montana uniquely gives you a launching pad into some bigger
environments that you would never think would come from Montana. You would think that you need to go like, you know, take like an actor. They got to go to New York to make it. But even in acting, there’s like actors that come out here to experience Montana. And so Montana has this unique ability to connect you with people that would
be way harder to connect with in other environments.
[00:26:33] I would agree there’s not a day that doesn’t go by where I meet a really amazing person. Everybody has so much to bring to the table here, and you’re right. Like we have
access to them either in my classes or if I go to the way of the coffee shop on the chairlift, walking down the street. There’s some really amazing people in this community.
[00:26:57] Well, I’d like to you pointed out that you equate a lot of life life lessons or whatever to avalanche snowpack or snowpack in general, cause that’s one thing that I’ve
observed as I like to spend a lot of time climbing mountains and my wife thinks I spend too much time, to her, it seems like it’s forever.
[00:27:19] You know, if I go out for a two day excursion to climb one mountain.
[00:27:22] But the one of the things that really draws me to the experience is all the things that go on to get to the top and all. And I’m actually doing that, that.
[00:27:31] So there’s need to hear you say the comment about the. It sounds like when you’re when you wrote the book and some of your things that you’re expressing as these
things you’ve learned about training a dog to rescue people or avalanche snowpack or whatever it is you’re integrating into life lesson into that, which is cool.
[00:27:55] I like reading about that. So I appreciate you writing that stuff down.
[00:27:59] Yeah, I know. I only did that through all the badgering and my writing mid-wife saying, what are you really trying to say? What’s the you know, what’s the purpose of this
book? What are you trying to express?
[00:28:09] So so they help you connect the dots between all this life experience and making it something that you can share with people who maybe don’t even know anything about
snowpack and they can also see the connection to you writing about it.
[00:28:22] Yes, that’s fantastic. So so now you’re here and you’ve had I mean, your resume experiences is great. I mean, you’ve you can help people save their lives. You can also
teach people about a lot of things that will help them either save their own life or work with others.
[00:28:40] And now you’ve you’ve got careers and all these different avenues.
[00:28:45] And and so going forward. What is the next big thing? Where are you headed?
[00:28:52] What what what do you want to see, like the next 20 years? What’s going on? What’s coming down the pipe?
[00:28:57] Great question. My most current goal is to take all of this and, you know, keynote speech. I want to inspire. I want to motivate. I became basically the lost expert. I was as
lost as anybody I ever found. Isn’t that interesting? So I understand the phases of being lost in your life. So you can be lost in the woods. You can be lost in a career. You
could be lost in a marriage. You could be lost in addiction. You could be lost in your health. And it doesn’t matter where you’re lost. But I know how to help people move
through that and identify it. So now I’m teaching writing courses, I keynote speak. My message is then to inspire and empower and go live your best life.
[00:29:51] And so whatever advances that and that’s kind of where you’re headed.
[00:29:55] Yeah. And how do I do that through podcast or television? You know, podcasts are pretty powerful through writing to keynote speaking to kind of do a big circle with all
this. Two things that happen. I was just invited back to my hometown in Michigan as a keynote speaker to a film festival. And I was standing on the stage of my eighth
grade auditorium. So here’s a gal. You know, the last time I was there was 44 years ago. And I’m doing a full circle, coming back home and sharing with my hometown. How important that that sense of stability and that sense of place was, because it gave me that. But what I call the blanket of security than to go out to the world and
then bring back what I’ve learned. And that was super special to do that. The other thing that happened is I went back to Crested Butte.
[00:30:54] And spoke. And I you know, I wasn’t that, you know, my.
[00:31:01] They were all my teachers and mentors. But I talk about how frustrated I was in their behavior and kind of that pack mentality. I was never going to go back to Crested
Butte because I thought they would throw eggs at me. But when I spoke, my my search rescue team showed up with hugs and congratulations. The ski patrol director
showed up and said, good job. So I finally got you know, I’m getting validation full circle after maybe a quarter of a century. And that feels good.
[00:31:32] You have grovy toss in their community now, right?
[00:31:35] Yes. I should tell polyphony like if we didn’t see it that way. You all right? Ah, yeah, yeah.
[00:31:41] Sometimes people go off and they do something. And then and then the people that know back home are like, oh, that person, they’re not, you know. But now you’ve got
the credentials and the. Well, that’s an awesome validation and an awesome experience that you got to have. And I appreciate you coming on and sharing a little bit. I
apologize that that we couldn’t dig in for another couple hours. But what I would encourage people to do is look up Susan Purvis.
[00:32:06] She has a Web site. She has a book. One of the books is Go Find, as she mentioned, she just had an article published.
[00:32:15] Was that did you say The New York Times? Yeah. Yeah. So they’ll probably be on her on her Web site also. So she has some regular content that you could subscribe to.
She lives right here in Montana.
[00:32:28] And so just really appreciate you coming on and sharing a little bit about how you make it work in Montana. And just giving everybody a little bit of a feel for all these
different avenues. And I just encourage you if you want to learn what she’s learned. Just take a look at some of what she’s putting out there and content. So thank you
very much for coming on. Great to be here.