Outdoors

Tom Vogl approaches anniversary as CEO of The Mountaineers

Tom Vogl, 49, is approaching the end of his first year as CEO of The Mountaineers.
Tom Vogl, 49, is approaching the end of his first year as CEO of The Mountaineers. Courtesy

A year ago this month, Tom Vogl became the leader of one of the nation’s largest and most influential nonprofit outdoor organizations.

“It’s been a terrific year,” The Mountaineers’ chief executive officer said.

The Mountaineers is a 110-year-old outdoor education, recreation and conservation organization with a renowned publishing division. The club has seven branches, including in Olympia and Tacoma.

As chief executive officer, Vogl’s oversees Tacoma facility staff as well as the Seattle program and publishing divisions. The 49-year-old Seattle resident and Harvard Business School graduate has lived in the Northwest for more than a decade. He was lured here from Australia in 2006 to serve as REI’s senior vice president of marketing.

“Sydney is a pretty wonderful place, so it required a pretty amazing opportunity in terms of a place and an organization that I was passionate about,” Vogl said. “It was too great an opportunity to pass up.”

It’s not just about getting out there and doing it (outdoor recreation). It’s about experiencing it with people who are close to you.

Tom Vogl, chief executive officer of The Mountaineers

Vogl spent the four years between REI and The Mountaineers working for a variety of Northwest startup companies. As his career changed, his love for the outdoor stayed the same.

“I really try to prioritize getting into the outdoors,” Vogl said. “I’m fortunate that my family loves getting out to go hiking, climbing, skiing.”

Last year he climbed Mount Baker with his 16-year-old son and some friends.

“It’s not just about getting out there and doing it,” Vogl said of his passion for the outdoors. “It’s about experiencing it with people who are close to you.”

We recently caught up with Vogl to talk about his first year with The Mountaineers and the future.

Q: What’s are some highlights from your first year?

A: We’re coming off of a number of years where the organization is growing. We are seeing a lot of interest in the programs we offer ranging from adult classes that teach people to kayak, to climb, to hike and those kinds of things. We are also seeing a ton of interest in our youth programs, which is really exciting. We are seeing everything from families with young kids up to high school students who are looking to find ways to explore the wonderful mountains and waters of the Pacific Northwest. It’s been wonderful to be a part of that success.

Q: What is your most popular activity?

A: Hiking is a very popular one because it is a relatively easy entry point for people. Climbing is a really important part of our heritage, and that continues to be very popular. One of the things that drives the popularity in climbing is the increased popularity of climbing gyms. People start in the gym and then they wonder what it’s like to climb real rock or a glaciated peak. We also see a lot of interest in our winter programs. Snowshoeing is popular. It’s another one that’s really accessible.

Q: How did you get interested in climbing?

A: I grew up in the Midwest, so I wasn’t lucky enough to have mountains right out my backdoor. My on-ramp to the outdoors was through my oldest brother (Mike Vogl) in Colorado. He got me into skiing, backpacking and climbing. That’s a common thing that we see. A family member or an organization like The Mountaineers introduces people to the outdoors. People tend to need that mentoring to build those skills to get out there safely, have a good time and respect our wild places.

Q: Do you have a favorite Mountaineers book?

A: One of my favorites is “The Freedom of the Hills,” which is considered the bible of mountaineering. And a lot of the guidebooks are just terrific in terms of learning all the different regions of the Northwest.

Q: What are you excited about in terms of the future of The Mountaineers?

A: It’s no secret that the Pacific Northwest is growing really fast. So we are seeing a big influx of new members. A big priority of The Mountaineers is to build capacity with our volunteer-led programs so we have the organizational capability to offer wonderful experiences for all of these new people wanting to get into the outdoors.

Another big area of focus for us is around conservation advocacy. There are a lot of issues around public lands that The Mountaineers are very involved in. We want to make sure that we are protecting these wonderful places that we like to go and enjoy. And we want to ensure that they are here for future generations.

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