ST. GEORGE —A female-owned mountain biking guide company hopes to inspire change by creating inclusion and fairly compensating guides.
Wild Mesa Mountain Bike Guides owner Kelsey Grunigen said she saw the opportunity to take the intimidation out of mountain biking and encourage people of all ages to ride for the first time when she started the business one year ago.
“Mountain biking could be summed up as an ear-to-ear smiling good time that pumps you full of excitement,” Grunigen said. “It is pure fun and bliss. But I can’t ignore how it has transformed my confidence and shaped how I interact with my environment, and I want others to experience that, too.”
From completing multiple triathlons to road biking, riding has always been a big part of her life. So it was only natural she would add mountain biking to her outdoor recreation list.
With a background in human resources, Grunigen has spent her career focusing on strategic diversity and inclusion. When she moved to Hurricane from Washington State four years ago, she was quickly integrated into the guiding community through her boyfriend Marley Nelson — a guide in Southern Utah for the past six years.
“I remember my first time mountain biking here, and I could count on one hand how many girls were there,” she said. “And there were 20-plus guys that mountain bike regularly.”
The mountain biking community and the guiding industry as a whole are male-dominated and she said only four of the local guide companies are woman-owned. And three of those just opened in the last few years. She said she’s grateful to Gabby Olsen with Rock Odysseys for being a fantastic mentor and helping navigate partnerships and requirements.
“Being inclusive and having female representation in the guiding community here is kind of a new thing,” she said. “There’s not a lot of female representation in the sports and in the industry as far as business, so we just wanted to change that a little bit, while also making it more inclusive for the community.”
Part of the inclusivity means absolutely no mountain biking experience is required to be a part of their guided tours. While most of their customers have ridden a bike at least once in their lives, 75% of them have never mountain biked in their life.
The career path of a guide can be physically taxing, and she said more often than not, the wages are not enough to live on. Compensating their guides fairly is something she takes pride in. They also sponsor their guides to obtain their Wilderness First Responder certification.
“I saw an opportunity to open a guiding business that actually valued the guides and the chance to make a difference,” she said. “Not just for our own customers, but for guides, too. That’s been the driving force. There’s a lot of change that can be had in the guiding community and we want to be able to help drive that.”
But starting the business hasn’t been a smooth ride.
Right after Grunigen opened Wild Mesa Mountain Bike Guides last year, she fell about 50 feet down a steep trail while mountain biking. The fall resulted in a broken leg and five months of recovery time. Not only could she not ride for five months, she couldn’t walk, either.
During her recovery, she worked multiple jobs and ran the computer side of the guide business while Nelson guided trips. She said she’s thankful she pushed through the hard times to get where she is now.
Wild Mesa Mountain Bike Guides has partnered with the Zion National Park Forever Project, which is in the process of building a trail system on the east side of Zion. They donate a percentage of all their trips on the eastside trails back to the campaign.
“We feel good having that partnership,” she said. “Not just donating, but it’s also nice to have a partnership with a nonprofit who has values that align with ours as far as recreating responsibility.”
Grunigan said what sets them apart from other guiding companies in town is that they have their own bike fleet, taking away the need to rent bikes separately. They also offer a lower price than most of their competitors and cater to all ability levels. The company has permits in both Kane and Iron counties. Customers can choose from half-day rides, full-day rides and sunset rides.
Grunigen said they hope to expand in the future to offer community rides and instructional courses.
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