Backcountry Journeys is making “news” again, as today we announce a well-deserved promotion for one of our own.
Beginning this week, Jillian Swalwell will be Backcountry Journeys’ new Operations Manager! Everyone here is super thrilled for Jillian, and are anxious to see all that she’ll bring to the proverbial ‘table’ in this new role.
Most everyone reading this likely has had at least some contact with Jillian. Since the spring of 2019, she has been fantastic as BCJ’s “point of first contact” for our guests, in her role as Photo Adventure Specialist. If you have called or emailed us during the past nearly two years, Jillian’s was that friendly voice (or emailer) on the other end. I know that I can speak for many folks in saying that we’ll miss having her in that capacity, but certainly, great things are in store for all of us with Jillian in this new position.
Good news such as this, especially on the week of Christmas and the impending conclusion of the year, deserves to be highlighted. Why not some GOOD news? And what better way to shine a happy bright light on our Star of the Day, than to sit down with Jillian for a conversation?
Kenton: Hi Jillian! It’s been a while since we last spoke in this format. Has anything changed with you? If I recall, way back in the spring of 2019 you were enjoying living in Flagstaff, Arizona, and just started with Backcountry Journeys…
Jillian: How times have changed! I ended up moving to Wisconsin for a year, and then this summer moved to Florida to be near my family. Working from the Sunshine State now, and have a 4-month-old daughter to boot! 2020 has been a year of change, and I’m grateful for it. Certainly miss Flagstaff, though (and sometimes Wisconsin, but not in the winter!).
Kenton: That certainly is a whirlwind of change! Wow!! And now you’ll be closing out the year with a job change, too!
In your role as Photo Adventure Specialist, you performed a number of “behind-the-scenes” necessary clerical work, but you also interacted with our guests more than probably anyone in the company. Looking back on the past nearly two years with Backcountry Journeys, what stands out the most?
Jillian: I really enjoy talking with everyone who calls, or emails, with questions about our trips – it makes me feel connected with each of our guests. I’m the one communicating everyone’s specific needs before a trip, and I’m always the first to ask “how did so-and-so enjoy themselves?” following the completion of a trip.
Kenton: I’m assuming there will be at least a large handful of folks out there who will be happy for you, but sad to know you won’t be there the next time they call or email. So, let’s talk about the new position, shall we? Can you tell us about your new responsibilities? Is this a new position for Backcountry Journeys?
Jillian: Yes, I’m taking on a brand-new role, and collecting some duties from others on the team, as well as keeping – and diving deeper – into some that I’ve already owned. As Operations Manager, I’m going to shift my focus to more of the logistics side of our trips. I’ll be more involved with our vendor contracts, lodging arrangements, park permitting, and reporting. But, the biggest difference I think is that I’m taking on a managerial role with our guides.
Kenton: Managing the guides sounds like a significant change and something that could be equal parts fun and challenging. Can you talk a bit more about that? Are you the “go-to” for guides while in the field? Say, something goes wrong with a reservation, or god-forbid someone on a tour were to get hurt. Do the guides then turn to you for support? Is this the central focus of the new position?
Jillian: Yep, I’ll be the go-to for guides both in the field and at home. In this new role, I’ll be focused on making the trips run as smoothly as possible – and so much of that relies on the guides. So, while I certainly hope no one gets hurt on a tour, I would be the one to take that call. I hope to be a reliable resource!
Kenton: Will you be nice to us (the guides), or are we all in for an “awakening?”
Jillian: Haha! To quote Michael Scott: Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.
Kenton: That is a perfect, and really creative, answer to that obvious setup of a question. I think as someone who is providing valued support during times of need (speaking directly from a guide who’s been on the other end of a few of those phone calls), it won’t be difficult to receive love and heartfelt gratitude from the guides.
Jillian: I hope so! They/you are the reason our guests keep coming back for more – and if I can make it so that everyone can concentrate on the “fun” side of the job and not sweat the details (because I’m sweating the details!), all the better.
Kenton: (…Blushing) Awe, shucks, really? Well, having been a guide in the field for years and years, I certainly appreciate the behind-the-scenes support, and understand that the framework of our tours, which you’ll be handling, is CRUCIAL.
Now that we’re done patting each other on the back for being awesome, what one thing could you point to, ahead of starting in this new role, where you feel that you can make the biggest difference?
Jillian: I’m really motivated to dive in with the guides! While I know that I’m going to have a steep learning curve, I sincerely want to be a great support system. And eventually (once I learn the ropes), I hope to implement systems to make their jobs easier. I’ve always enjoyed learning new things, and I think that’s where I have the most to learn, so it’s very exciting.
Kenton: Is there a component of your role as Photo Adventure Specialist, one that you’ll have to leave behind, that you’ll miss the most?
Jillian: The guests, of course! While I still will have some guest interaction, it is a lot of fun being the first point of contact (ok, maybe not as fun in 2020). I love hearing about everyone’s lives, and what they are planning – for example, a lot of times I work to help find a trip to fit in for after a son’s graduation, or a birthday trip.
Kenton: What will we do without you in your current role as Photo Adventure Specialist?
Jillian: I’ll still be guest-facing when I can be, but I think everyone will start to see different names pop up in response to emailed questions, and other voices answering the phone. Time to warm up those vocal cords, Kenton!
Kenton: That was great, thank you for your time, Jillian. Backcountry Journeys is in good hands. And, “good news” for those who would like to talk with her again, before she moves on, as she will still be taking calls and answering emails for a little while longer as things transition.
So, how about another round of ‘Congratulations’ for Jillian!
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers, and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and spent roughly five years writing and photographing for the award-winning Omaha World-Herald newspaper, out of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of trip leading and guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens, to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.
Don’t miss the next session of BCJ Live!
Big Alaska: Stories & Slideshow
with Grant Ordelheide
Tuesday, February 1st, 2022
11 am – 12 pm Mountain Time