Things I’ve Learned: Kevin Quinn on managing Points North Heli, the largest heli-ski op in the US
Interview by Kim Havell
Known as “the enforcer” on the ice, former pro hockey player Kevin Quinn now goes by “Quinner” in the field, which is the southeastern side of the Chugach Mountains. As his hockey career wound down, Quinn returned to his native Alaska and found an orca cannery in Cordova that would become the site for his thriving heli-skiing business, Points North Heli. He and his wife, Jessica Sobolowski-Quinn, manage the largest operation in the US, with three aircraft and roughly fifty guests at any given time. Quinn runs snow safety and serves as lead guide and a pilot. He’s also secretary for the Heli Ski U.S. Association.
As a professional hockey player, you are your own business. I learned to manage my contracts and negotiations and the process helped me develop solid people skills. Growing up in the lodge business gave me a background in business and allowed my entrepreneurial spirit to grow.
It’s important to be passionate about what you’re doing. It’s not always easy, but when you have a partner or a family who shares your passion, it’s an ideal life. My passion, my family, my business and my personal pursuits are wrapped into one. Our business is really just one big family.
We look for guides who not only have the required skill set and people skills but who fit in to our team. It is very important for a likely candidate to come and meet our entire staff prior to being employed. With a high-stress, high-risk job, we need individuals who can handle pressure and who work well in our team and our system.
I believe in giving people chances. I also believe in giving them the benefit of the doubt. You need to be a good listener, a liaison and a field leader, and those are also key components in managing staff.
Managing client risk is a big responsibility. Managing risk and being efficient are two crucial elements of heli-ski guiding and only come from time in the field. Guides need to be precise—there’s no room for regret. With so many inherent risks in skiing, we do our very best to minimize our exposure on a daily basis. Risk is constantly being mitigated.
You have to be honest with people. In this business, you can’t tell clients what they want to hear all the time. It snows in Alaska, and so sometimes you may only fly one or two days. There is no magical blue hole. We need storms to ski fresh snow.
Being a good leader means trusting those with whom you have surrounded yourself. Trust is earned. The success of PNH is due to the great staff we have and the trust we have in each other. We are all leaders and respect each other.
Now that Jessica and I have a child, the lines I have aspirations to ski have to be perfect. I need to be 100-percent confident in the conditions. Before becoming a dad, I wanted to ski as many of the big, consequential lines as I could. That’s not an option now. We have plenty of younger guides full of fire.
The Chugach is like church. Standing on some of those big peaks like Pontoon and Sphinx is like being at the alter kneeling before the almighty. The call of these mountains brings me back year after year. The weather can take its toll, but when you get good windows, there is no place on the planet like Alaska.