Students top the agenda at Outdoors Unlimited

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    BY TRISHA BARKER

    A 1956 survey showed that BYU students were interested in having an outdoor recreation center on campus, but it was not until 14 years later, in 1970, that an outdoor center was established.

    The student union planning committee approved a location with 2,160 square feet in 1958, but revisions to the building plans left the outing center without a home. When the Ernest L. Wilkinson Center was dedicated and opened in 1964, plans for an outing center had been forgotten.

    An outdoor sporting store was not opened until nine years later, when a bike rental service was opened in the BYU Games Center. It began in a room the size of a closet.

    The location, formerly known as Outdoor Rentals, became Outdoors Unlimited in 1982, after receiving numerous rental additions, and after annual income had grown from $2,799 in 1972 to $52,202 in 1980.

    “(In 1990), of all outdoor places at colleges and universities in America, Outdoors Unlimited became the second largest in rental, the second largest in repair services, the largest in retail sales and one of the top-50 organizations in outdoor adventure programming.”

    — David Webb, manager, Wilkinson Student Center Recreation Services

    According to David Webb, manager of Wilkinson Student Center Recreation Services, Outdoors Unlimited grew 20-30 percent every year from 1982 to 1990.

    “(In 1990), of all outdoor places at colleges and universities in America, Outdoors Unlimited became the second largest in rental, the second largest in repair services, the largest in retail sales and one of the top-50 organizations in outdoor adventure programming,” Webb said. “And Outdoors Unlimited does not receive subsidies, but is wholly self-supported.”

    The store now has 4,500 square feet, and is now run by a few full-time employees and around 20 student employees.

    Outdoors Unlimited leaves students and BYU community members without excuse for not doing the recreational activities they would like to. It offers rental and retail equipment, clinics and trips, and repair services for bikes, skis and snowboards.

    Besides being designed to be convenient, the on-campus store is designed to serve the students, and this makes it all the more attractive to the BYU student body.

    According to an Outdoors Unlimited Mission Statement from 1983, the store’s “primary focus is and will be in serving the student.”

    This is an aspect unique to most outdoor stores in the area, and Webb says it is one of the reasons Outdoors Unlimited does so well.

    “Our focus is to serve the students,” Webb said. “But if faculty, staff, administrators, the community or anyone else wants to come, then we’re not going to turn them away.”

    Students begin their recreational experience at Outdoors Unlimited the moment they step foot in the front doors of the store.

    Bright, true-to-life paintings span every wall. Each mural depicts a geographical location within the state of Utah.

    The Arches from Arches National Park loom above bicycle retail equipment, and trees and mountains from the Mountain Valley area are situated above the ski rentals.

    “Outdoors Unlimited, because of its outdoor theming, takes students off campus just by stepping inside,” Webb said.

    “Students become tired of their studies, and many say ‘I just want to get out of Provo.’ What they’re really saying is ‘I want to take a break from my academic studies and become renewed and refreshed as part of a recreational experience,'” he said.

    Maybe those are not the exact words BYU students would use, but Webb says that by providing an atmosphere that lends itself to the activity being engaged in, the feeling of getting away and having fun is accelerated.

    “It’s renewing and gives it a fun, exciting and enticing look as opposed to the institutional look of a classroom,” he explained.

    Jared Carlow, coordinator of WSC Recreation Services, said students use the store most often to purchase bike accessories, such as locks, fenders, upgrade parts and tubes, and to receive full-service bike repair.

    Most of the store’s bike mechanics have previous experience in other states, although some have been trained internally, Carlow said.

    “I mostly just came to the store to buy a method for locking up my bike,” said Beth Baker, 19, a junior from Los Alamos, N.M., majoring in history teaching.

    Baker said convenience was her main incentive, and she had not even priced out the equipment she ended up buying.

    Employees who work at the store must be BYU students, and most have outdoor experience or areas of outdoor interest.

    “There is always a huge list of people that apply, and most have some kind of outdoors skills,” said Rob Freeze, 24, a senior, and a graphic designer for the store. “It’s not the most important quality, but it helps.”

    Carlow said the people who work at his store are committed to the outdoors and to helping other people enjoy them.

    Webb said passion and commitment is part of what make the employees so receptive to student needs.

    Students who work at Outdoors Unlimited probably do not get bored. Although much of their time is spent behind the counter in 1151 WSC, employees also serve as guides on store-sponsored trips to seven different areas and three different clinics.

    Among the most popular winter expeditions are snowshoeing, cross country skiing, winter camping and Mt. Nebo climbing trips. Outdoors Unlimited provides transportation, equipment, guides and sometimes food, all for one price.

    Now BYU students cannot complain about having nowhere to go or nothing to do.

    “We try to focus on places most people don’t know about, teach skills that people want to learn and the use of equipment that most people don’t have,” Carlow said.

    The trips offer students a chance to step out of routine and experience real adventure.

    Most trips include 20 patrons and four guides, although the numbers differ with age group, experience and other factors.

    Guides are trained before each trip and are required to have special medical first aid training, Freeze said.

    The spring and summer seasons bring a new list of options for students, and Carlow said rafting and kayaking generally top the list.

    Each May the store offers river guide clinics to certify its employees and other interested individuals. When the course is finished, its students are prepared to take the Class II Utah River License Exam. The clinic consists of four classroom sessions and three river trips.

    Carlow said most students are surprised by the amount of equipment the store rents and sells, and by the variety of activities it sponsors.

    Some rental items that may come as a surprise include volleyballs, softball and baseball equipment, giant Twister games, and — probably the biggest surprise of all — Santa suits.

    It sounds like Outdoors Unlimited just might have something for everyone.

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