Davis Smith wants people to eat a handful of brine shrimp, straight from the Great Salt Lake.
He also wants them to dress up like a llama, hike the Y in spandex and eat hot dogs with hot sauce in a hot tub while wearing hot pants. And he wants them to do it all in 24 hours.
The second Cotopaxi Questival is returning to Salt Lake City April 10–11, almost exactly one year after the first. The Questival is a 24-hour competition in which teams race to accomplish outdoor adventuring tasks and win an international trip for the whole team.
Smith is the CEO of Cotopaxi and founder of the Questival. Cotopaxi is an outdoor gear business dedicated to creating a positive global impact. Part of the proceeds from every product go to humanitarian aid.
Smith said Cotopaxi was overwhelmed by the response.
“People took it way more seriously than we thought they would,” Smith said. “For us, it was a huge success, even though it cost a lot of money — way more than we brought in.”
BYU senior Alex Pehrson said he’s still worn out from last year’s Questival. His four-person team, the Space Tigers, was in it to win. The top three teams won trips to Mount Kilimanjaro, Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu.
“We started for fun, because the task list overlapped a lot with our summer bucket list,” Pehrson said. “But then we started preparing to seriously compete.”
The Space Tigers prepared for days, collecting tools, mapping hikes and gathering sustenance. When Cotopaxi released the official task list 24 hours before the race, Pehrson’s team organized two lists: one that ranked activities by points and another that ranked them by feasibility — paragliding off a mountain was quickly eliminated.
The race was competitive. When Cotopaxi sent a midnight text with clues for hidden items with bonus points, everyone moved quickly, but Pehrson heard about other teams spreading false information and stealing from other groups for an advantage. “It was cutthroat,” Pehrson said.
Pehrson loved the adventures and competition of the Questival but also recalled the events’ hiccups. Controversy sparked when Cotopaxi announced the three winning teams. During the competition, teams kept track of their own points, which Cotopaxi later reviewed. But subjective points for creativity caused disagreements. Additionally, the massive number of photos to judge was difficult to thoroughly examine in just a few hours. Hundreds of exhausted participants voiced their frustration to Smith himself.
“I’m a big believer in taking feedback seriously,” Smith said.
Smith proved this by reaching out to everyone who complained, calling people until 4 a.m. He also invited participants to the Cotopaxi offices to address concerns and solve the problems. Then Cotopaxi took action. Smith decided that Cotopaxi would comb through posts to recount points and award trips to three more teams.
“The recount was expensive; we had to send 12 more people around the world,” Smith said. “But it was worth it as a signal to our team and market that we care about our customers.”
Problems from the first Questival informed changes for the future. Smith described a new Tinder-like system of point regulation that will be used for Salt Lake City 2015. Team members will be able to swipe through other teams’ photos on the Questival app and flag questionable posts. Smith said this option increases interactivity and encourages teams to be more honest.
Cotopaxi also changed the schedule to increase adventure time. A concert party will kick off, instead of end, the event so teams don’t have to finish the race in Salt Lake City. “If a team finishes in Moab, they can stay in Moab and enjoy it even after the race is over,” Smith said.
This year’s challenges and prizes are new. The winning teams will compete against other cities’ winners in a world-championship race across seven South American countries.
The Cotopaxi Questival has expanded since its start. Both San Francisco and Las Vegas have hosted Questivals, and more events have been announced in 18 cities nationwide. Questivals don’t break even yet, but Smith said the race is primarily about helping people live the brand’s values of adventuring, connecting people and serving others.
Sometimes it’s also just about seeing people dress up in llama costumes and eat bugs.