Our Goal is to make Original Mistakes

The author is surprised and impressed to find Erich’s Adamants Haggy on the Goldstream Road.

The author is surprised and impressed to find Erich’s Adamants Haggy on the Goldstream Road.

At Boulder Ventures, we’re proud of our long association with Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), the world’s premier heliski company. CMH operates 14 remote backcountry ski lodges in the Columbia Mountains of Canada, and is the largest employer of mountain guides in the world. CMH’s world headquarters were located in Boulder Ventures’ offices for a long time, and although we don’t have a financial interest in CMH, we’re good customers and good friends with their guides.

We’ve learned a lot from the CMH guides over our years together in the field, and one of them is to disseminate information about mistakes throughout our organization and portfolio companies. That way, when we do make mistakes, they are Original Mistakes, not the same ones other people have already made.

My favorite Original Mistake from CMH is the story of the Haggy:

Before he was head guide at CMH, Erich Unterberger ran the Adamants Heliski Lodge for two decades. Each week over the winter season, Erich and his staff moved 44 guests and all of their luggage from the parking lot on the Goldstream River to the Adamants Lodge, 30km away.

CMH guests have a lot of luggage.

Adamants guides did this for years using the 212 helicopter that takes us heliskiing, which is fine for moving guests around, but is an expensive way to move their luggage. Erich reckoned that moving the guests’ luggage up and down to the Adamants Lodge in a tracked vehicle would be way cheaper than flying the stuff around in helicopters. He found an articulated Swedish Army Vehicle called a Haggy on eBay, bought it, and began using it to ferry the luggage on transfer days.

This was an ingenious solution to a long-standing problem, and Erich got all the credit for saving CMH a bunch of money while improving the logistics and guest experience on an otherwise hectic transfer. The Haggy ran all season without incident, driven up and down the Goldstream logging road by one of the Adamants staff we called “Lawnboy.”

One day, Lawnboy was moving the guest luggage in the Haggy when a red light went on. All of the Haggy controls were in Swedish and, unfortunately, Lawnboy didn’t speak that language, so he just kept driving. Pretty soon, Lawnboy smelled smoke and stopped to look around. He found the back of the Haggy on fire and alertly offloaded all of the guest luggage before the whole thing burst into flames and burned to the ground.

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This was an Original Mistake.

The Haggy was a new thing in the Adamants, and a bold experiment by Erich. No one had ever seen this (or any other) failure mode in the Haggy before, and no one knew what anything meant on the Swedish control panel. And, thanks to Lawnboy’s quick action, no one was hurt in the incident and no guest luggage was harmed. Erich bought a new Haggy on eBay and made sure all of the Swedish controls were labeled in English. Henceforth, the Adamants Haggy ran flawlessly.

It is our goal to constantly improve things by making Original Mistakes that, while inconvenient, don’t result in any meaningful failure. Instead, these Original Mistakes become an opportunity for learning and improvement throughout our organizations — and a source of great stories among the guides and venture capitalists.

James DudleyCMH