Life on the Mountain
Granola and Gears
"Play Hard Give Back" cranks out hot dogs, brews and bike art at the Grand Opening of its Ketchum headquarters.
On the corner of 7th St and Warm Springs Rd in Ketchum, Idaho, hot dogs sizzle and a keg is tapped. The once latent deck of Woodsmoke BBQ swells with people, their colorful bikes stacked along the railing, and one senses new life being spilled into a structure that has long been dormant.
Of course, there’s more than sausages cooking at Play Hard Give Back’s (PHGB) "Landing Pad," now a hip and luminous space, but it’s a Friday evening and co-founder Jeff Brendel merely wants to feed you. Doubling as a fundraiser to benefit the Wood River Bike Coalition (WRBC), “Granola and Gears,” as it’s called, is a friend-filled launch party with a charitable subtext: the embodiment of PHGB’s own moniker.
Play Hard Give Back is in the business of giving. Whether it’s hot dogs at “Granola and Gears,” donations to a Nepalese school or financial support for its roster of athletes, the company's goal is clear: play hard, but, most importantly, give back.
In a world of ego-driven pursuits, especially in sports, PHGB expresses a refreshing vision and achieves its goal through a unique model of philanthropy. Conceived by Brendel and his son, Spencer, on a revelatory road trip through Truckee, Calif., PHGB is a social profit organization, through which its sponsored athletes are given a potent channel to raise money for the charity of their choice.
“Our tagline and motto,” explained Brendel, “is developing athletes beyond sports.” Needless to say, athletes are busy; their schedules are packed and necessarily self-centered. For many, finding the time and means to support a good cause can be difficult, even overwhelming. That’s where the Brendels and PHGB come in: “What we do is we get them a clear platform to devote some of their energy to doing good and giving back. That’s what’s so important: these athletes want to do it, they have the heart, but they just don’t know how.”
So here’s the innovative “how:” PHGB partners with an athlete, such as local skiercross champion, Langley McNeal, to create a specialty bag of trail mix, which features her face, her story and her chosen charity, No Kid Hungry. The trail mix is then sold at Atkinson’s or Main Street Market — a healthy snack for healthy people. Finally, from every bag of trail mix sold, $1 is split: 50 cents goes to support McNeal’s personal cause of ending childhood hunger, another 50 cents goes to fund McNeal’s skiercross career, helping to pay for event fees, travel costs, etc. McNeal, in turn, is able to continue training and skiing at the highest level, garnering increased attention for her sponsors, including PHGB, and, hopefully, even the charity she supports. As a result of her success and marketing, consumers buy more of McNeal’s trail mix, which means more donations to No Kid Hungry, as well as increased funding for McNeal’s own career. It is a positive-feedback loop, operating equally for all fifteen of PHGB’s sponsored athletes, which has no losers.
Back at The Landing Pad, “Granola and Gears” is in full swing. In the main room, a lengthy wood table is covered in more trail mix ingredients than one would think imaginable: yogurt raisins, organic chocolate drops, salted sunflower seeds, ginger, nuts of all kinds, mango, raspberry pretzels and many more delicious edibles in small piles. Partygoers stroll around the room, gourmet hot dogs in hand, admiring bike-related photography and sculptures by locals Mark Oliver, Tal Roberts, Ray Gadd, Todd Meier and Cameron Lloyd. Outside, a crowd is playing ping-pong. Everything about the space speaks to PHGB’s commitment to becoming much more than a corporate entity. PHGB’s vibe is that of a lifestyle brand and the trail mix is just the beginning. According to Brendel, “We have a [energy] bar that we’re looking at, a breakfast granola, and, most importantly, an apparel line that we’ve also been working on, which the athletes will help design.”
What’s more is that Brendel plans on hosting more fundraisers at the beginning of every month, all of which will feature art to correspond with Ketchum’s gallery tour. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he beamed, food trucks will begin setting up for lunch outside. “We have a brand new space,” Brendel said, “and it’s so cool that we want to open it up to the community and allow the community to come in, use and participate in that space.” If “Granola and Gears” is any indication, the Landing Pad could quickly become a commons, with wi-fi included.
Although PHGB only launched their first bag of trail mix in January of this year, the company has quickly gained momentum. Its lineup up of athletes already includes big names, like Rebecca Rusch (endurance mountain biker), Wing Tai Barrymore (halfpipe skier), Travis Ganong (U.S. Ski Teamer), Marco Sullivan (U.S. Ski Teamer), Eric Fisher (U.S. Ski Teamer), Langley McNeal (skiercross competitor), Lexi DuPont (freeskier) and Caroline Gleich (freeskier). Other locals also dot the roster: Alexa Turzian and Mikey Sinott (SVSEF nordic skiers), Joey Sides (AHL/ECHL hockey player), Ryan Roemer (SVSEF snowboarder) and Trevor Hattabaugh (SVSEF halfpipe skier), for instance, have also signed on. While PHGB’s grand opening was a definite success, Brendel’s real joy has been in assisting these athletes support the public good. “Each one of them talks about wanting to have done this,” he remarked, “and that they were looking for ways to do it, but never being able to figure it out. So sitting there with them and watching their eyes open up — ‘Yeah this is what I want to do!’ — and then us being able to help in that process is what’s so rewarding.”
Indeed, at the heart of the enterprise, beneath the piles of granola and after the beer is gone, there is just one thing uniting Brendel and the play-hard athletes: an ethic of giving back.
photos courtesy of Play Hard Give Back