Trading a Large Salary for Bigger Mountains
This gear shop owner moved from Nebraska to Wyoming's Wind Rivers for a smaller salary and higher cost of living. She wouldn't change it for the world.
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By all measures, 37-year-old Laura Hattan is the mountain version of a supermom: She owns the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale, the gateway town for Wyoming’s storied Wind River Range. She hikes, cycles, skis, runs, climbs, and fly-fishes in the mountains, often accompanied by her 15-year-old daughter, Sierra. She founded and directs the Wind River Mountain Festival, which combines an adventure race and music festival. It’s the life she always wanted—but getting it meant prying herself away from her life as a stay-at-home mom in the city and starting anew in a tourist economy. Here’s how Hattan took the plunge.
The Trigger to Change
I was born and raised in Nebraska, but my husband and I spent most of our weekends making trips to Colorado or up to Minnesota to go rock climbing. Then my daughter, Sierra, was born, and I felt like we had to make a change.
I’d read this book called Free-Range Kids, which talked about how, these days, most kids’ radius for exploration stops at the end of their driveway. That was just shocking to me. In Nebraska, I grew up in the country, but not on a farm. Until I went to college, I never realized that other kids didn’t grow up exploring river bottoms and wandering all around. I wanted that for my daughter—I wanted her to know what the outdoors was like.
So, when Sierra was six months old, we took a big road trip across the Mountain West to check out where we might want to live. Wyoming really appealed to us. We liked the quiet, and we liked the people. Then, in May 2005, we saw a job posting for an outdoor gear shop in Pinedale that was looking for managers. We interviewed with the owners over the phone and moved out here two weeks later.
The Cash Crunch
In Nebraska, my husband had been working as a computer programmer, and the job at the Great Outdoor Shop paid half as much. Meanwhile, our rent leaped from $500 a month to $1,500 for a two-bedroom townhouse. Living in the apartment above the gear shop was a key perk, because it helped us make that transition. It worked out so well with Sierra.
Plus, we liked the job. My husband and I worked the same shifts. Then, in 2014, we bought the business from the owners, who were looking to step back and had been mentors to us. Last year, my husband and I also bought Two Rivers, a fly-fishing shop and guide service just one block down from the Great Outdoor Shop.
My husband and I still make sacrifices to live here. We have to live really frugally and classify needs versus wants. To this day, I still have, like, three pieces of furniture—but there are only three of us, so we only need one couch. We don’t go out for smoothies, because Pinedale is expensive. It may not be on par with Jackson, but compared to Lincoln, prices here are shocking. Pinedale has virtually no growing season, so everything is trucked in from the interstate, 100 miles away. Everything costs more.
But it’s so worth it. The Wind River Range is incredible, a unique gem. Visitors come through and ask where our Tetons T-shirts are, and I think, no! This range is three times the size of the Tetons! It’s got the largest glacier in the Rockies! We don’t have a TV, but we go outside and play—that’s why we moved here.
The Outdoor Payoff
Backpacking is my favorite. I love to put on a pack and get some really long days in, so for me, the Wind Rivers are perfect. I also ride road and mountain bikes, and I run—although I’m like a slow, fat beagle. I’ll fish if I’m catching fish, but I won’t stand there for four hours if I’m not catching anything. In winter, I ski and snowboard and Nordic ski.
The benefits of being here are hedonistic: I love playing in the mountains. But there’s also a greater benefit in watching my daughter grow up in the mountains, in an environment that’s almost endangered in this country.
Raising a kid in a small mountain town is the best. Sierra started going to the local ski hill on her own when she was six. For her tenth birthday, she asked to climb Fremont Peak, which was an 18-mile day—the longest she’d ever done. Having a tiny person with you and watching them experience the joy of something like that is pretty incredible. I like to say we’re late locals. We weren’t born and raised in Wyoming, but we got here as soon as we could.