AWESOME PERSON #19 – Meet Will Kalish!

Meet Will! He went from living in the city working the typical 9-5 to instructing snowboarding in the winter and fishing in Alaska in the summer! From thinking he had his plan all set to catching the curve balls life throws, Will has taken on the seasonal life and is doing it in style! 

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Will, straight out of college you were working in a stressful job as a teaching assistant for teenagers with traumatic brain injuries. That sounds really intense and quite specialized! How did you get into that profession in the first place? 
I graduated college with a degree in psychology and linguistics. My plan was to eventually go to graduate school for some combination of those disciplines, but I knew I wasn’t quite ready. I wanted to take a couple years off to give something back to my community, something along the lines of Americorps, but after having no luck with any volunteer organizations, I started looking for jobs that might also be fulfilling in the same way. Because my girlfriend at the time lived in Boston, I focused my job search there. I found my teaching assistant position on craigslist. They were looking for someone with a background in psychology, I was looking for a job helping underprivileged people, and we were a perfect match.
After a few years it sounds like the job was as fulfilling as originally planned and you decided to take off on a new adventure. Can you tell us why you decided to change up life and where you went first?
I spent two years (almost exactly!) working at the school and living in Boston. After losing several of my favorite coworkers at my job (turnover rates at a job that stressful are high), and a messy break up with the girl who had brought me to Boston in the first place, it became apparent that my time at the school had run it’s course, and that city life was not for me. I quit my job before I had a plan, and on a whim applied to be a snowboard instructor in Colorado – I had been there to visit once, and it seemed like a cool place, and I had taught snowboarding at a small mountain right outside of Boston for a little, so why not? Keystone accepted my application, I couldn’t think of anything better to do, and it seemed like all the cards had fallen in the right place for me to change things up, so I did.
What did your parents tell you when you said you were quitting your job and taking off to Colorado to be a snowboard instructor? 
My parents were very supportive of my decision to quit my job in Boston. I don’t know if they expected me to move to Colorado, but for some reason they’ve always believed that I’d be able to land on my feet, so they didn’t seem too worried when I explained to them that it was time for me to leave my job and that I didn’t know what I’d be doing next. Moving across the country on a whim isn’t cheap, though, and I have been very fortunate that my parents are willing and able to help me out when I need it. They continue to support me during the shoulder seasons by letting me spend time in my old bedroom, rent free, and cooking me delicious meals while I’m there.
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Will, can you tell us what your first season in Keystone was like? Did you enjoy instructing? How about your co-workers?
My first season in Keystone was like my freshmen year of college. I lived in employee housing, which is not unlike a college dorm; I was meeting new people every day; and I was so excited to be here that I would accept almost any invitation to any after-work activity. In general, the first-year employees stuck together and hung out with one another; Tommy was one of the few veterans who reached out to me as a first year. Conversations around here usually go something like: “Hi, nice to meet you, what do you do in the summer?”, so it didn’t take long for the Alaskan seed to be planted.
Sounds like Keystone opened up quite a few doors of opportunity! Tell us about your friendship with Tommy and how that lead to Alaska.
When I met Tommy during my first year, he mentioned that he fished for salmon in Alaska in the summer, which reminded me that I had always wanted to go to Alaska. When the snowboard season started to come to a close, I asked him how I would go about landing a job on a fishing boat. He explained to me the different ways there are to fish for salmon, which type of boat and operation would be easiest to break in with, showed me where to start looking for job postings, and thoroughly explained what a summer spent fishing in Alaska would entail. Tommy was instrumental in piquing my interest in going to Alaska, and by the time Keystone closed for the summer, I was determined to go.
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In Alaska, you were working for a guy that found you on craigslist. Tell us, what kind of a post led to that and were you apprehensive about jetting off based on a classifieds post?
I had trouble finding a job at first – I went back to my parent’s house in Maine for the month of May and spent the entire time searching online and reaching out to anyone I thought might have a connection to Alaska. Towards the end of May I was getting desperate; I knew that the fishing season was starting soon and if I wasn’t on a boat when it started I would miss my chance. With that in mind, and no desirable job prospects in Maine, I bought a ticket to Alaska, thinking that I could go there and hang out on the docks and offer my services in the flesh. Right after I bought my tickets, someone suggested to me that I post on ad on craigslist searching for work. My ad said something along the lines of: “I’m a 25 year old looking for work as a deckhand. I have no experience but I’m strong and I learn quickly.” Within 24 hours I got a phone call from Tim, the owner of a small set-net operation out of Kasilof. He asked me how quickly I could be there; I answered that I’d already bought tickets. It seemed to me like a better idea to go there with at least something lined up, even if it ended up not working out, than to have nothing and hope, so I agreed to check out Tim’s fish camp.
What do you do and what is it like working on the fishing boat?
The crew is very small – that first year there were only four of us full-time, on two small fiberglass skiffs. We only go up to a mile and a half off shore, drop our nets off in the water, let them fish for a tide, and then come haul them back in the boats, hopefully full of salmon. We do everything by hand, which means no hydraulic winches to haul the nets out of the water. I had a vague idea about what to expect from talking to Tommy, but the work and the actual day-to-day life in fish camp is like nothing I could have ever imagined. I was apprehensive, of course, as is natural with anything so new and strange, but those feelings were heavily outweighed by the excitement of such an exotic adventure, and the multitude of new experiences I was bombarded with from the moment my plane touched down in Alaska.
After your summer in AK, what made you decide to return to Keystone and instruct again?
I had decided I was going to return to Keystone to instruct again before I had even left for Alaska. I’m not entirely sure when, but it was probably sometime between the epic powder days in January and all the free concerts and events at the end of the season, that I knew this was the life for me, at least for one more year.
Have you ever thought that you need to step out of seasonal living and get a “real job?”
I think about getting a “real job” all the time. Every off season when my money has dried up and I can’t afford any more adventures, or when it’s still too snowy to hike or bike but too warm to snowboard, or after a particularly long and harrowing day of fishing, I think that maybe it would be nice to settle down in an office, with steady pay and regular hours. Sometimes I even start looking for jobs and updating my resume. The problem with “real jobs,” though, is that they all take place inside, and you have to do them all year round, every weekday for 8 hours, and to me that sounds tedious, monotonous, and boring. My job searches always end prematurely.
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Can you describe one of your craziest adventures you’ve had between Colorado and Alaska?
One of my fondest memories from my time traveling between Alaska and Colorado is when I took the Alaska Marine Highway back to the lower 48. The Alaska Marine Highway is like a cruise for people who hate cruises. It’s basically a large ferry that travels all over southeast Alaska, up to the Kenai Peninsula, and down to Bellingham, WA. We had a good fishing season a couple years ago, so I decided to have a little extra adventure on the way home. I took the ferry from Whittier, AK, a town that is little more than an old WWII bunker and some Chinese restaurants, through the inside passage down to Bellingham, WA. The journey took five nights. There are rooms available on the AMH, but if you don’t feel like spending the extra money to reserve a room, you’re allowed to pitch a tent on the top deck of the boat and spend your nights there. Thus, the top deck turns into a de facto campground, with tents duct taped to the deck. It was an oddly intimate experience, camping in such a confined space, everyone on the same boat, with only so much room to wander. It feels like something that could only have originated in Alaska.
Where do you think you’ll head next? Do you plan to return to AK for the summer?
My decision to go to Alaska seems to always be made last minute. I know that Colorado is an amazing place in the summer, so I always look for a job that can keep me here that offers the same level of excitement that fishing does. Failing to find that, though, I’ll probably end up back in the north.
Do you have the opportunity to enjoy some down time? If so, what have you done in your off seasons?
I generally am not working for about four months a year. If I can make my money last long enough, I like to make Colorado my home base, and venture into the surrounding areas. This past fall I was able to explore some of Utah’s National Parks. I also use my down time to visit my family in Maine and my brother in Seattle, and I’m getting to that age where all my friends are getting married, so I imagine I’ll be using my time off to attend lots of weddings in the future.
Any big trips or next big dream jobs in your future? If you could move onto another seasonal job, what would it be? A new environment all together?
My next big dream is to bring my snowboard with me up to Alaska. I spend all day (when the weather is clear) staring across the inlet at huge, glacier-covered mountains, just begging for me to ride them. The problem would be getting up them, as I’m not sure I can afford a helicopter. So we’ll have to see how that works out. As for my next job, I don’t know. I’ve become pretty comfortable in my current situation, and I could see myself doing this for a while longer, but as always with living seasonally, you never really know.
If you have any advice to anyone seeking a change, what would it be? 
My advice is that if it feels like it might be the right time to make a change, it is, and you just have to do it.
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