The Rest of the Story
He died before I could get the rest of the story.
The difference between the call and the chance forever lost would be counted in days. My quest: a 45th anniversary tribute to our founders – the two men who createdÂ an enduring source of inspiration and a place where our passion for the outdoors can breathe. They brought Eastern Mountain Sports to life.
Rewind a few weeks. I’m sitting in a Dover, Massachusetts living room with AlanÂ McDonough, co-founder of the company I’ve come to call home (along withÂ 1300 great people who work and play together). Today was going to be big: I would get the straight scoop and ï¬nally separate ï¬gment from fact.
Alan charms me with tales and memories – he produces yellowed documents that prove some of the old stories and disprove others. Â He wistfully hands meÂ a prospectus, dated 1976, detailing an ill-timed idea he and Roger once hadÂ about going public. He unravels decades of tale-weaving with this revelation:Â they didnâ€™t actually win the Eastern Slope Inn in a poker game. They did, however, â€œbet the farmâ€ at an auction to acquire the North Conway, NH landmark, clearing the way for our first store in New Hampshire along with our Climb School which is now the oldest in the east. I learn that our founders had a passion for ï¬shing andÂ backpacking. He swears there was no beer truck that pulled up to theÂ corporate office back in the day, though I have pictures to prove it. Â The stories spill forth.
Alan proudly points to a wall where, framed and faded, hangs the penciled ledger detailing our ï¬rst month of business.Â Â As I leave, I hand him a bag full of new EMS-brand products. Heâ€™s delighted and says emphatically: Â ”You need to call Roger. He has the rest of the story.” Â I ask for contact information. Sadly, he relays that heâ€™s lost touch with Roger in the past few years. â€œWhen you ï¬nd him, tell him heâ€™s a great friend, a great partner, and a decent ï¬sherman,â€ he chuckles. I don’t have the heart to tell him that, despite my efforts, no one I know seems to have any way to contact Roger.
The news of Rogerâ€™s passing came just days later.
I stared at my screen inÂ disbelief, then immediately began a frantic hunt for his relatives. Soon, I found Marty Furst, Rogerâ€™s wife during the birth of EMS. She agreed to visit Base Camp, our name for our corporate headquarters, immediately and cleared the way for me to meet herÂ fascinating family. In the weeks to come, I would â€œmeetâ€ the five Furst kids by phone and three of them in person.
The Fursts share several of Rogerâ€™s distinct traits. They are fearless adrenalineÂ junkies with mischievous smiles and something that can only be described asÂ â€œsparkleâ€. Ed is the oldest and was closest to his father at the end of his life.Â He feels particularly connected to EMS, even worked in the warehouse as aÂ young man. Seeing the old building during his visit evoked memories ofÂ teenage pranks and horseplay as Dad labored away at the serious stuff upstairs.Â He reverently describes Roger as a 3-letter athlete (baseball, basketball andÂ football); a brilliant, thoughtful, nature-lover who did his undergrad work atÂ Stanford and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan.
Somewhat wistfully, Ed shares this: â€œI donâ€™t know how heâ€™d feel about me tellingÂ you how much he regretted selling EMS. It was just that, after several wintersÂ with no snow, he felt it was the right thing to do.â€ Later, he explained, RogerÂ would lament â€œsometimes you donâ€™t know how good you have it until it goesÂ away.â€ A twinge of something comes over me. Itâ€™s the phrase I hear most oftenÂ from people who work here and leave for greener pastures. The commonÂ threads come more quickly as we talk.
For Roger, it was never about money. He co-founded and grew the company because he loved the outdoors. As a gifted writer, he enjoyed crafting the incredibly detailed catalogs that people collected for years as legit gear guides. He and his family were photographic models, and so were their friends and,Â sometimes, Alan and his wife. The photos are hysterically serious. Product quality was very important to Roger and the EMS ice axe (our ï¬rst logo) stoodÂ for something that mattered.
I next â€œmeetâ€ Jason, a delightful storyteller from San Francisco, Rogerâ€™s secondÂ eldest son. Still a big fan of the company, he fondly shares memories of traveling with his dad when theyâ€™d see someone with an EMS hat or t-shirt.Â The stories would begin in an airport line, or on a mountain somewhere andÂ always brought smiles. Jasonâ€™s childhood memories are rooted in idyllicÂ settingsâ€“ summer camp in the Whites and John Denverâ€™s Colorado.Â He recallsÂ that the two friends and founders â€œknew the mountains like the backs of theirÂ handsâ€.Â Seeing Roger through Jasonâ€™s eyes was at once comforting and sad. I suddenlyÂ wished Roger were alive – younger, closer and able to buy theÂ company back. I know we would have loved him and he would be proud ofÂ who weâ€™ve become. Jason agrees.
The day Marty visits Base Camp, she picks through the catalogs strewn aroundÂ my office and points â€¦ â€œthatâ€™s me!â€ â€œthereâ€™s Roger!â€, â€œand thatâ€™s Alanâ€, and goesÂ on to identify some of the ï¬rst few employees theyâ€™d hired. Those catalogsÂ were especially dear to her â€“ she had helped create the earliest ones on herÂ typewriter while sitting on the ï¬‚oor of their home near Boston.Â Her eyes catch the cover of the ï¬rst catalog, bold, bright and brandishing theÂ then-new company logo â€“ an enduring symbol of the upward struggle thatÂ would come to represent our company karma â€“ the ice axe.
Sketched on the back of the proverbial cocktail napkin, to Roger it representedÂ the soul of the company he wanted to buildâ€¦ something unique and powerfulÂ and necessary.Â Imagine the delight in the room when Marty meets Will, our CEO, wearing hisÂ new ice axe shirt â€“ just another in a pile-up of happy accidents.
I stand back and watch time melt away as she and Will connect. This much isÂ clear: despite 45 years of all kinds of change, we are still the company RogerÂ and Alan intended to begin. Their DNA is present in our conversations aboutÂ function and ï¬t, their legacy inked in countless iterations of the early brand logosÂ seen all over our product, website and schools.
â€œFearless. If there is one word that describes my dad, itâ€™s fearlessâ€. BrandonÂ and Heidi, the twins and the youngest Fursts nod in agreement on the perfectÂ New England day they come to Base Camp. The collection of family photosÂ they share adds a new dimension to the man who founded us and a family of 5:Â he was a wonderful father.Â Heidi is quick to point out that there was no difference between the boys andÂ the girls in this family – everyone did everything. Sheâ€™s a replica of herÂ attractive mother and could have been that spirited blonde in the EMS catalogÂ modeling the funny European ski hats.
The twins generously share stories, photos and their time. As the youngest, Â they have fewer memories of the early days but great recall about their father.Â â€œHe was a perfectionist. Driven. He did not shy away from any challenge andÂ there was very little talking about it. He just jumped in and took action.â€ TheyÂ talk about how proud he was of the company heâ€™d founded.
â€œDad had this ice axe baseball cap he got a while back. It was his mostÂ cherished possession and he kept it with him right up until the last.â€ BrandonÂ recalls. Unbelievably, he produces the hat from a small collection of Rogerâ€™sÂ things he brought to our meeting. Roger, called â€œRockyâ€ by those close to him, earned a baseball scholarship (an incredible batting average .679 got him scouted by the White Sox as a junior in high school). His coach at Stanford ordered him to not go skiing during winter break, but he loved the mountains and skiing so he went anyway – only to break his leg. This ended his baseball career but heÂ ï¬nished his degree and became a member of the skiÂ patrol.
Eventually Roger would choose a different path,Â pursuing a bigger dream, starting something he couldÂ call his own. He met Alan while practicing law as aÂ trial attorney in Colorado. A friendship evolved with mutual Â trust, respect, and admiration. They both loved the mountains, and it wasÂ during their hiking and ï¬shing excursions that the idea of Eastern MountainÂ Sports emerged.
Like two far more famous co-founders from Palo Alto, Alan and Roger startedÂ Eastern Mountain Sports with an idea in a Denver garage and $5000 borrowedÂ from their fathers. Boston was the place. Not because they knew it or hadÂ roots there, but because, to the explorers in them, it represented the untappedÂ potential to be ï¬rst, to stand for something, to claim the â€œbest gearâ€ trophy forÂ the right coast.
They quickly ascended to the Mt. Rushmore of the outdoor industry, proï¬ledÂ forever alongside the titans of the time: Dick Kelty (Kelty), Yvon ChouinardÂ (Patagonia), Gerry Cunningham (product pioneer), and Doug and SusieÂ Tompkins (The North Face).Â They started a brand in a basement on Commonwealth Avenue, still home toÂ our store #1, with a few sewing machines and a belief that they could make ourÂ gear lighter, faster, and more affordable. They were right.
When I asked Â Roger’s oldest son about how Eastern Mountain Sports came to be, he said that for his dad, the mountain represented life itself. A mountain is a new experience daily. The unpredictability andÂ constant challenge remind us simultaneously of how far weâ€™ve come and howÂ far we have to go. One ï¬nal story, told through Edâ€™s youthful memory,Â completely captures the spirit of this man and his mountain.
â€œI recall a trip to Colorado up the Mount of the Holy Cross with my brotherÂ Jason; he was 10 and I was 20. We began to ascend straight up an ominousÂ boulder pass toward Avalanche Peak. I paused midway up this incredibly steepÂ precipice. It was a broad pass, with huge boulders, each weighing several tons.Â I became more cautious and measured my steps. As I looked up, I saw my DadÂ forging straight up the middle at 12,000 feet â€“ I mean straight up. My brotherÂ was below and it was a frightening view. We were both scared, but nothing wasÂ going to deter my father. He remembered a particular hidden lake – a secretÂ spot where, 15 years earlier, he had caught a huge cutthroat. He was goingÂ back for more, so I followed. After all, he was my dad, it was an adventure, andÂ if he was going, I was going. It was crazy, but we were living large â€“ really livingÂ life.
Kirsten is the last of Rogerâ€™s children I get to meet by phone and she adds yetÂ another glimpse of the man Iâ€™ve come to think of as our spiritual founder.Â So many parallels, so much thatâ€™s relevant today. Her ï¬rst memories of her dad include camping in the Rockies on horseback, one of her ï¬rst outings at age 4. There was skiing, golf lessons and visits to Florida where Roger took the kids out to see the sea turtles laying eggs at midnight because it was something they should know about.
â€œI idolized him and loved it when we could go sailing. It was our private timeÂ together. Ever since I was very young, though we were doing dangerous thingsÂ I always felt safe with him. He was larger than life and exuded a quiet, ever-present conï¬dence that I absorbed. He made me feel as if I could do anything.Â Once, while sailing in the fog towards Marthaâ€™s Vineyard, we almost hit theÂ shore. The family didnâ€™t realized the danger we faced but we never feltÂ imperiled. The land just suddenly appeared and it was very close.â€ I canâ€™tÂ imagine a more ï¬tting epitome for a business so clearly imperiled by weather.
Heidi explains an important nuance. EMS was everything Roger loved: big,Â adventurous, uncertain. Yet, as fearless as he was facing the natural obstaclesÂ he found in nature, he still worried about the things he couldnâ€™t personallyÂ conquer – the economy and the weather. The irony is palpable: nothing hasÂ changed.
It was Kirsten who connects the dots of the past to the Eastern Mountain SportsÂ I know and love. She describes how the family took a walk to Crooked Pond,Â behind their house in Hollis, NH, and camped on a little island. Late at night,Â Roger took them out in the canoe and shushed them so they could hear theÂ beaversâ€™ tails slapping in the dark as they labored. Itâ€™s an experience KirstenÂ will never forget. â€œRight to the end, he found joy in simple things, he had aÂ great attitude – he always found a way to be happy.â€
Somehow, it feels as if Roger is with us today, handing off the torch to another generation of owners and leaders who understand the soul of the place and theÂ larger mission weâ€™ve accepted with outstretched hands:Â â€œExperience nature and bring people joy through simple things.â€
Someday the rest of this story will be told but not by Roger Furst. Â And not byÂ his family, though they are wonderful and interesting and more than happy toÂ help. Â Their story is saved for the book that will surely result from the manyÂ conversations, yet to be had, about this fascinating man. For us, the rest of theÂ story is unfolding every day. Â You feel it when you walk into one of the 69+Â stores that grew from a dream shared by two young men on a quest for biggerÂ ï¬sh and the pristine places that give voice to our souls. You see it in theÂ excited eyes of the kid who is learning to ï¬x his own bike.
You hear your inner voice when you steady your gaze and realize you haveÂ become a climber, a runner, a skier… an adventurer who seeks higher ground.Â Today, we thank Roger Furst and Alan McDonough for giving us a place to workÂ and play, a place to live large and build a dream that continues 45 years later.Â In 1967, EMS was a twinkle in the eyes of two adventurers who bonded over theÂ idea of making the world a better place for like-minded people. Today, we build climbers and cyclists and hikers and paddlers; activists and loners andÂ leaders. People who seek the almost unattainable. We aspire to build on theÂ legacy of two characters who are kin to the people who meet our customersÂ today. And it is they who will tell the rest of the story.