Guided by Nature
Sunday River’s Peter Fallon splits his time between the mountains of Western Maine and the coastal town of Phippsburg. Does that sounds like the perfect balance? It just might be.
Peter Fallon spends his summers on the water and his winters on the slopes. At Sunday River, he works in an office with a view of the mountain and sleeps in a condo located just minutes from the ski trails. At his other home in Phippsburg, he works on a boat, taking novice fishermen out to cast lines on Casco Bay and the Kennebec River. His schedule is packed with outdoor excursions, but Fallon managed to take a little time off to talk with us about guiding, keeping skiers safe, and what it’s like to work every day alongside your wife.
Q. Your official title at Sunday River is a mouthful—vice president of human resources and risk management. What does that mean?
A. I spend a lot of time helping managers work with their teams, recruit and hire people, and train employees. The risk side of my title mostly deals with preventing (and resolving) guest injuries. We try to enable and empower people so that they can watch out for others while they are doing their jobs.
Q. In addition to your responsibilities at Sunday River, you also have another job, right?
Yup! I teach at the L.L.Bean fly-fishing school. I have my own guiding business, too. And I recently helped bring more outdoor classes to Sunday River. I’ve been teaching for the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery School for ten years, but two years ago, when I was sitting in our annual training, I heard about a plan to open Outdoor Discover Schools at locations aside from L.L.Bean stores. It said on their proposal: ‘Breton Woods?’ I saw that and I thought, ‘Breton Woods, my ass! We need them at Sunday River!’ And that began a discussion about bringing the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery School classes to Sunday River. We just finished our second summer of the program this August, and it was just great.
Q. Your wife also works at Sunday River, as director of communications. How’d you two meet, and what’s it like working alongside one another?
A. I met Sarah [Devlin] in college at Orono. I grew up as a skier. I’m a Masshole; I didn’t grow up in Maine. But I learned to ski in Maine, and we always came here as a family to ski. I grew up skiing, but Sarah didn’t. In college, she started to get into it, and I definitely encouraged her!
There are a lot of advantages to working with Sarah. We have similar schedules. If she’s going out to get a photo for the website at 10 a.m., she can stop by my office and say, “Grab your ski gear, we’re going out for 45 minutes.” We can ski together whenever. On the other hand, it can be tough because you get into the habit of getting out of work and then talking about work more. We learned to put an end to the work talk.
Q. Your entire career is based on being outside. Have you always loved the outdoors?
A. You know, it’s just where I’m happiest. Over time, I realized that when I’m outside, I’m driven to learn more, to do more, to perfect my skills, and to always work harder. I’ve also always been intrigued by the way the natural world works. As a kid, I spent a lot of time outside in the summer and skiing in the winter. When I was young, I made a lot of poor and immature decisions. But I also made a great decision: I got my captain’s license the minute I turned 18. I had people trusting me with their half-million-dollar yacht. I took it from Massachusetts to Virginia on my own. I had a lot of responsibility, and I really liked the responsibility. I never had any challenge about making poor decisions in those instances. So I asked myself, “Why is that? Why does this career appeal to me so much? How did I get there?”
Q. How did you decide to become a guide?
A. Growing up, my dad was always really good about letting me do things on the boat. When we would go on trips, he would have me navigate. Once he taught me to do that, he trusted me to do it correctly. I really liked that. Now, I really like the opportunity to share my enjoyment of being outside with other people. Outdoor education is a big part of the reason that I guide, to share with people what I’ve learned. My goal is always to have people leave their time with me understanding why we are doing what we are doing. Why did we go to a particular spot? Why did we fish that way on that stage of the tide? What does the reaction of the fish mean? I want to empower people to answer these questions on their own.
Q. What is a particularly memorable experience you’ve had on the job?
A. When I worked at Hebron Academy, I took a group of kids on a five-day canoe trip up by Jackman on Moose River. The first night we arrived, there was one girl who seemed upset. It was clear that things weren’t right with her. So we asked her. She was from Seoul, South Korea, and she said to me, “There’s no light.” The stars were out and they were incredible, but there was no artificial light. It was like she was paralyzed. It was so strange for her. She didn’t know what to do. But by the end of our trip, she was so comfortable in that environment. It was amazing to see that transformation happen in a kid.
Q. Have you ever had any on-the-job mishaps?
A. I do a lot of corporate trips. I once had a guy in my boat who was very clearly showing off. He had done a lot of fishing. He knew what was going on. The other people on the trip were all new to it. So this guy, he hooks a fish. Suddenly, he fell overboard. And that was the only time that’s ever happened in my boat. We haul him back in. He’s okay, but he’s obviously embarrassed. But not only did he hold on to the rod, he also still had the fish on it! I told him, “I keep a change of clothes for myself in the boat, and because you held on to the rod, you get a change of clothes.” After that, his whole attitude changed. He stopped being the know-it-all, and he spent most of the rest of the evening helping the other two people in the boat to catch fish. It was like his whole outlook changed.