“Right when I think I have some grasp of this place I discover something new,” says Ryan Byrne, who’s still adjusting to the sheer size of Powder Mountain. “Earlier this year I overheard this guy on the lift say, ‘Man, some people can’t handle this much horizon.’ I’m not exactly sure what that means…but I like it.”
For 43-year-old Byrne, being back on snowcapped peaks is a homecoming of sorts. Growing up as a competitive ski racer in Killington, Vermont, he spent over 150 days a year training and competing against guys like Bode Miller in hopes of making the US Ski Team. “When that didn’t happen, I was so burnt out, I just needed something new to do.”
Something new was a move to Southern California, where he studied business and economics at UCLA, followed by more schooling in industrial relations and finance at the London School of Economics. In London, a paper he wrote detailed the case for utilizing elements of the famed Toyota Production System for leveraged buyouts. That got the attention of a private equity company back in Boston, who offered him a job. “That was a great education in business, but it didn’t take long for me to realize I wanted to do my own thing.”
Byrne’s first startup sounds a lot like an early iteration of Airbnb. In 1998, he launched Guerrilla Guide for budget travelers during the dot.com boom. “It was kind of a cross between Lonely Planet and Travelocity, with peer-sourced reviews and online booking for hostels.” It was humming along nicely, too, until the horrific events of September 11, 2001. “The whole travel industry seized up in the aftermath, which made additional funding basically impossible. So we sold off part of it and shut down the rest.”
After some time off he discovered “a creative itch that needed scratching” and did an MFA in Directing at USC School of Cinematic Arts. After graduating, he moved to Colombia and directed an indie feature film based on a true story of two struggling US guys who road-tripped through South America. The film, called “A Colombia” took two years to complete, but proved worth the effort, earning high praise and several wins on the festival circuit.
“I went right to work on other scripts after that, but before long a bunch of my old business buddies started asking me to direct projects for their companies, and before I knew it, I had a whole production company on my hands.”
That was 17 years ago. Today, The Buzz Lab, his LA-based production house, is thriving. Pairing his creative chops with his analytical expertise, The Buzz Lab’s wheelhouse is helping tech companies with their nuanced B-to-B messaging. Companies like Oracle, Adobe, PayPal, eBay, PwC and a slew of other household names, tap The Buzz Lab to help make their complex solutions easy-to-understand. “No matter how complex, it always comes down to finding human stories,” Byrne explains.
Today, Buzz Lab’s day-to-day operations are managed by his highly-skilled team, which gives him more time to enjoy Powder Mountain. This winter he’s building a new mountaintop home in the Spring Park neighborhood, developing some creative passion projects, rekindling his old love affair with skiing, and settling into the tight-knit community.
“A lot of the people in the Summit community are at the stage where they’re starting to give back. They’re looking for things that serve a bit more purpose in their life, and that really fits with where I’m at,” Byrne explains. “Those are the people I want to surround myself with.”
As for trips back to the LA office, Powder’s proximity to SLC airport comes in handy. “If you live in Southern California it’s way easier to get to Powder Mountain than Mammoth. I’m at my door up here within a few hours.”
If you’ve been in the Skylodge over the past few months, you’ve undoubtedly spotted Byrne. With his faded mohawk, piercing eyes, and strapping frame, he probably belongs on a movie set somewhere, but he’s having far too much fun at neighborhood gatherings. “This past weekend I sat down and had dinner with somebody who started 500 schools around the world. Another person who’s helped 1000 teenagers start businesses. And somebody from the State Department who helped eradicate Ebola,” he says, laughing. “I don’t think I’d be exposed to that anywhere else.”
Naturally, the Powder Mountain is making an impression too. “It feels like a spiritual thing, to be back on my skis,” he says. “And having 8400 acres of terrain to explore…It’s pretty much a wonderland.”