How It All Started

How It All Started

Bill Gamber, Co-Founder/President of Big Agnes, points to the peak of Big Agnes.

This year, Big Agnes is celebrating its 20-year anniversary, or as we like to say #20yearsinthedirt. Founded by Bill Gamber back in 2001 and based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Big Agnes has grown into a successful, sustainability-focused, global leader in the outdoor industry. After 20 years we have a lot to celebrate, but none more important than Melissa Minter, who reigns as BA’s longest standing employee. Melissa joined the team in its humble beginnings and has witnessed all the dirt along the way, so we asked her to take us back in time for glimpse into how it all started, and how it’s going.

The little red house on Oak St. Steamboat Springs, CO – where it all started.

Melissa was bartending part-time and working for a local ski retail store when Gamber recruited her to Big Agnes. The company started out with only a handful of employees, and eager to see this fun outdoor startup succeed, Melissa jumped right in. Some days, she would finish bartending around 3:00 a.m. and then come into the office at 9:00 a.m. with her dog Rasta, always by her side. Over the years, she has worn many hats. “I’ve gone through the various departments; being the customer service phone, packing boxes to ship, talking to dealers, helping with ordering and factories and helping with products. I kept moving around as things evolved, I kept shifting where it was needed,” says Melissa. She is now the Product Development Manager and responsible for 750 unique SKU’s across a wide array of product categories. Back in 2001, Big Agnes started by selling only three sleeping bags and one sleeping pad. “Bill is always looking for something new and interesting and different, so we just keep growing,” says Melissa.

Big Agnes employees hold up fake mustaches for a group photo after a holiday potluck.

As Big Agnes expanded, the company stayed true to its vision of inspiring and equipping folks for outdoor adventure and providing gear in a sustainable manner. In recent years, sustainability has become a bigger initiative for Big Agnes, and Melissa would agree that its importance is a top priority. “Big Agnes is more focused on sustainability than we’ve ever been. We’ve always tried to do that as much as we could, but now it is more of a focused, official directive,” says Melissa. The outdoor industry as a whole is becoming more committed to existing in a sustainable manner and Big Agnes is no exception. From sourcing recycled product materials to utilizing solar and wind to power company owned buildings, the emphasis on sustainability is only increasing in importance. “We have a deep connection with the outdoors and understand the need to protect the environment,” says Melissa. “We get a lot of benefit and enjoyment out of nature.”

Big Agnes employees inflate their sleeping pads for a quick lunch time float down the Yampa River.

Big Agnes has always had an inclusive, fun, outdoor-oriented company culture, and Melissa remembers some of her favorite memories over the years. In the early days of Big Agnes, “we used to have our Christmas parties at someone’s house, and one year, we had a warehouse dodgeball tournament,” says Melissa. “I was just trying to hit Bill the whole time.” The employees have also traveled to Asia together multiple times to visit factories, “It’s a nice informal team building in a way, we’re all together 24/7.” And, of course, Big Agnes is known for its company-wide campouts and backpacking trips, which Melissa has loved participating in over the years. From dozens of Outdoor Retailer tradeshows to Friday night parking lot happy hours, Melissa can recall countless good memories from her time at Big Agnes.

Melissa in 2015 (left) and 2019 (right) taking home a first place win in the Shovelhead Race.

Melissa is known for mastering the Shovelhead Race, a local competition where racers sit on a shovel in the snow and are pulled, sometimes dragged, by a horse down Steamboat’s main street while hundreds of people cheer from the sidewalks. This race inspired the namesake of Big Agnes’ bestselling down jacket, the Shovelhead Jacket. Melissa has raced many times and won the entire competition twice, “I’ve done that race for years! I keep trying to retire,” she says. Melissa always schedules a chiropractic appointment for the day after the race. “One of the years I won, I used the Big Agnes warehouse shovel and I sprayed it with pink glitter before I gave it back to them. It got glitter all over the place. After that, they said I couldn’t use their shovel anymore.”

Big Agnes employees embrace after long days apart on the CDT.

It’s not uncommon to find Big Agnes employees spending their free time in nature. Melissa likes to spend her time horseback-riding, skiing, and camping among other things. One of her favorite aspects of the company is how eager everyone is to be active outside together. It’s a huge part of who Big Agnes is and it’s the foundation of the company culture that Big Agnes is known for. “It’s always been such a good group of people and it feels like a tight-knit family. Everyone is invested in each other,” says Melissa. It doesn’t hurt that Big Agnes headquarters is located in Downtown Steamboat Springs, Colorado, so the employees have the ability to spend a ton of time outside. “To be able to live in Steamboat and work for a company that cares about you and what you care about too, is such a bonus,” says Melissa. “It’s hard to beat.”

Big Agnes Headquarters located in downtown Steamboat Springs, CO.

In hindsight, Melissa must have known there was something really special about Big Agnes. 20 years later, Big Agnes is recognized at the top of the outdoor industry and now employs 68 people. “I can’t believe it’s been this long,” says Melissa. “It’s pretty exciting, celebrating 20 years when we just started out of a little building with a handful of products.” The future of the company is bright. Sustainability will continue to be a main focus going forward, and all employees continue to flourish in an outdoor work/play lifestyle. “I’m definitely optimistic about the future,” says Melissa. “We’ll be around.”

About the Author: Molly Phannenstiel, Big Agnes Product Information Specialist. Born and raised in the Colorado mountains, Molly finds herself happiest and most at home in nature. She spends her time skiing, mountain biking, fly fishing, hiking, camping, and traveling around in her self-converted school bus @blue_the_bus