When Neall Alden came on board as the first guide for Tod Caton’s fledgling company, Backside Tours, it was the beginning of a partnership that would carry the ski-tour company to market dominance within 11 years. Advantage caught up with the duo, who are general manager and president respectively, to discuss how a serendipitous automobile malfunction brought them together and propelled Backside Tours forward.
Neall Alden on getting hired by Tod Caton
I taught junior high for more than four years. I loved teaching, but I wasn’t into the monotony of the year-to-year schedule. It’s not that I wasn’t happy, but it didn’t give me what I wanted from life.
I met Tod first through my ex-girlfriend, who lived with Tod’s roommate’s girlfriend. But there was a serendipitous moment later on where Tod and I really connected on a business and life-goal level. I was on my way to an Easter weekend in Calgary, about a three-hour drive from Edmonton. Tod’s originally from Red Deer, Alberta, which is midway between these two cities. I had a crappier car at the time, and it broke down on the highway just outside of Red Deer. I called the only number I knew, and Tod and his Dad got me towed through his dad’s contacts. I ended up spending the weekend with him and his family, having never met his family before and not being very close friends with him. It was one evening in the hot tub, and we were sitting there chatting, talking about what we wanted from life, and we sort of aligned some goals and to me coming on to work with Backside as one of the first guides. A serendipitous meeting that led to everything.
Tod’s strengths and mine are on completely different sides of the business, but we’ve melded together over the years. He steers the company, while I drive. Tod has such a knack in approaching the process of getting what you want from suppliers while still keeping strong relationships.
Tod Caton on working with Neall Alden
After travelling across 40-plus countries I had discovered that tourism was a good fit for my personality. When I finally returned to Canada, I wanted to start a business and use the name “Backside,” since I had worked for two winters at a snowboard school and shop in the Swiss Alps of the same name. However, when I got to Canada, I wasn’t sure what the business would be. I studied occupational therapy for a while at the University of Alberta, and while there I recognized the opportunity in the ski-tour business. There were a couple of competitors who were involved in a similar business to the one we’re doing now, and they were running 19 buses up a weekend. At $1,000 per bus, I realized these guys were making $19,000 a weekend. I thought there’s got to be some way into this.
During the first year of business, Neall and I proceeded to strike up a friendship. Neall was very interested in what I was doing, for lifestyle benefits at first, and later he came to think of it as a very interesting business. Essentially, he was involved from day two.
I wasn’t looking for a partner. I was a young guy, 27. But you don’t look the gift horse in the mouth when you realize, “Oh, I don’t have this skill set.” I think I was quick and humble enough to learn that the sum of the two can be greater than the one. Neall’s strengths complemented mine: he was from an education and PR background, with experience in systems, policies, and procedures. I have always been more into the sales, relationship building, and business development.