GDI in the News: Turning Adventure Into A Thriving Business

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the Jackson Hole News & Guide. 


Walther has made adventure into a thriving business

Grand Dynamics fosters bonds, builds problem-solving skills.

By Clark Forster

Tim Walther started Grand Dynamics in 1998, and within three years he found himself $50,000 in debt.

His adventure-based program focused on soft skills that would bring out the best in businesses, their employees and the people they work with via experiential training and development. But tough economic times meant many businesses didn’t consider Grand Dynamics’ services a priority.

“Every credit card was maxed, and I was like, ‘Well, maybe this isn’t the best decision,’” Walther said.

Walther attended a Tony Robbins seminar that convinced him his business was worth pursuing.

“You become so certain in your whole being as to what you’re destined to be doing, what purpose you have in life,” Walther said of the seminar. “Within a couple months of going through that experience, I basically booked enough business to wipe out all of my debt.”

Walther’s drive has helped his Jackson-based company thrive for almost 20 years. Most people around the valley know Grand Dynamics as the annual host of the 4-mile obstacle course known as the Ultimate Towner. However, the race usually costs Grand Dynamics more money than it makes in registration fees.

“There’s a huge, wide range of perception of what it is that I do and what my company offers,” Walther said.

Grand Dynamics designs experiences, be it for four hours or four days, that help business teams come together through dynamic problem solving and challenges that develop trust while bringing internal issues to the surface in a friendly manner.

There are other companies that offer similar services as Grand Dynamics, but none focuses as much on adventure.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Q: When you’re designing events with clients do you tailor these events toward your clients or are there set things you do for everybody?

A: They’re all custom. We’ve done so many types of programs and events over the last 20 years that there’s a wide range of things to draw from.

We design experiences where individuals and teams will be challenged in ways they haven’t before. It’s not about just having fun or doing the partying thing. We’re designing an experience where people are going to grow through that experience. They’re going to have some sort of revelation about themselves and how they interact with other people.

It’s not one size fits everything. We don’t do everything. Our niche is in the adventure space.

Q: How big is your staff?

A: I have about seven people that are consistently contracted, full-time people. We have about 150 contractors around the country.

Q: How much of your staff is onboard for the event?

A:It ranges anywhere between a couple of people, and our 500-person events have about 20 people.

Q: How do you select your staff? Is there a unique individual you look for?

A:It depends on the program delivery. If the event requires speaking on a stage to 500 people, you need to have really solid public speaking abilities. And not just public speaking but large-group facilitation. You have to be aware of what’s going on in the crowd of 500 people and be able to gather the attention of 500 people very quickly.

Psychology is a big, big part of it. It’s understanding human motivation, it’s understanding how to engage in a conversation.

The facilitation aspect is also another skill set. You have to be skilled with observing nonverbal cues. You have to be able to ask the right questions. The No. 1 skill set of any of this stuff is the ability to ask the right questions.

Q: I see your list of public speakers. How did you get world-class adventurers like Jimmy Chin and Stephen Koch to work with you?

A: They’re friends. We’re like-minded people. Part of the brand of Grand Dynamics is this mountain seminar element. Part of my legacy with Grand Dynamics is this association with adventure.

We do these other programs, but when you align with people that have these similar sort of values, it just makes sense. They speak about mountains and adventure. We create experiences of a mountain adventure.

We design experiences to bring out these conversations. If trust is a major issue, instead of standing up and saying, “Hey, it’s all very clear that no one trusts each other,” we’ll create an experience where someone is belaying someone down a canyon that literally requires full trust of the other person.

There’s a thousand different ways to get at these conversations. But ultimately it’s “How do you create a very cool experience for people to get into a place where people are open and they are actually ready to have these conversations?”

Q: How long do your retreats last?

A: A typical executive retreat is four days. Our team-building events, the average event is four hours. We have keynotes, which are one to two hours, which is one person onstage telling a story and engaging with the audience.

Then there’s these large group events. Typically those are in three- to four-hour blocks. The executive retreats are fully customized, typically four days. By the time you get to the third day, if people try to do them in three days, it’s OK. But the breakthroughs in teams happen on day three. It’s almost like clockwork.

People come in, they have to start building rapport and it takes a while to get the real issues out and establish a safe environment where people are OK with having not just a paired conversation, but sharing it with 15 other people. When you get to that, that’s when the magic happens.

The last day is always action planning: How are we going to transfer what we’ve experienced and implement that back into our business and work environment? You don’t get to that place by just having activities.

Q: Is the Ultimate Towner a pretty good reflection what you guys are?

A: It’s a classic example of the perception of what it is that we do. You have the experience of the Towner. You have the obstacle course. It’s designed in such a way to engage the entire community. You have 4-year-olds and 75-year-olds doing it.

The course in and of itself, being 4 miles, is just challenging enough where someone who’s moderately athletic can still be challenged and do it as fast as they can or a team that wants to do it as quick as they can. But it’s also designed in such a way that you can have people who aren’t in that great of shape, or people that don’t think they can do it, that they can come and do it and actually accomplish it.

That design in and of itself is very purposely done: the distance, the obstacles, the sequence. You start off with the hardest thing first, right up Snow King. You get people saying, ‘OK. Now we have this baseline of challenge.’ Everything else is a little bit easier. But you’re physically tired a little bit.

It’s not about the mud crawl, per se, or the wall that people are going over, but it’s about how that individual responds to that particular obstacle.

My goal is to create this anchor for the experience that relates to the empowerment of going through it and the metaphor of overcoming obstacles. It’s a celebration of your individual story.

The parallel of the Towner to Grand Dynamics is Grand Dynamics is in the business of creating challenges so we can help people to overcome them. The Towner is about creating a series of challenges for individual teams and communities so that they can overcome and we can celebrate it together.

Q: How much do you enjoy your job?

A: For the most part I don’t even think of it as work. Designing experiences, I love it. It’s artistic, it’s creative.

Seeing people light up when they have a breakthrough or people coming back and being like, “That was a life-changing experience,” it’s awesome.