Blister Speaker Series to commence this month
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A first-of-its-kind speaker series aimed at inspiring the next generation of outdoor industry leaders will kick off this month at Western Colorado University.

Blister Speaker Series will bring to campus in coming months a high-caliber athlete, founder, activist, content creator or product designer.

“Given the connections we have in the industry, this is something I was very eager to bring to the school,” Blister founder Jonathan Ellsworth explained. “I thought there are so many mountain sports athletes at Western, and as it follows so many kids that are interested in getting in the outdoor industry.”

Speakers will visit campus on the last Thursday of each month. Keynote addresses will be held in the University Center Theater at 6 p.m. As of early this week, three speakers had been confirmed with February’s yet to be determined.

The talks commence Thursday, Jan. 24 with Brendan Leonard, an author better known by his handle “semi-rad.”

Leonard — a contributing editor at Adventure Journal and columnist at Outside Magazine, who participates in speaking engagements focused on inspiration, adventure and how to maximize enjoyment in life — started the website in 2011. He’s bicycled across America, run several ultramarathons, and lived out of a converted van for three years, climbing and seeking adventure in the mountains around the West.

“I think we all need to spend more time doing things we love, going to places that make us feel small, remembering to laugh at ourselves, and getting a little cold, tired, and scared every once in a while,” he writes on the website.

Dan Abrams, co-founder of apparel company FlyLow, is scheduled to speak March 28, and Ashley Korneblat, founder of Mountain Spirit Cycling and Public Lands Solutions, is on tap for April 25.

The guests will deliver a keynote address and hold a question and answer session led by Ellsworth, followed by refreshments.

“I want to direct the conversation in a way that I think is going to be most beneficial to the students in that room,” Ellsworth said. “Each speaker is bringing a different set of experiences to the table.”

The speakers also will spend two days on campus, visiting classes and interacting with student clubs and sports teams.

“I’ve had the pleasure over the years of meeting these exceptional people in the industry,” Ellsworth added. “I want to get them here in the Gunnison Valley interacting with Western students.”

For example, Ellsworth hopes that attendees pick up on Leonard’s work ethic and creativity.

“I’m jealous of this fun stuff this guy gets to do, and yet that guy is grinding,” Ellsworth said of Leonard. “I think that is simply something any of us need to be reminded of.”

Ellsworth himself could easily fit into the slate of speakers. The multi-sport athlete turned college football player didn’t first click into ski bindings until his junior year of high school. But after making pilgrimages west to ski with friends during college, he moved to New Mexico and now boasts 100-plus days a year on the mountain.

Ellsworth turned that passion into a disruptive, multimedia company that’s been named the No. 1 gear review site in the world by Outside Magazine. Recently, Ellsworth moved Blister’s headquarters to Mt. Crested Butte.

He’s also taken interest in helping develop the next generation of outdoor industry leaders — of which the speaker series is part.

The keynotes will be videoand audio-recorded, to be released on Western’s YouTube account and Blister’s podcast.


(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at