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Hiking Mt. Washington in Winter: An Unlikely Team Building Activity

By: Lisa DeNapoli


The sustained wind speed clocked somewhere between 50-60 mph with 75 mph gusts as the 8 of us climbed the eastern snowfields of Mount Washington on Friday, January 18th. We were headed toward Split Rock, which would be our last break before the final stretch of the ascent up the rock pile to the 6,288’ summit. The wind chill hovered somewhere near -42 degrees and visibility ranged between 5 and 6 feet. I had lost a snow basket on one of my trekking poles, rendering it useless in the depths of the snow covering the trail. It was about here that some of us might briefly have questioned our decision to keep going when the turn-around guide had given us our last opportunity to turn back and save the summit for another day. If at all, it was a fleeting thought. It quickly became clear that not a single one of us was going to abandon our objective and head back down that day. We were all continuing, or we were all going back. That’s the beauty of a strong team and the value of camaraderie and peer accountability. We raise standards and uphold them for the betterment of the team and our shared goals. It is this collaborative team culture that attracted me to SEI and this that has contributed to my sincere career fulfillment since joining 2 years ago.

I had never had any prior interest in summiting Mt. Washington during the winter months. Frankly, I had questioned the sanity of those that did. However, positioned as an epic team-building event, my tune changed (ok, fine, it took a fair bit of convincing). In my professional career, I’ve attended and organized my fair share of team building events – many with the same corporate themes and undertones of leadership lessons, communication tools, and fun facts. While I won’t minimize the value of more conventional exercises, they’ve never quite piqued my interest like the thought of taking on one of the world’s most notorious winter hikes. I was equal parts terrified and flattered that our Managing Director and 6 coworkers were so willing to push me outside of my comfort zone and test my self-imposed limits. They were invested in my success despite my own doubts– all in the spirit of bonding.

We had varied amounts of hiking experience amongst us. More than half had never worn a crampon nor carried an ice ax. Despite this, we had a collective commitment to prepare physically and mentally for the challenge. Preparations included practice hikes, fitness coaching, packing tips & checklists to prepare us all for a winter summit at the home of the “world’s worst weather”. We got a small taste of the elements Mt. Washington is so well-known for, particularly as we came out above the tree line for the latter half of our hike. We faced challenges in the form of severe winter weather, impossibly low visibility, an injury, gear malfunctions – all on terrain where missteps and mistakes could come with serious consequence. None of this stopped us from reaching the summit in just over 6 hours as a team of 8 coworkers who became that much closer having succeeded together. If you want to see collaboration at work, watch a team motivate each other up a 6,000’ peak in 75 miles an hour winds, knee-deep snow, and bitterly cold temperatures!

Willingness to climb Mt. Washington in the winter (or any mountain, for that matter) is not a requirement for being an SEI consultant, but the success factors are inherent amongst us and are core to our culture. We surround ourselves with people who will challenge our limits and take an active part in preparing one another for success. Be it our most challenging client problems or our most challenging physical endeavors, we will stare down the face of a challenge and collectively prepare ourselves for success. We are as willing and able to leverage the experiences of our peers as we are to lend our own. We invest in each other. We invest in the experiences and toolkits that strengthen our people and our team. To SEI it’s more than just “work perks”. Strengthening and maintaining our team is the lifeline to maintaining our culture and critical to sustaining our model.