03 August 2010

Building Cross-Country Courses with Travers Schick

Remember when we met the cross-country course builder, Travers, beside the water jump at Sure Fire Farm Horse Trials?  He was all cool and laid back, sporting his matching Sure Fire polo shirt (how could I forget?) and we hit it off right away.

So I tracked him down as he zig-zagged his way across the country to build cross-country courses at some of our favorite locales.  I caught up with him in Washington state and, as per usual, my only regret is that the conversation had to end eventually.  But we did manage to get in a bunch about how much he travels (a lot), the cool places he gets to go (like Washington State), what he builds (wait for the alligator), and how he got into it (thanks Tremaine Cooper).  There’s also a dog named Lily and an airstream.  So I vote you read his interview and then we’ll all meet up later at the airstream for a beer from a cool,  local brewery.  I’m seeing the sun setting, a dog barking, and everyone playing frisbee by the airstream.  Are you with me?  I think you will be once you’ve heard from Travers himself.

Q.  Tell me what your life looks like as a cross-country course builder.

A.  The lifestyle is a bit of a gypsy.  I think that you’ll find most course builders tend to east coast or west coast; I’ve decided to tackle pieces of both of them. Luckily my client base allows me to do that.   Aspen Farms [where I am now] can fly me out and they have enough tools at the farm to build jumps. Which really works out well.  It saves me time having to drive cross-country.  I like to drive across once a year.  I just like it. Twice in one year is too much but once a year I like. I don’t mind driving.  It’s good to get out there and see something new every time you drive across.

For most builders you figure any event you’re working at there’s 2 -3 weeks before for prep and then on to next. Some builders just go straight and don’t take much time off. I’ve gotten to point where I have have two guys helping me.  We’ll work 3-4 weeks straight then take a week off.  It keeps us sane and can recuperate. Especially I find when on the road and I’m working I get in go mode.  It can be hard to take a day off sometimes. At the same time most things I want to do take longer than a day or two.  A buddy and I have been doing some hiking and last year took six weeks off and drove motorcycles to Alaska which was phenomenal.

photo by Joe Stylos

photo by Joe Stylos

That’s one reason why the life appeals to me because I can set my schedule. Going up to New England, where I’m from, is appealing since I don’t get back very often.  Most of my work is not near New England at this point.  I grew up in Western Mass near North Hampton.

Q.  How did you get into course building from a litte town?

A.  Wrong place at the wrong time I think! Tremaine Cooper is a course designer and a course builder.  He designed a schooling facility for my aunt in Maine. I was there at the time that he checked the property out.  I helped for a day or two doing some stuff.  A few weeks later he gave me a call and asked if I could help at Millbrook. That was the first event I ever worked at.  Nine years ago this August. I was 15 at the time. He called me and I helped him there.  The next spring I was on a plane to Morven Park during spring break for the Spring Horse Trials. From there on every school vacation and every summer I was  working for Tremaine.  I worked full time for him for 6 years. We spent more time with each other than anyone else. When you’re building and you’re on the road (we were working together all day long, having meals together, spending evening together) then the people you’re working with you really need to get along with.  It’s important to have strong friendships there. I’m lucky right now with two friends that help me; we all get along really well and deal with each other well.  Those are important things to look for in a crew.

From left:  Joe Stylos, Trav Schick, Josh Sylce, Steph Goodman (Josh’s wife), Kat Willdeboer (Trav’s girlfriend). photo by Joe Stylos

I worked at The Fork for the first time this Spring.  That was a solid five or six weeks of work.  We worked about a month straight and then took a week off and came back for two weeks before the event to do prep.  In an effort to keep morale and craftsmanship up it’s important to take a week off. Being with each other for a month-you can get a little punchy.

Q.  What’s Tremaine like?

A.  Tremaine is great. He taught me most of what I know.  Some things that stick me the most is that anyone can do a crappy job and that the easy way is rarely the right way. Those two things have helped me become the builder that I am. He was a really good teacher and hopefully I benefitted from that.  At this point in life he’s more family than anything else.   I lived with him for a bit, and on the road obviously we were living together.  Overall workong for him was  a great experience.  I got to go a lot of cool places and because I worked with him I got jobs I wouldn’t otherwise.  I opted out of collge but joke I was since working for him since my first year of high school so he should start docking my pay $5 every year I missed college.  That never materalized, thankfully!  It was a great experience.  And he still, to this day, has me under his wing a little bit which is good.

Q.  What do you like about building cross-country courses?

A.  I really enjoy it. I really enjoy the fact that it dabbles in different stuff.  You can be using a chainsaw with logs and the next day you’re on equipment moving dirt and the next you’re using carpentry for portables.

photo by Joe Stylos

I like fact that it’s not really a real job. I don’t think I can handle 9-5 every day. The job has given me an excuse to meet people and go places I wouldn’t have gone.  I have an excellent client base;  I don’t have a single client I wouldn’t consider a friend. That’s important to me.  I also like the last push to get an event done, it’s a little bit of a rush. For any job I walk into with two things in mind: I’m there to have a good time and there to get the job done.  And, if at end of the day, one of those things doesn’t happen something has to change.

photo by Joe Stylos

There’s more to come from Travers including the different styles of courses around the country, his own personal style, and more.  I’ll see you later then!

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3 Comments on “Building Cross-Country Courses with Travers Schick”

  1. That must be the best job ever. I love building/designing jumps in my spare time as much as I do competing. A friend and I just built the nicest “barn” jump. It was so nice I waited two weeks for the weather to clear before I moved it outside!


  2. Great article and I love the photos by Joe Stylos – especially that last one.


  3. Wonderful! I can’t wait for the next installment! I think jump-building is fascinating. I’m a creator at heart (love baking and cooking) and absolutely love turning raw materials into a finished product people can admire.


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