Breaking Into the Outdoors

Sarah Brown, the new assistant manager at our store in Cranberry Township, plans to make the outdoor industry more local, conservation-minded, and inclusive—one Public Lands store at a time.

Sarah Brown has only just started seeing change in the outdoor industry, at least with regards to inclusivity. And that’s saying something: Brown has been working in the industry since she graduated college in 2014 and has been a participant for even longer (she learned to snowboard at Pennsylvania’s Seven Springs Mountain Resort when she was just six years old).

“I grew up in a male-dominated industry,” Brown (she/her) explains. “I had my dad get me into the sport [of snowboarding], and when I started to work in the outdoor industry, I never had a female mentor.” She didn’t let it stop her. In 2018 she was featured in the Blue Ridge Outdoors “30 Under 30” list, and by 2021 she was the general manager of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Mountain Ski Resort. And just because she didn’t have a female mentor doesn’t mean she didn’t have female role models, Brown adds.

“Lindsey Vonn has been a true trailblazer,” she says of one of her heroes, citing both the ski racer’s Olympic successes and her recent founding of the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, which helps provide scholarships and youth sports and education programming. In addition to proving to the world how hard women can ski, Vonn is also “an inspiration to show girls that they can achieve their dreams in the outdoors,” Brown says—something she’s tried to emulate in her own career.

Today, Brown is the assistant store manager of experience at the new Public Lands location in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania—and she’s got some big goals. First on the list: making sure everyone in the community feels welcome.

“When I saw the Public Lands opening, I thought, ‘Wow, this is fantastic—they’re trying to do something more than just a normal retail store,’” she says. Now she considers it her job to live up to that promise, going above and beyond to take an active role in the surrounding community. That’s everything from connecting with customers on a personal level, to helping build local green spaces, to cleaning up riverfronts with nonprofit Allegheny CleanWays and clothing brand United by Blue. And not just once or twice, either: Since the Cranberry Township store opened in the summer of 2021, its employees have clocked more than 700 volunteer hours.

Brown says she tries to keep her team’s volunteer work “hyperlocal”—within a one-hour radius of the shop—and conservation-focused. The goal is to change the way the outdoor industry sees retail. Retail shops should be more than just stores, she says. They should be community hubs and powerful drivers for environmental and social change.  

“We really do care about our community, and we want to build everyone up,” she says. “We want to stand up for what we believe in and also create an atmosphere where people feel welcome to come in and take classes and really be a part of the community.”

Brown helps bring that spirit of mutual support within the store by overseeing a “local market,” a section of the shop where customers can buy coffee, granola, or other crafts from local makers. She’s also helping organize a mixer for women business-owners on March 30 in celebration of Women’s History Month.

“It’s about showing women that you can run a business in the outdoor industry, and empowering women to find their comfort level within the outdoors,” she says. For Brown, who grew up without that kind of role model, that message feels extra close to home.  

That said, she’s finally starting to see more equity—in both the industry and the outdoors—in the wake of the COVID pandemic’s outdoor recreation boom. And, for the first time, she has a female boss: She says her general manager, Amber Rollo, has become a huge inspiration to her since she joined the Public Lands team. It’s an experience she wants to pass on, both through her work as a manager and through her community outreach.

“I want to show younger generations that they can get into an outdoor sport and become a leader, and that they can help grow the industry in the direction it should be going: to be more inclusive for women in the outdoors.”  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

MORE STORIES