Kurt Kinnear

Avenue Calgary’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Jared Sych. Photographed at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks. 

Age: 35

Job title: Director of Active Living and the Outdoor Centre at the University of Calgary

Why he’s a 2016 Top 40:

Kinnear’s leadership saved the Outdoor Centre from closure and helped it grow into the largest university outdoor centre in North America. Through the Outdoor Council of Canada, he is also advocating for national standards for safety in the backcountry.

In his teenage years, Kurt Kinnear was a camp leader and, in a way, he’s still kind of one. Today, Kinnear runs the University of Calgary’s Outdoor Centre and Active Living department, where he oversees more than 45 full-time staff and 750 part-time staff.

In 2007, when Kinnear came on board, the centre was running a $300,000 year-end deficit, and it looked like there was no option but to close its doors. Kinnear, who was 25 at the time, proposed a business plan that would save the centre, and, in just three years, balance the budget.

One of his cost-cutting measures was to re-examine the programming and make sure it was serving the centre’s purpose. “We used to offer equestrian camps, for example, and that’s not what the Outdoor Centre’s core business is,” says Kinnear.

The focus, instead, was put on what the Outdoor Centre did best – getting Calgarians active and educating them so they can enjoy the outdoors safely. The centre rents gear, provides courses for beginners and offers skills and safety courses. Now in its 40th year, it processes 22,000 outdoor rental orders annually and helps more than 10,000 clients a year safely get outside, making it the largest university outdoor centre in North America.

In 2010, Kinnear spearheaded Active Living, an initiative to merge various departments at the U of C under one umbrella. “This streamlined our expertise when there was a divide amongst the departments before,” says Kinnear. Today, Active Living sees approximately 40,000 registrations each year in more than 75 different sports and activities, making it one of the most diverse recreation departments on a North American university campus. The university’s summer-camp attendance has also grown under Kinnear’s leadership, from 5,000 kids in the summer of 2010 to 10,500 in 2016.

In 2008, Kinnear and the Outdoor Centre also initiated the formation of the Outdoor Council of Canada, a nationally incorporated organization that promotes safety in the backcountry by providing certification and training for outdoor activity leaders and support for activity providers.

While the Outdoor Centre and Active Living department are about getting people active and having fun, the benefits to the community go beyond that, as well.

“All of this is also a form of preventative health care,” Kinnear says. “Motivation and interest lead to healthier, active choices.” – Karin Olafson

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