Fishing for smiles

By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – You might have recognized him in an old maroon Ford truck he drove around town for 13 years. You may have noticed the thick beard he sports or that he’s out fishing nearly every day in the summer.

One thing you may not have noticed about Dave Alvin – who along with his wife Katie owns East Slope Outdoors in Big Sky Town Center – is his dedication to the youth in the Gallatin County and beyond.

Each June since 2005, Alvin and a handful of his employees volunteer as fishing guides for a group of approximately 20 Eagle Mount youths in Big Sky Kids, a series of camps for children who have been diagnosed with cancer. The East Slope team takes the kids fishing on a stocked trout pond on Beaver Mountain Trail, south of Big Sky.

The experience is an opportunity for Eagle Mount participants to catch some trout and enjoy themselves, Alvin says. It also puts things in perspective for the East Slope Outdoors team.

“We go down and put on the show,” he said. “Our philosophy here is that we’re fun brokers. These kids have a hard life and for that morning to see them smile and see them laugh is awesome.”

Tall and lean, Alvin, 46, has been a Big Sky staple since moving here from Rhinelander, Wis. in 1989.

He bumped ski lift chairs at Big Sky Resort until 1992 then shoveled snow from roofs, commercially tied a thousand dozen flies per year, and guided fishing tours for an outdoor shop on Highway 191 just south of the Lone Mountain Trail junction. At the time the shop was called East Slope Anglers/Mad Wolf Ski and Sports, and was opened in 1986 by Brad Parsch.

Among his other jobs, Alvin began working for Parsch in 1994 until he made enough money for a down payment on the shop in 2005. He rebranded the year-round shop East Slope Outdoors, and now runs the business catered to customers’ knowledge, satisfaction and comfort.

“We want them to have a great time while they’re here,” he said. “That’s the goal: for them to leave [the shop] knowing more about the outdoors than when they came in.”

“Super Dave,” as he’s known among friends, is as easy going as they come. Calm, blue eyes peer out between his ball cap and beard as he walks around his shop, much of which he and Katie remodeled when they moved the business on Dec. 1 to 32B Town Center Avenue. He says the move to Town Center helped reconnect him with the Big Sky community.

“On the highway before, we never came up here [to Town Center],” said Alvin, who has two pairs of glasses – sun and reading – hanging from Croakies around his neck. “Being right in the middle of things [now] is great. We feel more a part of the community because we’re in a clustered area where we get to see other folks.”

While the name of the business changed, his support of the community and its nonprofits hasn’t.

Alvin’s involvement with Eagle Mount began nine years ago when Loren and Jill Bough purchased the old Erickson trout pond and asked him if he’d be interested in helping out with the Big Sky Kids program. Without hesitation, he agreed.

“Dave is one of the first people I met in Big Sky,” said Loren, a local private investor who is active in Big Sky Kids, among other community organizations. “He’s a great example of the perseverance it takes to raise a family in Big Sky. He takes off [from work] one of his busiest days to take these kids fishing, and this year every [Eagle Mount] mentor who has been to the pond said how meaningful it is to the kids.”

The Eagle Mount kids each kiss a trout they catch, one tradition that’s grown from the program. “They forget about [their affliction] for a while and have fun,” said Alvin, looking up as a customer approaches.

A man with thick glasses holds a fish landing net, asking what the difference is between the net he has and one on a nearby display.

“The nylon netting will catch your hooks if you don’t pinch your barbs,” Alvin says. “The rubber [netting] won’t. It’s no fuss, no muss.”

The customer – who apparently doesn’t pinch his barbs – goes with the rubber net. He leaves East Slope with a smile on his face, just as Alvin planned.