City Pass

A golden ticket for Teton Valley professionals

By Deb Barracato
Photography by Rebecca Vanderhorst

In the 1980s and early ’90s, people would joke that the employee washing dishes at Grand Targhee Resort probably had a PhD. The first wave of people who moved here looking for a lifestyle reset—before the Internet made telecommuting possible—often had to choose the mountain lifestyle over a career, if they wanted to stay. For the lucky ones, job opportunities were limited at best and they made do with what they could get. That usually meant a commute over Teton Pass for construction or restaurant work in the summer, and a seasonal ski resort job in the winter.

Mike Morey didn’t set out to address that problem when he launched CityPASS from his office in Jackson in 1997. He and his California-based business partner, Mike Gallagher, started bundling access to the top cultural attractions at destination cities around the country into a single CityPASS ticket book, allowing tourists to skip the lines at ticket counters and entrances, while saving up to half the cost of individual admission tickets.

In the early years, Morey and Gallagher handled almost everything, with help from Morey’s daughter, Megan Allen, now the company’s CEO. “There wasn’t a company doing this in the United States,” Morey says, “so we had to figure it out.”

As the concept took off, they began to hire a few people, primarily in customer-service positions, but soon realized they had needs in areas they actually had to design. “Today we have six people doing attraction accounting,” Morey says. “A job we invented to serve what we do.”

Morey moved the growing company’s headquarters to Victor in 2002. From the beginning, he hired locally for nearly all positions; both he and Allen say they never have trouble finding qualified people, even when very specific skills and knowledge are required. “I ran an ad for a CFO [in the local paper] and within 15 minutes of publication, I got an email from a CPA with a master’s in taxation,” Morey says. “She’s been here almost 10 years now.”

It might be coincidence that a business so attuned to the best assets of urban destinations settled in a rural valley blessed with so much natural beauty and endless recreation. But Morey, Gallagher, and Allen understand firsthand the power of place—be it urban or rural—and they make it a point of business to encourage work-life balance for their employees.

So, for CityPASS’s 38 Victor-based employees, their jobs give them the best of both worlds. They can pursue an urban-level career in Teton Valley, but instead of fighting rush hour traffic to get home, they can squeeze in a mountain bike ride on the Rush Hour trail—and still make it home earlier than many commuting city-dwellers do.

“When you live around urban job centers and you ask people what they do, they tell you about their careers,” notes Cathy O’Connor, senior vice president of program management at CityPASS. “But when you live in great vacation communities, people talk about their activities: mountain biking, skiing, hiking. That’s so refreshing to me!”

O’Connor moved to Park City, Utah, in 2001 after burning out on her fast-paced New York City financial career. She came to Teton Valley with her husband several years later and transitioned into the nonprofit world, helping to launch both the Teton Valley Foundation and the Community Foundation of Teton Valley, as each organization’s first executive director. When the opportunity to join CityPASS presented itself, she welcomed the new challenge.

O’Connor says her job here compares to anything she might get elsewhere in terms of responsibility and compensation, but with a much better corporate culture than is found at most organizations. “CityPASS is a company that has some core beliefs centered around work-life balance, and that’s what makes it easier to raise a family,” she says. As an example, O’Connor points out that she was able to step up and coach her fifth-grade son’s basketball team when no one else could. “I can leave at 3:45 p.m. two days a week to go do that. In other places I’ve worked, there was so much pressure to be there all the time.”

Like her colleague O’Connor, Emily Nichols appreciates the balance between a professional challenge and a fulfilling personal life. She and her husband have lived in Teton Valley for about 15 years and want to raise their two girls here. But after three exhausting years of commuting from Tetonia to her job at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, they considered moving to be closer to her work. Instead, last year she found a new opportunity—and renewed exuberance—as the marketing manager at CityPASS.

“Being able to work [in Teton Valley] for a company leading the industry in attraction marketing is remarkable,” Nichols says. “I am able to work in a professional and influential environment and provide for my family, but also make it to my daughters’ school activities and play a more active role in my community.

“I am thankful that CityPASS and its founders had the vision 21 years ago to build their business in small-town Idaho; it gives talented people the opportunity to have professional roles and still enjoy the mountain community we all love,” she adds.

A career and a laid-back rural lifestyle might seem incongruous, but Allen says jobs at CityPASS are fast-paced and stimulating, and people work extremely hard and get a lot of pride out of their contribution to the company. “We’re working with the top attractions in the country,” she says. “We need to deliver an exceptional product and service, day in and day out.”

Which means a CityPASS job doesn’t come with a powder clause. But it does come with a stable salary, advancement opportunities, health insurance, and a 401K. In an era when those benefits often no longer exist at many larger companies in bigger markets, Allen believes they provide the foundation for the company’s success.

“It’s a simple concept: provide a really good job for people.” In return, she says, employees perform at a really high level. The wisdom of that approach is summed up by the fact that in the past five years, only two employees have left CityPASS—both to start their own businesses.

Allen, Morey, and Gallagher believe they can trace their success to their employees, as outlined by their company’s written values statement: “You, our employees, are our single greatest asset and are the reason we are successful. We value your ideas and initiative and depend on your contribution. You have our utmost respect, consideration, and appreciation.
We expect you to work incredibly hard with an extremely high level of engagement, and at the same time, we encourage a healthy work-life balance.”

Specifically, Allen says, that means little overtime, leaving work at the office when it’s time to go home each day, and completely disconnecting during vacation (paid, of course). “When your employees get a chance to connect with family and friends and do the activities they love to fill their bucket back up, they come to work ready to go and give it their all.”

Cathy O’Connor

Position: Senior Vice President of Program Management
Years With CityPASS: 6-plus
Go-To Vacation Spot: Any ocean beach.
Secret Fear: Crawling cockroaches.
Favorite Family Activity: Being active in the Tetons—camping, biking, and skiing.

Chris Moen

Position: Lead Web Developer
Years With CityPASS: 9
Alter Ego: Lead singer for The Deadlocks, Jackson Hole’s favorite Grateful Dead cover band.
Necessary Campsite Luxury: A camper containing whiskey.
True Story: I reverse-commuted to Victor from Jackson for three-and-a-half years before finally moving my family to Teton Valley.

Karen Jacob

Position: Director of Online Partnerships
Years With CityPASS: 15 1/2
Favorite Summertime Food: I love a lime freeze from the Emporium!
Most Noteworthy Stunt: Carrying 10-plus grocery bags into the house at once, on an icy walkway.
Always On-Hand: Sunglasses! Summer or winter; and polarized, of course.

Kat Plourde

Position: Director of Attraction Services
Years With CityPASS: 15
Best Party Trick: I have a tendency to bomb down really steep, long sledding hills on my cross-country skis. I don’t really advise anyone else try it.
Little-Known Fact: Despite that travel is a huge part of my job, I am absolutely petrified of flying! I’ve flown nearly a half a million miles, but yeah—every time the plane takes off, I’m terrified.
Bucket-List Destination: There are places in South Africa where you go on a safari, and then sleep way up high in a tree house, listening to the lions as you’re dozing off.

Alicia Russo

Position: Director of Social Media and Online Content
Years With CityPASS: 7
Pre-occupation: Keeping up with my kids and their activities! I’m also a CrossFit addict, and I love to cook.
Trail pack contents: Pretty simple: water, snacks, and tools to fix a flat bike tire. Oh, and bear spray!
Favorite summertime activity: Mountain biking, hanging at the pool with the kids, and eating dinner outside.