Entrepreneurial Edmonton: Bob Schilf of Track 'N Trail

Since childhood, Bob Schilf ('86 BSc) has had two passions-the great outdoors and math.

Katie Willis - 26 May 2017

Bob Schilf ('86 BSc) combines the inspiration of numbers and the great outdoors at Track 'N Trail.

Since childhood, Bob Schilf ('85 BSc) has had two passions--the great outdoors and math. Raised next to Queen Elizabeth Park,, Schilf is no stranger to the expanse of urban parkland in Edmonton. "This is a very outdoor city in a very urban setting," says Schilf . "We have this beautiful river valley that travels all the way through our town." With his parents and three siblings, Schilf recounts memories of growing up outdoors and skiing throughout the river valley.

He also recalls his love of numbers from an early age. So, when he began his undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta's Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, science was a natural choice. "I didn't know what I wanted to do for a living," laughs Schilf. "But I knew I wanted to study math."

Shortly before graduation, Schilf was presented with the perfect opportunity to combine his interests. "As I was getting to the end of my degree, my father asked me if I would be interested in starting a business in something our whole family was involved in--skiing," explains Schilf. "I was completely on board. It felt like a natural next step."

So, together with his father and older brother, Schilf opened the doors of Track 'N Trail, Edmonton's premier outdoor store, in November 1984.

"I was still finishing my degree while we were opening the store," says Schilf. "They were long, long days. First thing in the morning I would go to school, and after I finished classes, I would come to the store and work."

The world of business was an unknown for Schilf and his family. Responsible for accounting and bookkeeping, Schilf says that his experience at the University of Alberta gave him the confidence he needed to get the job done.

"Studying math allowed me to look at the numbers in front of me with confidence," he explains. "There is no room for interpretation with finances. The numbers are what they are. They say what they say. Coming from high school and being thrust into the university setting is how I learned to become independent and confident. Having that math mind and training behind me is so important."

"I learned the logical way to approach numbers, which brought a clarity to our finances that I wouldn't have had otherwise."

Track 'N Trail has been a fixture in the Old Strathcona community for more than 30 years. The store focuses on Edmonton's two main seasons--winter and summer. "In the winter, we primarily deal with skiing--cross country, backcountry, alpine touring--and ice climbing," says Schilf. "In the summer, we do backpacking, trail running, fastpacking, a combination of backpacking and trail running, as well as rock climbing-all outdoor-oriented, but a whole spectrum of activities."

Balancing the books for an independently owned store with such varied interests can be complicated. But Schilf's education allows him to look at the numbers with confidence. "I learned the logical way to approach numbers, which brought a clarity to our finances that I wouldn't have had otherwise."

From providing quality service to sponsoring young, local athletes, Schilf says one of the most rewarding parts of the job is the people he has come to know.

"I love seeing and getting to know generations of families who love the outdoors," Schilf says. "Meeting parents with children coming in to get a first pair of skis for their kids. And then seeing those children grow and have children of their own--it has been and is so rewarding."

Schilf is proud to employ a number of University of Alberta students at the store as well. "The people who work here are what make the store great," he explains. "Their energy keeps our environment vibrant. I hope that hearing our story helps to inspire them to follow their passion too--wherever it takes them."

"Be undeniably good. No marketing effort or...buzzword can be a substitute for that." -Anthony Volodkin

Innovative roots and entrepreneurial spirit make Edmonton undeniably great--and graduates from the Faculty of Science have been a part of this greatness since the beginning.

Three such alumni are Nate Box of the Elm Café, Kale Edwards, co-founder of Situation Brewing, and Bob Schilf, owner and operator of Track 'N Trail in Edmonton. We will be sharing their stories as a three-part series online, but you can read them all at once in the Spring 2017 issue of Science Contours.