Matters of Scale
Stevens, 43, is tall and bespectacled with reddish-blonde hair, steely blue eyes, and a chameleonic knack for assuming a pace and posture fit to his environs. In his stark, tidy office not far from Hailey, Idaho’s main street, he is a very busy man. He budgets his time in tight increments and checks his watch often; even so, he rarely keeps on schedule. He has a penchant for boardroom buzzwords—“logic model: a visual depiction of the resources and activities that get you to your desired outcome”—and an acute entrepreneurial instinct. He eats with impressive speed and jokes infrequently—nor does he always notice when one has been made—and truncates these moments of humor with fits of earnestness. The day I met Stevens in his office, he paused a hurried discussion on the formatting of an executive summary to watch a man hook a dumpster to a pickup truck and drag it across a lot. “We’re having an Idaho moment here,” he told me, and swiftly turned back to his document.
By nature, Stevens is an idealist with strong ambitions. He prefers the adjective “goal oriented,” and applies this quality to most aspects of his life. An avid outdoorsman, he has run in four hundred-mile races—most famously, the Western States 100 in California—and once ran his own long route through the Pioneers. More recently, he and his wife, Liz Mitchell ’89, an international environmental attorney, have taken up Nordic ski racing. “I don’t think of myself as competitive, necessarily,” Stevens said. “It’s more about trying to be excellent and having really rewarding experiences. That’s how I define ambition. It involves committing to something outside my comfort zone.”
His comfort zone is expansive. In the 1960s, Stevens’s mother, then 20, left Santa Barbara, California, and settled on the Spanish island of Mallorca, a popular tourist destination. There she met Stevens’s father, a Swede, with whom she started a travel company. When Stevens was three and his sister a newborn, his father left the family. Stevens’s upbringing, he recalls, was populated with “rebellious expats,” though he attended Spanish parochial school, where he developed a “robust respect for institutions and authority.” He believes that it was in Spain where he learned to move effortlessly between different kinds of company. When he was not with other expat children, he spent time with a working-class Spanish family his mother had befriended. Once, the father, a cabinetmaker, told Stevens he was lucky because he would never have to work with his hands.
In 1980, Stevens moved with his mother to Santa Barbara, where she married an old acquaintance who introduced Stevens to hiking and surfing. Though, at first, he did not consider himself a “Californian,” he came to resemble one, and the identity trailed him to Middlebury College. His friends still recall his long blond hair and inability to dress for the cold. He majored in biology, and came to know Liz Mitchell particularly well through an ecology class. They went their separate ways after graduation—Mitchell for a fellowship abroad, Stevens to climb in Alaska and Nepal while he worked an assortment of jobs around the West—and met, again, 10 years later in New Hampshire. Stevens, having graduated from the Field Naturalist Program at the University of Vermont, was working for the Nature Conservancy. A year after he transferred to the Sun Valley, Mitchell joined him there.