Wu-Tang is for the Children: Digital Personality in the World of Freestyle Skiing

I. The Community

Newschoolers.com (NS) hosts a thriving community of passionate skiers who spend most of their time in the adrenaline-pumping terrain parks (jumps, rails, misc. dangerous objects) and back country (vertical snow that isn’t part of a proper resort). The site has its own video platform for skiers to showcase their accomplishments as well as photo galleries and forums (aptly titled ski gabber and non-ski gabber). In short, NS is a phenomenal place for skiers to learn from others, promote their talent, and simply talk about skiing.

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Newschoolers Home Page

The spectrum of talent represented on NS ranges from seasoned professionals to kids aspiring to land their first 360s. Somewhere towards the top of that spectrum lies a generation of elite skiers who are starting to come of age. They are working hard to win local competitions, competing in larger events, and keeping track of it all with increasing skill.

II. The Sponsorship Gauntlet

The importance of keeping track of it all really can’t be understated. As these athletes move toward a point where they are seriously considering making skiing a full time job, the question becomes whether they’re able to monetize their work. Competitions provide a viable source of cash, but purses don’t get big until skiers are serious contenders in national competitions. This leads to up-and-coming skiers pursuing corporate deals (sponsorships) in which athletes are provided free equipment alongside other perks, like travel expenses and occasionally a salary, in exchange for brand endorsement.

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Jesper Tjader puts his Red Bull and GoPro sponsors front-and-center in his Instagram photo

At this junction, it is all about the value proposition. Athletes must be much more than talented skiers. Ski industry veteran (and mastermind of one of the industry’s most-notorious marketing schemes), David Lesh, explains, “You need to develop your social media and post high quality content. This includes Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, your own website, etc.,” adding that one should “plan on coming up with at least 1-2 high quality photos/videos A DAY” if they are vying for a sponsorship. These demands translate to a huge amount of potential publicity for brands as well as painstaking work for those who wish to make a name for themselves.

III. A Few Winners, and a Lot of Losers

Even those who are talented enough to win sponsorships have a long way to go before they are rolling in money. NS and other social networks have enabled more people to showcase their skills and thus flooded the market with talent. Further, the freestyle skiing market isn’t all that popular in the US, drawing much less cash than its European counterparts. This means that an incredibly gifted few (the top 10 or so most recognizable names in the world) are destined to get wealthy by skiing. The list of those who have “made it” includes stars like Tom Wallisch, Jon Olsson, and Henrik Harlaut who have made names for themselves competitively and through public personalities.

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Harlaut advocating Wu-Tang at the Sochi Olympics

Wallisch, for example, curated a faux-gangster style when he was beginning to gain notoriety which culminated in his legendary So Far So Hood video. Harlaut announced “Wu-Tang is for the children” during an interview at the 2014 winter Olympics, while Olsson worked hard to establish a digital image of both luxury and fun.

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Jon Olsson showing off the fruits of his labor (and his sponsors)

For each of these mega-rich skiers, there are countless professionals who are never quite able to call skiing a proper career. An NS member explains that this large community of professional skiers must “work summer construction jobs to get by” and earn an average of around $15,000 in cash from skiing each year.

Professionals like this are often fondly referred to as “ski bums.” They trade reliable income for the ability to spend most of the year doing what they love. The ski bum lifestyle has become so romanticized that one of the most-popular freestyle ski shows on NS and YouTube is “The Travelling Circus,” a brand-sponsored feature that documents a group of skiers who travel the US in a van each winter. Travelling Circus’s stars thrive on peanut butter sandwiches and pizza, bringing innovative style to fans at resorts from coast-to-coast. Sure these guys’ lives are less than luxurious, but they’ve gotten a ski company to finance a winter of fun each year and built a wide fan base across the world, living many skiers’ dreams.

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The Travelling Circus crew showing off their winter home

IV. It’s Not that Bad

A wide array of athletic and promotional demands make it enormously challenging to become a professional freestyle skier. Further, the title “professional” hardly promises prosperous career opportunities for those who aren’t the best of the best. That doesn’t mean all is lost, though. Countless people willingly make the sacrifices necessary to embrace the ski bum lifestyle, and some of them even make it big. Further, plenty of people who love the sport don’t quit their day jobs. They work for ski companies, at local shops, or in other fields entirely, opting for lift tickets at their local resorts and accounts on Newschoolers.

 

2 comments

  1. Nice post! The heading “A few winners and alot of losers” pretty much captures the way many social media celebrities can be described.

  2. dabettervetter · ·

    I wonder if they would ever look into partnering with a video website like Business Insider (Travel) who is notorious for sharing cool videos. I think this website is a great place for this community to come together virtually when normally they are skiing in different places. It also must be nice to make money doing they love!

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