By Pip Hunt
I signed my first contract with Smith Optics one month after my high school graduation, and contracts from Salomon, Hestra, Basecamp and Backcountry soon followed.
I was young, hungry, and ready to work. I set my sites on the Freeskiing World Tour, lined up my summer schedule with gym sessions squeezed between three jobs, and put my head down.
In 2005 the Freeskiing World Tour was the holy grail of making it in the ski industry.
Big Mountain freeskiing competitions are dangerous. Competitors line up features down steep, exposed faces, battling for a higher line score as they attempt to perfect their technique, fluidity, and control. It’s 100% adrenaline, 50% stupidity, and rarely skied in good conditions.
Certainly, if I could just stand on top of that podium, if the right people could just see me ski, everything else would follow. My sponsors would pay me, film companies would come knocking, and I could travel the world and ski for a living.
It would be 6 years of competitive frustrations before I acknowledged that things don’t work that way in this industry.
Truth is, good freeski competition performance only rewards the athlete with entry-level sponsorships. Once you have those sponsorships, good luck negotiating any kind of budget or retainer based off of a competitive season alone. Comp performance gets you a foot in the door, nothing more.
In 2007, my ski sponsor picked up another up and coming female big mountain skier. She had only competed in one competition, and she had beat me by one place. Yet when the founders of the new tour asked its major sponsors for athletes during its inaugural year, she was the sponsor’s pick. She was a rookie, with a big-name pro-skier boyfriend. She was gorgeous and demanding.
Initially, I assumed it was her boyfriend’s notoriety that raised her in my sponsor’s eyes. But now, after years of working with her on in-house projects, I realize that it was her ability to ask, and demand that the brand do more to promote her. As an older athlete than me, she had the confidence and ability despite her lack of ski credentials to promote her self-worth. I’ve learned from her.
My job as an athlete is to train and ski, but my job as a “sponsored” athlete is also to promote, brand, and market myself. The reach of my exposure, and my sponsor’s products, is dependent only on me.
I’m a marketing tool for my sponsors – used to sell the latest skis, goggles, outerwear or beanies. It’s not only about how well I ski, but how well I wear the product, and represent the mission of the company.
I must network within the ski industry, find photographers, writers, editors, and team managers that I could potentially work with in the future. It is not up to my sponsors to ensure that I have media content in upcoming seasons, but for me to constantly pitch to editors the adventures of my season.
If found it much easier to find still photographers to work with than film companies. Ski movies are expensive, and ultimately ski companies will pick athletes with financial banking (or their own piggy banks) to work with rather than the strongest skier.
And now, many ski, clothing and gear sponsors are turning away from the ski porn norm, and are instead looking into smaller, less costly projects, such as encouraging athletes to film one another and produce their own webisodes. Not only must I be a professional skier and an aggressive and astute self-promoter, but I must also be a filmmaker, and a journalist.
Seven years into my career I have stood on podiums, filmed with small film companies, been published in editorial content both on the web and in-print, traveled to foreign countries, and traded sponsors as I grew and my needs changed. I’ve learned to network, write, take pictures, and self-promote.
As my career progresses I still can’t make a living skiing. I need a second job. Most of us do, and I’m okay with that.
I want my ski career to last another 10, maybe 15 years. I want to continue to ski big lines, but transition out of the competition.
As I transition out of competition, media exposure from working with magazines, photographers, and filmmakers will generally be safer, and provide more exposure. Not only will my body endure less physical strain, but I will be able to financially support myself through photo and film contract incentives from sponsors, and by creating content in-print and on the web.
I am an athlete, challenging myself physically and mentally every day, but the ski industry requires creativity and marketability if I am going to last.
Pip Hunt is a Marmot, Backcountry, Smith, Vokl, Snowbird, and WebIt Designs sponsored athlete. When this article was published, Pip trained at Mountain Athlete with our FreeSki Team and was a Coach Mentor with us.
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