Second Calling: Skiers turned entrepreneurs
[Editor's note: This is part one of a new series called "Second Calling," about pro skiers turned entrepreneurs. It is written by pro skier Griffin Post, who fits into this category well: He also has his own business as a writer and marketing consultant. Stay tuned next Wednesday for the next installment, a story about a cliff-hucking skier who started designing hats.]
Professional skiers are an industrious bunch. The sheer nature of making a living from a niche sport requires a certain aptitude in self-promotion, marketing and business.
So it's perhaps no surprise, then, that an eclectic mix of skiers have figured how to take the next step into the world of entrepreneurship, building brands that will last long after their ski careers have faded. From ski bindings and outerwear to restaurants and ski shops, for more and more pro freeskiers, running a business is as much a part of their daily routine as planning their next ski trip.
Perhaps it's due to easier access to financing through crowd sourcing, or to social media's role in grassroots marketing; whatever the explanation, the ski industry's entrepreneurs are bringing their products and services to market en masse and gaining traction.
"I think it's just the innate dream of entrepreneurship that is ingrained in many Americans' lives that ultimately drives anybody's fantasy to start your own business," says Arcade Belts co-founder and professional skier Cody Townsend.
Although, as Townsend and other pro skiers who double as entrepreneurs concede, running a business and maintaining a full-time ski career can take its toll on both aspects of one's career. "When we started Arcade I had no idea this much work would actually be involved," Townsend says. "It was probably pure naiveté that inspired me to help start a business."
While the obligations of being a pro skier might be a hindrance to business success in certain aspects, these pros also seem to have a step up on other entrepreneurs through their de facto industry connections and clout.
Take Lars and Silas Chickering-Ayers, the brothers on the Freeride World Tour. They used crowd-sourced financing to fund their binding company, Cast. Or there's filmmaker and pro skier Nick Martini, who's had great success in courting big-name commercial partners for his film company, Stept Productions.
The point: More and more pros' careers are paying unconventional dividends. In many ways, a skier's hard work on the hill immediately legitimizes his or her product or service, breaking down barriers to entry that others might face.
"It's hard to know for sure, but I hope [being a pro skier] helps," says Chris Benchetler, who co-owns Mimi's Cookie Bar in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. "Just by knowing a lot of people here and helping stimulate the local economy, I think the word of mouth travels to friends, family and hopefully beyond to fans who want to come in and help support what we do."
Over the coming weeks, XGames.com will look deeper into these skiers who moonlight as entrepreneurs, going beyond how they're leveraging their skiing success and turning it into business success. These skiers' businesses range from start-up storefronts to international apparel companies, and their problems are just the same as any other person attempting to monetize an idea that stems from passion.
Despite setbacks and the general nature of the hyper-competitive ski industry, a handful of skiers have found a second calling that is, as Townsend puts it, "every bit as fulfilling as being a pro skier."