This is a big year for you. You went out and got yourself a bright, shiny ski suit, the better to show up in photos and videos your aspiring-pro photographer and videographer friends take. You spent the summer doing squats and crunches and yoga to get in shape. You’ve been at the trampoline gym every day, working on your backflips, front flips, corks and all that flippy-spinny stuff the pros do. You bought a Go Pro. Actually, you bought four Go Pros, because you need to capture all the angles, at once.
You want to be a pro. Now what?
“I would say the most important thing is to be able to show your value as an athlete, however that looks,” Joe Johnson, who handles marketing for Salomon, told me. “Really focus in on what skills you have, not only when it comes to skiing, but outside of skiing.”
For more advice, I reached out to Revelstoke’s numerous pro athletes, who include snowmobilers, skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers.
PHOTO: Chris Rubens enjoys one of the perks of being a pro — skiing inside a volcano in Chile. Photo by Malcolm Sangster, Sherpas Cineman, from the Revelstoke Review files.
How did they get to their position, getting free gear and getting sent on trips around the world to ski or snowboard or bike? I reached out to a dozen local pro athletes to find out how they made their dreams a reality, the importance of social media, and what advice they have for aspiring athletes. Skiers Christina Lustenberger, Chris Rubens and Melanie Bernier responded.
For Rubens, who is sponsored by Salomon and several other companies, his route to become a pro athlete began a decade ago, when the Calgary ski shop Fresh offered him a sponsorship based on a video he made. They connected him with the representatives from several brands, who he is still with today.
His advice to aspiring pros was to have fun while skiing and be professional when dealing with companies.
“I think my biggest advice for talking to new sponsors is being professional and not having the attitude that you deserve something from them,” he said. “It is a symbiotic relationship with a sponsor, so it is important to treat it that way. You never know who is going to become your new boss in this game, so it is important to never burn bridges and always be nice.”
Lustenberger got her first pro deal from Rossignol when she was a young racer beating the boys. She eventually made the Canadian World Cup team and raced in the 2006 Turin Olympics, but had to bow out of racing in 2008 after multiple knee surgeries. Her love of the mountains and skiing stayed with her and she eventually qualified to become an ACMG ski guide, on top of being a pro skier with deals with Volkl and Arc’Teryx. “As long as I can remember all I ever wanted to do was ski, and be in the mountains,” she said. “Becoming ‘pro,’ or actually making a living doing this happened naturally.”
She was connected to her sponsors through friends and ski partners.
“Ski for yourself, set goals, and pursue your dream,” she said. “I also think that skiing and your career will evolve, so keep learning and pushing yourself at whatever you are doing.”
For Bernier, who also owns her own residential design business and works at Mountain Goodness, getting sponsored required years of training, skinning up and down mountains and rising to near the top of the ski mountaineering race circuit. Her first sponsorship with G3 came after winning a few races in Whistler. Her efforts paid off with sponsorships from Ski Trab, Suunto, Scarpa, and Rab Clothing; and local businesses Skookum and Helios.
“The best advice is be open to meeting new people because you never know,” she said. “We are all connected and it’s a very small industry. Always speak of your sport with the passion that drives you, it’s contagious and sponsors are looking for people that are stoked to share their love and excitement for what they do!”
PHOTO: Melanie Bernier got her deals through her ski mountaineer race performances. Photo contributed
Social media is a huge part of being a pro athlete these days. Rubens, Lustenberger and Bernier are all active on Instagram, constantly posting photos and short videos of their adventures in the mountains.
“Personally, I enjoy going out and trying to capture the feeling that we have when we are out there,” said Rubens. “The better the photo that shows this, the more it is liked. It is kinda of a different challenge than just the ski side.”
For Joe Johnson and Salomon, being able to market yourself as a brand is key. “Being able to promote yourself, whether it’s social media, whether it’s video, whether its the written word, whether its photos — being able to show the value you bring to an organization through that in addition to your skiing,” he said.
He noted how Rubens is constantly active, whether it’s skiing in the winter, or climbing and biking in the summer, and he’s always showcasing his adventures. Meanwhile, Brody Levens, another Salomon athlete, is a strong writer and pens his own articles, while Mark Abma is a fixture of ski movies.
“It’s finding those people who possess a variety of different skills when it comes to the outdoors and when it comes to the promotion of themselves as individual brands,” said Johnson, when asked what Salomon looked for in athletes.
Getting signed on by a brand like Salomon takes a lot of work and a certain level of success in your sport. If you’re looking for a starting point, a few local shops offer sponsorship deals. Mike Gravelle at Skookum Cycle & Ski, offers deals to aspiring professional athletes, noting the support they’ve provided local teenage cyclist Kellen Viznaugh.
PHOTO: Free Spirit Sports team rider Danny Leblanc enjoys sponsorship from Mountain Hardwear and Burton. By Serenity Morgan, courtesy Free Spirit Sports.
Free Spirit Sports has established an eight-person pro team who promote the store and the brands they carry. The team started two winters ago as a small, four person group, and doubled in size last year. They get a gear allowance from the story and this year a few athletes have picked up sponsorships from the brands the store carries.
“I wanted representatives of our store out there, doing stuff, wearing the gear, talking it up,” said Liz Rorstad, who manages the team. “On an altruistic front we wanted to show support for local riders and skiers, but also for marketing for us, that was the main piece.”
They expect their athletes to be out there promoting the brands and the store. They carry referral cards with them, which they can give out to inquisitive people on the chairlift or elsewhere.
“I think it’s a great way to do a spin on the whole marketing thing,” said Rorstad. “It creates buzz. We get a lot of people asking if they can be on the team.”
There you have it — get active in the mountains and on the Internet, and ask around. If you have the right skills, make the right connections and have the right attitude, you to can be a pro.