THE LIFE OF SYMMS

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I can’t help but stutter a bit when people ask what I do for a living. It’s not that I’m ashamed, and it’s not that I don’t like what I’m doing. It’s just that if you’ve ever talked to my grandma, you’d know that she, like the general public, has no idea what a pro skier is.

I guess you could say a pro skier is someone who appears on the big screen every fall. But ever since Al Gore invented the Internet, Bill Gates patented it, and Tim Armstrong put it into our phones, the number of dudes skiing onscreen has dramatically increased. And so has the number of ways to become one of those, uh, pros.

Traditionally, the professional skier kicks off the season in December by disappearing from civilization to spend, literally, several days on skis. Following a tour of the dining halls and bars of the world’s finest backcountry lodges, the professional skier embarks on a surf trip lasting anywhere from one to four months. (Every professional skier, without exception, secretly wants to be a professional surfer). Nine months later, the skier resurfaces with two to four minutes of footage, and spends the next two months signing posters in high school auditoriums. This routine persists among present-day pros whose careers originated before YouTube.

But what about those whose careers originated after YouTube? Initially, the Internet was amateur territory–like some giant sponsor-me video forum. Considering all the money it costs to print and premiere DVDs, the big-screen guys must be better than the dudes spraying themselves across the Internet for free, right? One Internet skier’s stellar winter contends, “maybe not.”

Tom Wallisch hadn’t even podiumed in a major contest when kids all over the world, familiar with his online clips, clamored to see him in the X Games. At a stage of his career when pre-Internet skiers would have been relatively unknown, Wallisch was already the most emulated skier in freestyle, with thousands combing the Internet to find out what brand of T-shirt he wore in his most recent edit. A string of major slopestyle victories and an AFP overall title only reaffirmed the digital phenom’s skill.

Wallisch’s unconventional rise to fame characterizes a shift in the way we choose our idols. We don’t buy DVDs; we download them off the Internet. The youth–you know, the punks who steal movies off the Web–have capitalized on this fact. While traditional pros disappear to film powder turns for a dollar a second, teenagers turn a camera, a few park features, and a baggy T-shirt into some of the most talked-about ski footage of the season.

Accordingly, established film companies now comb Vimeo for new talent, a break from the past when they found new blood from sponsors and contests. These major players have embraced the webisode format, laying their whole year, surf trip included, online in regular installments. And nearly all pro skiers now have online blogs to update fans on what it’s like to watch it rain in Alaska, or to be drunk at 4 p.m. in Retallack. So the disappearing days are over, along with the season-long wait to see what’s going on right now. And the pros are still the guys on the big screen–as long as your definition of “big” includes your 15-inch laptop monitor.

photo: Scott Markewitz

Pro skier John Symms has graduated from the Web to write a monthly column for Powder Magazine. Check out the September issue, available on newsstands now, featuring Symms' column, a host of kick-ass newschool content, and a timeless and not to be missed 31-page tribute to Shane McConkey.


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