Some of you may have read two of my recent entries here, both titled ďWhatís Really Old?Ē When I wrote the first one I didnít intend for there to be a second, and when I wrote the second one, I definitely didnít anticipate a third installment. But here at Cream I always try to go the extra mile for you. Perhaps with the hope that the shit I write wonít be a complete waste of your time. Itís a small thing to hope, but not something you can take for granted these days when youíre reading about skiing.
One of the myths about living in Whistler is that you can swing a bat just about anywhere and hit a pro skier. While that may not be true, some of the perks do work out in your favor, and Mike Douglas (being the champ that he is) lives just across the highway from me. I figured that if I was going to write some shit on the internet that I knew not very much about, I might as well follow it up and go to the source for some real talk.
Fortunately for both of us, Mikeís a good guy, and he happily agreed to sit down and talk about some of the subjects I covered in the first two installments. (If you havenít read them yet, donít be a bitch!) So last week I strolled on up to the house he just bought, met his son, his newly pregnant wife, and sat down for what I thought was going to be a quick chat. I had one page of mediocre questions and blog-level expectations, but over the next hour Mike took the ball and ran with it, resulting in a grip of interesting material on a wide range of subjects. The final product was a bit lengthy, and since I know how important not taxing your attention span is, Iíve split it into two solid parts. Iíll post the next one in a couple of days. I hope you enjoy them both as much as I did.
So Mike, what are your thoughts on the fact that many relatively young skiers these days are considered old, is it a symptom of the youth of our sport?
Well I think the nature of our sport lends itself to the youth, especially in this day and age where kids are getting into skiing at 8 or 10 years old, and they donít know anything but twin tips and terrain parks. If youíre exposed to that from an early age, and youíre fearless, youíre going to get good. The fact is that when your body is still rubbery, and youíve got talent, you can pound it out all day long in the terrain park. I think for some of us older guys, thatís the biggest challenge. I go ski one full day of park, even a soft park, and Iím stiff, sore, and beat down the next day. But thatís just part of being old.
One of the things I wrote about was that I feel we donít know how far these guys can go. Do you think guys at JP Auclairís age are going to be considered old once we know how far they take it? Youíre not exactly young, but youíre still killing it.
Haha no, Iím not young at all. I remember when I was on a trip with a bunch of guys probably 5 years agoÖ It was C.R. Johnson, Pep, and a bunch of the top guys at the time, and we were talking about longevity. I think it was the day after we had a booter session where people got worked over pretty hard. I sort of half-jokingly said that I would give anyone who could outlast me career-wise $10í000, and they were all like ďYeah, good luck.Ē Itís hard, itís really hard.
You have to be lucky to a certain degree, and Iíve been lucky to avoid major injuries, but you also have to be smart. Iím not out there every day throwing down as hard as I can like Dumont is, every day Dumont skis itís 100%. I canít do that. Iím not going to be out there on an average day, showing up at the park on Blackcomb and impressing anyone. But when the cameras start rolling and itís show time, I can turn it on for a few hours. I think that some skiers might be able to redefine killing it for a long time, and I think the guy that has the best chance right now is Jon Olsson. Heís the smoothest guy in the world, hardly ever falls, and when I watch Jon skiÖ Skiers are hitting the ground like Bam! Bam! And Jon comes down and itís like thump swish. He hardly seems to hit the ground, and I donít know how he does it, but thereís a guy who has got the talents.
What are some of the less obvious factors that determine the longevity of a professional skier? Obviously there are injuries and sponsor troubles, but from a first person perspective, is there anything we donít really know about?
Absolutely. It doesnít matter how good you are at any given point in your career, you have to be a pro, and you have to redefine what it is to be a pro skier along the way. Iím 10 years into the second half of my career. The first half was as a mogul skier on the Canadian national team from when I was 19 to 25, then I quit and coached, and now Iím in the second phase. I went through the competition part, and I was competing in terrain park style stuff, but Iíve continually evolved what I do now to where I pretty much exclusively ski backcountry. Which is something that I love to do, because to me thatís the most fun part of skiing anyways, but itís also something I have to do because I need soft snow so that my joints can take what Iím trying to do.
There are skiers who have been challenged by thinking that they can get away with being a one-dimensional person their whole careers. Vincent Dorion is a classic example of a guy who has talent equal to anyone in this sport. There was a time right around 2000-2001 when Vinnie was winning everything. He won the US Open, WSI, and he was an X-Games medalist, but he kind of coasted on those contest results, and when it reached the point where he wasnít winning anymore, he didnít have a lot to offer to his sponsors. He wasnít out there killing it in all these different aspects of the sport and getting exposure. Ultimately if you want to be a pro, our job as pros is to sell skis, and whether we do that through contest results, great movie parts, being on TV every week, being in the magazines, going on trips, going to the tradeshows, signing autographs, being at movie premiers or whateverÖ You have to get out there and have a presence. I think some of the guys that have struggled later in their careers have left some of those elements out, not been pro all the way through, and tried to rely on one aspect of the sport. You have to do more than that. You have to evolve, because there are 20 kids coming up at the US Open every year who are just dying to kick your ass.
Do you think there is a general lack of support in the ski industry for our older generation?
I wouldnít necessarily say that there is a lack of support for older skiers. I think what happens is the industry gets so caught up in whatís next, that they often neglect whatís now. One of the first questions I get asked by anyone at a company is, ďAny hot up-and-comers youíve seen lately?Ē Which is fine because the youth are the guys that are setting the trends, doing new things, and bringing new styles. But I think at the same time for a team to be successful you need to carry the spectrum, and there are certain things that a guy like myself, Shane McConkey, or JP Auclair, can bring to a company that a Simon Dumont or a Sammy Carlson just canít do. Itís experience, leadership, and doing the pro skier duties that some of the younger guys donít want to do, or donít have time to do. Without the older guys to help the younger guys, you end up with a team thatís lost, and a team thatís not as effective. The guys donít have a role model to see where their career should be headed.
As we get a better understanding of the roles older skiers can take, will more options be available to you guys other than simply being the best?
I think there are a lot of options, and Iím certainly an example of that. First of all, being a pro skier, shooting movies, going to contests, and all that stuffÖ Itís the coolest thing ever. If I could just be a pro ski guy and leave all the other stuff that I do behind, I would love it. Because itís super fun and largely stress free. I mean you have to throw down, but at the same time youíre not worrying about checking your email all the time.
Since the day my career started, Iíve always been the oldest guy. Thereís never been anyone older than me. So since the day my career started, Iíve been looking for ways to continue on with my lifestyle because I love it. In the beginning I was the spokesman for the New Canadian Air Force, and I think I spent more time talking about Vinnie, JF, and JP, than I did about myself. It was because I never really planned to be the big pro skier famous guy. That was a product of what happened afterwards. These days IĎm still trying to get out there and ski as much as I can, but Iím doing video editing, writing for magazines, and consulting for a bunch of different companies. I also work in TV production, and I used to run a summer camp.
Just a couple of weeks ago I had dinner with Scott Schmidt and Wayne Wong, among a bunch of other people, and I was totally picking their brains because when I was little those guys were my idols. I was totally the little kid with those guys, I mean I even got pictures of myself, and I was like, ďSo what do you guys do all winter? Tell me how your winter breaks down.Ē Talking to those two guys was so freaking cool, but they also gave me a lot ideas. Take Scott for example, heís in his mid-forties now, but he still goes and skis with corporate clients. He basically said he spends three months a year heli and cat skiing, and then takes the rest of the year off. I was like, ďMan thatís cool! I spend like three months a year answering emails.Ē So I think the door is open, but the door becomes wider open if you can be more than just a pro skier among many, and you can separate yourself to a higher status.
Well you covered why a lot of people do well, or how people can do well, but how do you feel when you see a lot of the other pioneers of our sport struggling to get by?
I think itís sad to see guys that were so legendary struggling with their sponsors. Iíve had my struggles with sponsors too. The fact is, it doesnít matter how hard you kill it in a given year, they always have real trouble looking past your age. I know that Iím probably the only skier ever who won the Skier Of The Year award from Powder and took a pay cut the following year.
I had my best year ever in 2002-2003, and a lot of things came together for me, but I ended up taking a pretty decent pay cut the next year because people basically look at you and they go, ďWell he killed it this year, itís gonna be pretty hard for him to ever do anything cool like that again.Ē I canít really blame companies for feeling that way, but when I see guys like Brad HolmesÖ Anyone who has ever met him loves the guy. Heís one of the funniest guys youíll ever meet, he did a lot of things in skiing for the first time, and maybe he doesnít always get the credit he deserves. But it comes back to making your program work, and the older you get, the more pro-active you have to be, and the more you have to be willing to re-invent yourself.
Look at a guy like Kent Krietler, I mean Krietler is one of the best skiers there has ever been, and he struggles. I talk to a lot of these guys a couple times a year and theyíre asking me, ďDouglas, how are you doing it?Ē And a lot of the time I say that Iíve gone more into research and development for the company, rather than just trying to be the marquee athlete. I think at a certain point you have to check your ego and realize that youíre not the superstar on the team anymore, itís the younger guys.
I know what you mean. Brad Holmes used to be so good, and heís still an amazing skier, but you look now and kids hate him. Thereís no love for Brad Holmes from anyone under the age of 20. Same with Krietler, but thereís always been the stigma, at least for me and amongst the people I associate with, that he hates jibbers. Now that may have come around from things heís said, and Iím sure heís a good guy, but...
Part of the problem with those guys is letting go. Weíre in an ego driven sport, and you want to be the guy that everyone is talking about, but at a certain point you have to recognize that there are some kids that have taken what youíve developed to a new level. I think thatís super cool, and I love to see it. Some guys that have totally impressed me this year from the movie parts Iíve seen so far are Andy Mahre, Eric Pollard, Rory Bushfield, and Jon Olsson. When I see what these guys do, it makes me so psyched because theyíre doing stuff that I would love to be able to do, but at the same time I know that those guys are really awesome.
On a side note about Pollard, I certainly think that his skiing style will contribute to his longevity to a certain extent. He also seems to be a very low impact skier, or at least thatís what it looks like.
Haha, Iíll tell you what. Iíve filmed with Pollard a bunch, and he freaking takes it. All those switch landingsÖ You only see the good ones. When he hits and whiplashes, heís down for the day on some of them. Itís hard, but I think that if you want to be a skier with a long career, a career thatís successful and can go deeper than how well you perform day to day, bring something new to the sport. I think thatís what Eric Pollard has done. He has skied the way he wants to ski, and I think thatís super cool. Thatís also whatís helped the New Canadian Air Force guys last through time too. We brought something new to the sport, we werenít copying anybody, and we were just doing our thing. Look at any young skier that has brought something new to the sport. Pep, Candide, Tanner, all those guys brought something new, and those are the guys that are going to last.
Do you think there is value in having a lot of older pros still skiing professionally? Not in the sense of just killing it, but in the sense of helping build a team?
Totally! Thereís tons of value. The fact is, Iíve been skiing at a high level for twenty years, and I like to pride myself on being a great all-around skier. I can got out and carve, turn through race gates, ski straight down a huge peak in powder, and I can go to the park and hit rails. Experience counts, especially when it comes to developing product. Over twenty years Iíve learned to fine-tune my senses, to figure out what is a ski that feels good, and what is a ski that doesnít. Not to harsh on any of the independent ski companies, because I think theyíre great, and I think that they are totally necessary. But an 18 year old with a pro model thatís built to his specifications is not very likely to be building the highest performance ski on the market. At 18 I could ski pretty good, but I certainly wouldnít have been able to dial in a product at a level even close to what I can do now.
Do you think companies are obligated to support riders who are past their prime but have dedicated their whole lives to helping that brand?
I donít think there is an obligation. I think that if there is a rider that can offer value to that company, itís good to still work with that person. For example, Iíd like to think that Salomon sees value in the R&D and Marketing work that I do. Itís up to the skier to show theyíve got some skills, or that they care and are willing to work. As much as itís great to continue with your family, there are people who think companies owe them and should be pay them for doing nothing, and I donít agree with that.
I can guarantee 100% that in skiing right now, there is no company that does not care about making money. This corporate stuff cracks me up. Every company is out there trying to make money, and thatís all that itís about. Salomon has taken a lot of heat over the years, but Salomon puts more into freestyle skiing than any other company. Without Salomon there would be no U.S. Open right now, there would be no SPK pure freestyle boot, and there would be no lightweight bindings. When we took the twin-tip idea out there, we talked to everybody, and we got no, no, no, no. They were the only ones who said yes. Did they always make good decisions? No. Did they always do things I agree with? No. But at the same time they do a lot of good things, and they make a really good product.
Salomon is a company thatís been bought and sold twice in the last six years, and every time your company goes through a transition like that, things change. Even if the R&D and Marketing guys have the coolest freestyle plans in the world, if your budget is suddenly being halved, something has to give. Itís not always the way you want it to go, but those are the realities of business. I think every company will face things like that. I mean Line is a company that everybodyís questioning, but they had a binding that was a disaster. When things donít go your way, it costs a lot of money, and at some point you have to make some hard decisions.
You mentioned Line, and now that theyíre under K2ís umbrella a lot of people are talking trash, saying Line sold out and that theyíre just another K2 company. For me personally, the most disappointing thing above all else when it comes to that situation was this: Burton birthed snowboarding, and in turn snowboarding birthed Burton. A lot of companies in skiing were in the ski business before freesking came about, but like Burton, we birthed Line and Line birthed us. Unfortunately, we as the youth didnít support them. Things didnít work out in certain ways, and you canít help that, but I think the sale is the best thing to happen to Line as a brand in a long time. I was just disappointed that they supported us, and we couldnít support them in return. Burton is the perfect example of what an independent company can do with the proper grassroots support.
I agree, and I think the success of the independent brands is a good barometer of where our sport is. Is the core as big or as tight as it seems? If these independent brands canít even make enough money to break even, then maybe itís not. You always hope that your sport is growing and healthy, but when you see an independent struggle, you wonder if itís really going as a well as we think it is.
One thing that really irritates me is that skiers have no pride when it comes to brands. I know Salomon the best, so Iíll keep using them as an example. Salomon started making ski equipment in 1946, and if thatís not some deep roots in a sport, I donít know what is. But you hear the kids today, ragging on Salomon and saying they donít care about our sport. This company has been in our sport for over 60 years! Donít say that the company is not into the sport, thatís bullshit.
Look at a company like Anon. Anon is Burton. Every kid needs to know that when we started the whole twin-tip movement, Burton had an ad in every single ski magazine saying that skiing is gay. But all of a sudden Anon sponsors TJ Schiller, and theyíre the coolest brand on the block. It pisses me off that a company, which just a few years ago was shitting all over skiing, is viewed as cool now. Whereas if you look at the other action sportsÖ Just try and break into them. Look how hard it is to break into those sports, because the people in those sports are thankful of the people that put the time in for them, and not to the people who are just jumping on the bandwagon trying to cash in. To me it seems to me that skiers, especially the young guys, have no pride. They donít see, and so Salomon sucks but Anon is cool. Thatís something I canít understand. Why we just allow these other brands that shit on our sport to walk in and start making tons of sales, and how these brands can come in and be cool instantly.
Stay tuned for part two of this interview, where Mike touches on Marc-Andre Belliveau, The Haters, Johnny Moseley, why heís tired of the abuse he receives for his X-Games commentary, and much more.