Some of you may have read two of my recent entries here, both titled “What’s Really Old?” When I wrote the first one I didn’t intend for there to be a second, and when I wrote the second one, I definitely didn’t 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 won’t be a complete waste of your time. It’s a small thing to hope, but not something you can take for granted these days when you’re 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, Mike’s 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 haven’t read them yet, don’t 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, I’ve split it into two solid parts. I’ll 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 don’t know anything but twin tips and terrain parks. If you’re exposed to that from an early age, and you’re fearless, you’re going to get good. The fact is that when your body is still rubbery, and you’ve got talent, you can pound it out all day long in the terrain park. I think for some of us older guys, that’s the biggest challenge. I go ski one full day of park, even a soft park, and I’m stiff, sore, and beat down the next day. But that’s just part of being old.
One of the things I wrote about was that I feel we don’t know how far these guys can go. Do you think guys at JP Auclair’s age are going to be considered old once we know how far they take it? You’re not exactly young, but you’re still killing it.
Haha no, I’m not young at all. I remember when I was on a trip with a bunch of guys probably 5 years ago… 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 $10’000, and they were all like “Yeah, good luck.” It’s hard, it’s really hard.
You have to be lucky to a certain degree, and I’ve been lucky to avoid major injuries, but you also have to be smart. I’m not out there every day throwing down as hard as I can like Dumont is, every day Dumont skis it’s 100%. I can’t do that. I’m 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 it’s 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. He’s the smoothest guy in the world, hardly ever falls, and when I watch Jon ski… Skiers are hitting the ground like Bam! Bam! And Jon comes down and it’s like thump swish. He hardly seems to hit the ground, and I don’t know how he does it, but there’s 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 don’t really know about?
Absolutely. It doesn’t 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. I’m 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 I’m in the second phase. I went through the competition part, and I was competing in terrain park style stuff, but I’ve 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 that’s the most fun part of skiing anyways, but it’s also something I have to do because I need soft snow so that my joints can take what I’m 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 wasn’t winning anymore, he didn’t have a lot to offer to his sponsors. He wasn’t 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 whatever… 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 wouldn’t necessarily say that there is a lack of support for older skiers. I think what happens is the industry gets so caught up in what’s next, that they often neglect what’s now. One of the first questions I get asked by anyone at a company is, “Any hot up-and-comers you’ve seen lately?” 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 can’t do. It’s experience, leadership, and doing the pro skier duties that some of the younger guys don’t want to do, or don’t have time to do. Without the older guys to help the younger guys, you end up with a team that’s lost, and a team that’s not as effective. The guys don’t 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 I’m certainly an example of that. First of all, being a pro skier, shooting movies, going to contests, and all that stuff… It’s 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 it’s super fun and largely stress free. I mean you have to throw down, but at the same time you’re not worrying about checking your email all the time.
Since the day my career started, I’ve always been the oldest guy. There’s never been anyone older than me. So since the day my career started, I’ve 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 I‘m still trying to get out there and ski as much as I can, but I’m 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, “So what do you guys do all winter? Tell me how your winter breaks down.” Talking to those two guys was so freaking cool, but they also gave me a lot ideas. Take Scott for example, he’s 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, “Man that’s cool! I spend like three months a year answering emails.” 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 it’s sad to see guys that were so legendary struggling with their sponsors. I’ve had my struggles with sponsors too. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how hard you kill it in a given year, they always have real trouble looking past your age. I know that I’m 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, “Well he killed it this year, it’s gonna be pretty hard for him to ever do anything cool like that again.” I can’t really blame companies for feeling that way, but when I see guys like Brad Holmes… Anyone who has ever met him loves the guy. He’s one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet, he did a lot of things in skiing for the first time, and maybe he doesn’t 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 they’re asking me, “Douglas, how are you doing it?” And a lot of the time I say that I’ve 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 you’re not the superstar on the team anymore, it’s the younger guys.
I know what you mean. Brad Holmes used to be so good, and he’s still an amazing skier, but you look now and kids hate him. There’s no love for Brad Holmes from anyone under the age of 20. Same with Krietler, but there’s 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 he’s said, and I’m sure he’s a good guy, but...
Part of the problem with those guys is letting go. We’re 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 you’ve developed to a new level. I think that’s super cool, and I love to see it. Some guys that have totally impressed me this year from the movie parts I’ve 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 they’re 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 that’s what it looks like.
Haha, I’ll tell you what. I’ve filmed with Pollard a bunch, and he freaking takes it. All those switch landings… You only see the good ones. When he hits and whiplashes, he’s down for the day on some of them. It’s hard, but I think that if you want to be a skier with a long career, a career that’s successful and can go deeper than how well you perform day to day, bring something new to the sport. I think that’s what Eric Pollard has done. He has skied the way he wants to ski, and I think that’s super cool. That’s also what’s helped the New Canadian Air Force guys last through time too. We brought something new to the sport, we weren’t 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! There’s tons of value. The fact is, I’ve 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 I’ve learned to fine-tune my senses, to figure out what is a ski that feels good, and what is a ski that doesn’t. Not to harsh on any of the independent ski companies, because I think they’re great, and I think that they are totally necessary. But an 18 year old with a pro model that’s 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 wouldn’t 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 don’t think there is an obligation. I think that if there is a rider that can offer value to that company, it’s good to still work with that person. For example, I’d like to think that Salomon sees value in the R&D and Marketing work that I do. It’s up to the skier to show they’ve got some skills, or that they care and are willing to work. As much as it’s great to continue with your family, there are people who think companies owe them and should be pay them for doing nothing, and I don’t 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 that’s all that it’s 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 that’s 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. It’s 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 everybody’s questioning, but they had a binding that was a disaster. When things don’t 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 they’re under K2’s umbrella a lot of people are talking trash, saying Line sold out and that they’re 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 didn’t support them. Things didn’t work out in certain ways, and you can’t 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 couldn’t 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 can’t even make enough money to break even, then maybe it’s not. You always hope that your sport is growing and healthy, but when you see an independent struggle, you wonder if it’s 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 I’ll keep using them as an example. Salomon started making ski equipment in 1946, and if that’s not some deep roots in a sport, I don’t know what is. But you hear the kids today, ragging on Salomon and saying they don’t care about our sport. This company has been in our sport for over 60 years! Don’t say that the company is not into the sport, that’s 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 they’re 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 sports… 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 don’t see, and so Salomon sucks but Anon is cool. That’s something I can’t 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 he’s tired of the abuse he receives for his X-Games commentary, and much more.