11.05.2008

Going, going, gone

Backcountry.com co-founder John Bresee is not a normal businessman. He's larger, for starters. And wealthier.

When he and Jim Holland cranked up their "crazy" concept of an online retail operation back in the day, it was allegedly like that infamous Super Bowl ad where a roomful of IT guys happily gather to celebrate their first online sale ... then go silent when the sale counter starts spinning into the multiple thousands.

Jim and John jumped while others sat, and reaped the rewards. They deserve it.

Backcountry.com's growth is well documented (thanks to a former DJ and bagel baker), and their recent brand expansion includes a stylie print catalog that takes more cues from Powder than the Patagonia book.

As it should. Bresee served his time faithfully in Orange County as the editor of Powder in the late 90s. He also kept his pen alive with The Skier's Journal, and probably some other places that I don't know about.

Bresee wrote the opener in the new Backcountry.com catalog, and it reads much like his stoke-the-fire essays from long, long ago. But he's not a despondent ski bum anymore. He's not scraping for change and sneaking into hot tubs. He's a dot-com success story, a business owner who was scooped up by Liberty Media, and an honest-to-goodness rich dude. He's also a father, a skier and a smart fucking guy.

Simply put, Bresee's opening essay worked me over. It's a birthday letter to his young son, Penn. Amid some poignant powder prose, John passes on a sincere wish that snow and skiing still exist by the time his son is old enough to enjoy them.

As a ski dad myself, the note made me simultaneously hungry for winter and sick to my stomach. I hated it and loved it.

I groaned at the catalog's carbon-addicted celebration of two-stroke sleds and helicopters. I thought about the irony of a successful online retailer expanding their brand through newsprint. And I pondered the conspicuous absence of Keep Winter Cool, Save Our Snow, 350.org, or any other take-action-yourself responsibility from the book.

And yet, the essay had me riveted, craving the opportunity to plunge into deep powder with my own son ... yes ... before its gone forever.

The best ski marketers have always found a way to cultivate the addiction by providing an unarguable reason to drop everything and just go. Their job has never been to fix what's wrong or point out that your burning too much oil on the way to the mountain or not spending enough time with your family. It's to make you want to ski.

The good news is, they've definitely got that part figured out.

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