The God of Skiing

Peter Kray is a ski writer. 

He was a blue-jacketed JH instructor when I met him. And now? He's been a trade editor (Ski Press), a magazine freelancer (Men's Journal, Mountain Gazette, plenty of others) and an online playa-cum-artiste (GearInstitute.com).

But he has also wanted to write a novel about skiing for a long time. A very long time. And now it's done.

With ink so fresh you should probably slap it, "The God of Skiing" rolled out to friends and friendly reviewers last week (hint: just in time for Christmas).  

Is it a coincidence that the self-published, square-bound tome fits nicely in a stocking hung by the chimney with care?  Probably. 

Is it a coincidence that the book fits perfectly, like it was designed for it, in the breast pocket of a CB ski jacket Definitely not.

"The God of Skiing" is a book written for passionate skiers by a passionate skier. The author says its a novel, but it's also a memoir of growing up in the straight-ski era ... From Colorado, to the East, and back to the West. The prose varies between impossibly tight and all-the-room-in-the-world spaciousness: a pace that reminds you of skiing on a big mountain, alternating between rocky chutes and unending powder fields. Or of song lyrics penned in a precious journal, accidentally left behind in a Leadville saloon. 

How did you get your start writing? My recollection was that you won that Subaru raffle in JH, flipped it for the cash, then scored a small Wyoming writing grant.

My dad got me started writing. He would always read to us (me and my brother) when we were little -- Hamlet, Last of the Mohicans, Treasure Island, and Call of the Wild. Adventure stuff. Then I would start to try and make up my own stories when he wasn't reading to us.

I sold that Subaru for $10,000 and bought a new pair of skis, was very popular at the Mangy Moose for a few nights, then just wasted the rest of the cash. I think that was the last year the ski team held the raffle. They didn't want to see another ski bum win a new car like that.

People write about gear and places to ski all the time... But writing about actually skiing?  Who does that?
Exactly. Who does do that? 

I really wrote the book I wanted to read. Ski literature is a pretty thin field, and I figured I owed the sport a book. I'm hoping it inspires a couple of my other ski writer friends to write their own. If Porter Fox, Matt Hansen, Andy Bigford, Devon O'Neil or Adam Howard write a ski novel, I'll be the first to buy it.

Who are your top five best skiers of all time?

Bode Miller, Franz Klammer, Doug Coombs, Lindsey Vonn, and Hermann "the Hermannator!" Maier himself. Next five? Anyone with the last name Zell, Shane McConkey, Scot Schmidt, Ted Ligety and Kjetil Andre Aamodt.

I bet you have at least three vintage Kastle posters hanging.  True story?

I used to have an original Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Cirque trail marker, but I think Bill Phipps or Bill Daley ended up with it. On the wall in my office are three framed Mountain Gazette covers, Doug Coombs from the POWDER Magazine memorial cover, Bode Miller racing at Soelden, Gram Parsons, and a picture Jonathan Selkowitz took of a brown bear bending a roadside snow depth marker looking like he's about to pole vault.

Who are your top five best ski writers of all time?

Ernest Hemingway (the last chapter in A Moveable Feast), James Salter (script for Downhill Racer), Romain Gary (The Ski Bum), Dick Barrymore (script for Last of the Ski Bums), and any ski travel piece by Porter Fox.

Where'd you ski as a kid? Winter Park?

Dad was a volunteer patroller at Vail with all his buddies, so we skied there for years. And after that on the ski train to Winter Park. In the winter I don't ever remember being asked, "What do you want to do this weekend?" It was just expected that we would be on the slopes.

Mole, chili relleno, or chorizo burrito?

It's weird, but Salt Lake City has better mole than we do in Santa Fe. So The Red Iguana gets the call in SLC. But here, it's Silver Coin margaritas and chile relleno RED (not green) at Maria's.

Who do you think is the best skier to ever wear a Denver Broncos uniform?

That's like asking what my favorite beer is. I'd say whichever one of them is on the slope. I'm pretty sure they all have a 'no-ski' clause in their contracts, but I remember John Elway doing an ad on the slopes once from the back of a limo with snowcat tracks, so I'll go with The Duke, of course.

Whaddaya want for Christmas?

More snow. The Broncos to win the Super Bowl. And more ski books.


Garlic, farts and all

“Are beginners and infrequent skiers … being priced out of the sport?”  
— "The Boom and the Bust”
Powder Magazine, December 2014

Somewhere, Paul McCollister is smiling. He’s dead, of course, but nothing would satisfy the snarky, uber-capitalist founder of the Jackson Hole Ski Area more than to know that the dirtbag skiing faithful has finally come around to his way of thinking. 

Paul was a visionary and original partner of perhaps the greatest American ski experience, but he was also a hard-ass and kind of a dick … as the tale goes, he coined the memorable phrase “I don’t want any of those garlic-breathed farting hippies on my tram". 

Paul recognized early on that expert skiers got more for their money than a beginner, and it sort of pissed him off. As a reporter in Jackson in the 1990s, I remember at one point he posed the idea that a paying customer should be able to push the dirtbags out of the way by reserving a seat on the Thunder chair at, say, 10 am on a powder day, and the idea made people’s heads explode. 

But heading into the winter of 2015? I think Paul’s idea is probably just a season or two away … everywhere.

Above all else, Paul was a pretty smart guy.  He knew that money talks in skiing, and that it was only going to talk louder as time went on. 

But money talks everywhere. And skiing will always be one of those havens where a turn speaks louder than a tiara.

Good skiing. Brag-worthy skiing.  Skiing that you lie about.  Skiing that you dream about.  Skiing that's hard to get to, and when you get there it’s hard to get to the goods first.  Yes, that skiing is getting more expensive. It should be. And worrying about it is like worrying that the awesome taco place that you told everybody about for the last 10 years now has a line around the corner. 

Yeah, there should be a line. Cause that fish taco is fucking amazing.

Skiing is, and always will be, about fantasy. Small mountain skiers dream of the big hill.  Big line skiers dream of going even bigger. And those who worry about people not skiing anymore are people who don't ski in-bounds on Saturdays. Let’s face it, the reality is that there’s never been a better time for people to stop skiing. (Take a deep breath.  I know you’re with me. Just dream about it for a half-second and tell me with a straight face that it doesn’t turn you on).

Honestly, it’s impossible to imagine more options for dirtbag skiing than there are now. College passes, 20-something passes, boomer passes, uphill skiing, plastic shit-board skiing, tow-in skiing, stair skiing, urban skiing, taco skiing (I just made that up) …  Skis will never be better. Skiing will never be easier. Heliskiing will never be more available. Cat skiing will never be more ubiquitous. Bootpacking will never be easier.  Powder turns will never be easier to make.  ‘Showgirls’ will never be made again. Things are good, dude. Chill out.  Look at the bodies. Look at the lines. Look at that untracked powder line over there in the willows just past the gully.  Looks awesome.

If you’re willing to actually work for it instead of just throwing money at it, there’s always a way. Because when you go skiing, you go to remember who you can be, who you used to be, and who you want to be.

Garlic, farts, and all.


Seven outdoorsy things that would be better with paintball

7.  Paintball freestyle slacklining

6.  Paintball rail jams

5.  Paintball SUP yoga

4. Paintball interventions prompted by overuse of "stoke" or "tribe"

3. Paintball OIA Capitol Summit

2. Paintball randonee racing

1.  Paintball tenkara


Wilderness vs. Technology, circa 1995

Living in Seattle in the fall of 1995, I heard a story from a climbing guide buddy about a recent almost-rescue in North Cascades National Park. A group of climbers had ended up stranded and hunkered down on the east ridge of Forbidden Peak, and to remedy the situation, they did something that had never been done before. They made the first ever cellular phone call that launched a search in the Park.

Despite the sophistication of the communication device, the "rescue" ended up being a bit of a cluster. Basic advice was given by the rangers. Weather got worse. No location was established. Communication was lost. A search party headed out and found the group. The group denied ever actually asking to be rescued.

It was a big deal at the time, to me anyway. Cell phones were things that you saw in the movies, or in the coffeeshops surrounding the Microsoft campus. Not skiing.

So I penned a piece for the PNW's neighborhood backcountry rag, free snow, that put the idea of wilderness versus technology out there.

Waking up this morning to see the news of $34 million worth of high-speed optics being planned for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park (LINK), and seeing live action Facebook posts from friends currently enjoying the selfie-friendly backdrops of Yosemite, I dug out that old issue.

Close to nearly two decades old, words in print still really hit home. Here are a few lines culled from the piece:

You would think nothing of driving to the mountains and back in a day, and the cost of that would be a full year’s food budget for an Ethiopian. Say you take a trip to Nepal; with all the costs there you’re looking at the GNP for a whole village. If that’s not decadent, I don’t know what is. But our technology helps us live cleaner, more efficiently. The important thing is, we’re urban people, most of us have jobs and goals, and we use the concept of wilderness to “recreate.” It’s important to have that, and I think technology helps us get that.
Rainer Burgdorfer
Writer, Author, Skier

A lot of the things are and will be be happening. We can’t just drag our feet and say we can’t address this. Like the GPS device – it’s out there now, and it’s already being used to do trail work. It’s all along a continuum, there’s no stopping any of us from taking the path of least resistance.You can look back with a sigh and how things were in the old days, and you can appreciate that. All we can do is just try and appreciate what peole in an earlier day went through, and had the enegery and interest to do, compared to what we do today. Right now, things are a whole lot easier and not many people realize that.
Kelly Bush
Park Ranger, North Cascades national park

People are expecting more from a wilderness experience. It used to be a wilderness experience to go to Mt. Rainier from Seattle. Now, if you're not doing Liberty Ridge, you're not there.
Paul Baugher, director
Northwest Avalanche Institute

I was looking at a new magazine, Rocky Mountain Magazine. It’s sort of an Outside-type publication. I was looking at the ads that were in it – Jeep Cherokee, Magellan GPS systems, scotch. Who are the consumers of the wilderness now? Are they looking for a wilderness experience to go with their scotch and their Jeep Cherokee? It’s almost got to the point where it’s elistist in a way – the technology, but also the whole concept of wilderness. You think of the extreme case, Aspen, where an average home sells for $1.4 million for the opportunity to live in this neat place where normal people can’t afford to live anymore.
Eric Simonson
Senior Guide, RMI & NAI Instructor

We take a lot of raft trips in southern Utah, where the only way out is 60 miles downriver. In that situation, having a cellular phone would be nice in terms of an emergency, but it’s not something I’d let other peole know was there. Part of the wilderness aspect is the danger and psychological aspect of being out there. If I was a commercial operation, and had to look at liability concerns, the money and having 40 people on the trip, I’d bring one. Keep it in an ammo can or something. If it was just me and my friends though, I’d much rather bring along a nurse.
Ken Keeley
General Manager, Voile

We’re in a society where more is better. The more trinkets you have for your backcountry trips keeps old men like me in business, and keeps more makers making more gear to ease the backcountry experience. But is the backcountry supposed to be hard? Or is it supposed to be easy?
Clair Yost
Yostmark Mountain Equipment


Because Made-in-America matters

It's no secret that the group behind Wicked Outdoorsy is Pale Morning Media, a public relations agency specializing in the outdoor world. And the guy at the front of Pale Morning Media is Drew Simmons.This week, Pale Morning Media unveils a new twist in the form of an agency specialty in the promotion of Made-in-America outdoor gear. To help wag the flag on this new initiative, we threw Drew a couple softballs in our traditionally irregular and barely thought through Q&A format.

So ... why did Pale Morning Media just start a Made-in-America PR division?

Actually, it’s not that new. We’ve been active in the promotion of domestic manufacturing brands and storylines for the last six years, building direct experience, deepening our contacts and meeting some fantastically enthusiastic people along the way.  

For the last two years, we’ve also been the administrators of the American Made Outdoor Gear Awards, which we helped create and launch for our friends at Kokatat.

So at this point, we’re really just formalizing our commitment to the space, assigning staff roles, and dedicating future time and resources to the category. We see outdoor gear "makers" as an engaging community going through an exciting time, and we want to be a part of it.

Is Pale Morning Media actually big enough to have "specialties"?

Even a one-person shop can have specialties, as long as they're fluent in a particular market and are able to engage that community. Pale Morning Media has been a specialist in the Outdoor market since day one, and over the last decade the agency has also built the staff and knowledge base to have specialties in Ski, Hunt/Fish and Natural Products.

Imagine you're on National Public Radio with Kai Ryssdal. Explain the importance of Made-in America gear in 10 seconds or less. Don't bore me, I'm driving home and only paying half attention.

If you’re only paying half attention, then you’re probably not somebody that’s going to care much about where stuff is made.

But if I had Kai’s ear, I’d tell him that American gear manufacturers are making a deliberate choice to sacrifice short-term profits for a long-term benefit that doesn’t exist yet. That type of economic optimism is worth encouraging, especially when it’s tied to an industry that celebrates the environment, health and adventure.

What does a Made-in-America “commitment” actually mean?

We all know that it’s got to be more than just putting on a red, white and blue trucker hat and calling yourself an expert. There has to be more meat on the bone than that.

So to build on the work we’ve done in the past, we’ve committed ourselves to an ongoing campaign of education. Our goal internally is to reach a level of fluency that you can only get when you live, breathe and eat something every day. That internal dedication is matched by an external commitment to share what we’re learning, so that more people are conversant, interested and eager for news on the topic.

A sample of this line of thinking is GearMadeHere.org, a Made-in-America news and social media portal that we’re launching this month. Like a lot of American manufacturing initiatives, GearMadeHere.org is a small first step toward a larger goal. We hope people will check it out, enjoy it, and send us their own stories and links to post.

How big is the Made-in-America gear community?

Big enough that it should get noticed more often. In the data collected during last year’s American Made Outdoor Gear Awards, brands with a substantial and measurable made-in-America commitment were found in all parts of the country and at all sizes of organizations.

A big chunk of the most excited and most intriguing companies were relatively young and growing fairly fast: 42% of applicants were founded in the last 10 years, and 76% of applicants had a hand in creating more than 500 new manufacturing jobs in the last year. That’s solid stuff.

Does support of Made-in-America brands mean that you’re opposed to making things elsewhere?

Of course not. Global manufacturing is an essential part of our world and our culture, with many positive impacts and inspiring stories.

We’re just adding a new layer to our current services. It’s really no different that having a bike division or a ski division, or putting a sign out on Main Street that says we’re now open on Saturdays.

What’s the most awesome piece of American-made outdoor gear?

A chimney sweep friend of mine from Wyoming once told me that America makes two things better than anybody else in the world … bicycles and guns. It's tough to disagree with that kind of country logic, but plenty of awesome can be found in virtually every outdoor category right now.

Why aren’t more people telling their Made-in-America story?

Most people are actually trying really hard to tell their story, but are struggling to find the right way to do it. It can be a tricky balancing act to tell your story to a bunch of vested parties, all the while staying compliant with FTC and California regulations.

You think consumers actually care where their stuff is made?

I think the more relevant conversation is “how many” actually care. And the obvious answer to that is “more and more every day.” A healthy majority of Made-in-America outdoor industry gear makers  -- more than 90% -- are planning to increase the size and scope of their manufacturing operation in the coming year. You don’t do that unless you’ve got fans.

Is this a good business decision for Pale Morning Media?

As a business owner, you make a lot of decisions for a lot of different reasons. Some are for money, some are for free skiing, and some are for your kids. I don’t think this decision is necessarily going to do much for our short-term bottom line, but I do think it’s a positive step for Pale Morning Media in the long-term. 


It's always dumping somewhere

Enjoying the trailer from "Some Thing Else,"the newest addition from Powderwhore Productions.


Something sweaty this way comes

The first-ever O2X Summit Challenge (www.o2x.com) will debut at Sugarbush on Sept 13-14, 2014 ... bringing a new kind of adventure race to the Vermont outdoorsy crowd.

I guess it's time to start getting in shape.  

On the course, there'll be natural challenges (ie, no mud pits, no windmills) and different courses for different fitness levels. The big payoff is the finish line at the summit of 4083-foot Mt. Ellen. 

And off the course, there will be an event "BaseCamp" with performance and tech exhibits, farmers markety goods, on-site camping, and general good times.

You can read the first official details here (LINK)

The whole thing was the brainchild of four friends who wanted to build something of real value together.  It turns out out that three of them are ex Navy SEALs, and one of them is a recovering attorney.  

We got a few minutes with the attorney.


Why O2X?  Why not start a super hoppy beer company like everybody else?

There isn’t a race out there like O2X, and we wanted one so we had to create it.  There already is an awesome super hoppy beer out there, which is something we also want, but we can easily grab a four pack made by better brewmasters than we’ll ever be.

Where exactly was the idea hatched? 

After a run, the four of us were standing around the island in Gabriel’s kitchen.  Paul and Adam raised the idea and it was unanimous - “that’s it!”

Why a summit finish?

Because “three quarter’s of the way up” doesn’t have the same marketing power.  No, seriously – summiting a peak is a timeless, physical and metaphorical accomplishment that is tough to beat.  And the views are incredible.

No mud pit? No Crisco climbing wall?  Why not?

Well, for a few serious reasons.  First, expending fuel and resources to construct false mud-pits, electrocution gauntlets and 2x6 framed cargo net climbs in a parking lot is (a) already being done and (b) very unnecessary.  When you look at Mt Ellen, North Peak at Sunday River, Loon Mountain, Windham Mountain, or any mountain for that matter, you see that Mother Nature has created all of the natural obstacles, and then some, that we need to set up a challenge run.

Who are you trying to bring out with O2X?  Hardcore trail geeks or weekend wobblers?

Both, plain and simple.  Women, men, hardcore trekkers, weekend wobblers, runners.  Everyone who loves to be outdoors and try a new running and trekking challenge.

What has been the reaction of venues to the idea?

Very, very positive.  One mountain owner (a steward of the mountain) put it best: “I said no to most other race event companies because I am always concerned about how I would put my mountain back together on Monday morning when the circus leaves town.”  We don’t create that issue – our stated objective is to leave the mountains and the communities they support better than when we found them.

I heard there was going to be camping available at the race venues.  True story?

Yup, true.  Camping near the base lodge on the mountain – we call it BaseCamp - will be available on a first come first serve basis.  We won’t likely have room to accommodate all runners so sign up now.

What does "remediation plan" mean?

We are active partners with 1% for the Planet, Leave No Trace and are a registered EPA WasteWise Partner.  With their guidance, we are tailoring programs for each mountain.

What sort of research did you do before launching 02x?  

We have completed dozens of triathlons and marathons, and three guys were Navy SEALs.  Fitness and respect for the wilderness is in our collective DNA.  The research?  Looking at the market, we see two types of companies who are having great success – the first is the obstacle course market that gets by with contrived challenges.  Doing well, but not appealing to us personally.  The second is the endurance event companies – marathons, halfs, trail runs, triathlons – that are also doing extremely well.  We saw the demand for a combination of the two: trail running over authentic, natural challenge courses set in mountains.  The reception has been great.

Hit me with the full  Navy SEAL resume.  What teams, what years, what action...

We’re not leading with this part of our resume, but we are extremely proud of serving our country.  Collectively, we have over 30 years of active service in the SEAL Teams, all over the globe.  The camaraderie and professional experience is the most rewarding of our career.  Paul and Adam served together for over a decade, primarily cleaning up the global messes Gabriel left behind. 

And then, of course, there's the attorney.  Who let that guy in?

Exactly.  We toyed with the idea of naming our LLC “Three Men and a Baby” but the attorney convinced us that could be trademark infringement. 

Of the four founders... Who's gonna put the best time up in the first race?

There is money on that question.  You’ve got two Naval Officers and a lawyer against an enlisted guy – you figure it out.

Did you choose to launch the series in Vermont so you could be closer to Heady Topper?

We could say yes, but that would be ignoring the fact that Win Smith was our first marketing meeting. 

If Gabriel had won that Senate seat .. would O2X still have happened?

Probably not, but maybe he could have brought our awesome O2X web developer to DC and www.obamacare.gov would have been a lot better.

What's your favorite Dylan track?

Good grief, who is your favorite child?  What kind of questions are these?  OK, gun to head . . . “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”