Live Free or Die |

Live Free or Die

Tom Winter

In 1972, K2 Skis introduced a group of athletes called The Performers.

The athletes who made up the team, Bob Burns, Charlie MacWilliams, Bob Griswold, Jim Stelling, Pat Bauman and John Clendenin were drawn from the relatively new sport of hot-dog skiing.

K2 tapped into the youthful energy of this freestyle explosion by creating a film putting the skiers on tour and building an advertising campaign around their athletes. It was, in essence, the first freeride team.

Today, freeride teams are ubiquitous. They’re used to sell skis, snowboards, clothing, resorts, and even lifestyle statements.

But it didn’t always used to be that way. K2 gambled with The Performers. And they struck gold.

Athletes had already been used to promote products. But the genius of K2 was to recognize that they could tap into athletes that stood for more than a mere top finish in a World Cup race. The Performers stood for a lifestyle.

And that’s why Eagle and Summit counties are filled today with athletes who make a living by merely being themselves, living the dream and promoting the lifestyle.

It’s not easy making it onto a freeride team. The early K2 athletes were all top mogul skiers or instructors, some of the best free skiers on the mountain. And despite the fact that competition is less important than filming and being in top magazines like Transworld Snowboarding, competitions are how you get your name out.

Rex Wehrman of Dillon is a prime example. Wehrman is a big-mountain skier who is always a threat to podium in any event he enters. Only he doesn’t enter too many any more. He’s much busier filming or shooting with professional photographers.

You’d be in demand to ski for the lensmen, too, if your resume included two victories in the US Extreme Skiing Championships (2000 and 1998) and a third at the same event (2002).

One of Powder Magazine’s top 50 skiers, Wehrman is sponsored by Head/Tyrolia, Zeal, Go Fast, Leedom, Leki, Fate, and Arapahoe Basin. He has been featured in more than nine films, has four magazine covers to his credit.

And it’s the latter exposure that makes him so valuable to his sponsors, especially companies like Head, who get their logo splashed across the movies screens and magazines that skiers read.

“We are really psyched about our athletes this year,” says Dynastar’s Tait Wardlaw. “We have a good crew of people.”

By good crew, Wardlaw means that the folks on their team, skiers like Jeremey Nobis who skis for Jackson Hole’s Teton Gravity research and local Jeff “Spack” Robertson, who graces the cover on the new issue of Skiing Magazine aren’t just nice people, they get the job done.

And the job is all about creating visibility and fueling the lifestyle dreams of millions of consumers.

“Companies want visibility,” says Vail resident Chris Albers. “If I can help them spread the word about products that I believe in through my work as an athlete, then it’s a win-win situation.”

“Our people are highly visible and people see them on the brand,” adds Wardlaw

Albers, a snowboarder who is making a name for himself on the extreme big-mountain tour, was picked up by Mountain Hardware a year ago. The company seems an unlikely candidate to add a snowboarder to its stable of athletes, but it recognizes that the sport is young, hot and as a manufacturer of top end products for mountaineers, climbers and other outdoor people, knows that snowboarders buy jackets.

Because of this, sponsoring a rider who specializes in backcountry descents is a natural choice for the company, says spokeswomen Paige Bouchet.

While Vail doesn’t have a freeride team yet, the resort does sponsor athletes on an individual basis. And the company’s resorts in Summit County, Breckenridge and Keystone do have freeride teams. Breck’s team is headed up by Chris Hawks, who takes a very active roll with the resorts’ pipes and says that input from team riders can be crucial to a company’s success.

“I’m always calling my sponsors, telling them what’s cool on the hill, how to improve their products, and what is good for the company.” says Hawks.

With more and more companies and resorts turning to athletes to help sell their brands and the lifestyles surrounding winter sports, don’t be surprised if Beaver Creek or Vail doesn’t introduce a team soon.

After all, athletes get the message across, and the message is aimed at you.

Join the Team: Other Notable Locals On Freeride Teams

Rob Bak (Vail/Beaver Creek): bakis sponsors include Capita, Tech Nine, DC, Oakley, Vail Resorts, Colorado Chiropractic and Sports Medicine, and The Other Side Snowboard Shop.

Chris Del Bosco (Vail) is a member of the Salomon Freeride Team and is also sponsored by Oakley and Vail Resorts.

Brent Meyer (Copper Mountain): Meyer’s sponsors include Galleon Snowboards, Stick It , Swag, Anarchy, Poor Boy Wax, CLIF Bar, Jers Boardshop, Pro-tec, Clive and Copper Mountain.

Megan Pischke (Vail): Pischke is sponsored by Allian Snowboards, The North Face, Gravis, Angel Eyewear, Empire Shop and Vail Resorts,

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