Here’s a great interview from Skiingmag.com with Chris O’Connell, founder of Armada Skis. I know there more than a few of you out there who are trying to figure out a way to break into the ski industry. While the chances of becoming a paid athlete might be slim for most of us (me at least), there are other ways to work in the industry you love. And if you can’t find the position you want you could always do what Chris did, create the position. This is a great example of recognizing a need and having the entrepreneurial drive to provide the solution. So read on, get inspired, then go out and create!
By: Aaron Kahn
Chris O’Connell, or OC, as he’s known, became the Global Brand Director and pro team manager at Armada by default: he founded the company. As a commercial photographer for the ski and snowboard industries, he saw a hole for freeride-based ski companies. With a small team of employees and a vision for an athlete-driven brand, Armada was born.
Why were you so motivated to start your own company?
I came from working heavily in the snowboard world, and things were so much more advanced as far as the freeride scene was concerned. All the companies were getting behind athletes in films in comps. The big ski companies were sinking millions into racing and not much into freestyle. Salomon was the only company really supporting their team— and it takes more than one company to make a change. Skiing as we knew it was dying. Out of that frustration, we wanted to create a company that was freeride based and driven by the ultimate team of athletes. Bottom line, that kind of skiing was what we were into.
What’s the best thing about being in charge?
I love conceiving and developing products that I like to use. Working with my team to bring ideas to fruition is fulfilling. I spend 150 days a year (at the very minimum) out in every condition, from rain in the Coast Mountains to negative 25 degree bitter cold in northern Sweden. I like to design jackets, pants, and gloves that work well in all conditions— and don’t look like I went to some chain store in the mall and bought them.
You’re also the pro team manager. Are there any perks to that side of your role?
Of course, those are the best moments. I watched Tanner Hall ski gnarly pillow lines in Retallack and then win the X Games Half Pipe the next week. JP Auclair and I drank it blue in Haines, Alaska. I’ve surfed double overhead Uluwatu with Jacob Wester. Followed Phil Casabon since he was a little grom; watched him change how we understood style. I love getting redneck with Mike Hornbeck, anywhere. Beers at a backcountry lodge in British Columbia with Riley Leboe where we laughed to the point of tears. BC with Ian Provo on our sleds, exploring terrain that very few have ever seen. Getting stoked by Gus Kenworthy, our newest addition to the team.
Doesn’t sound like much can top that. Any other memories
I’ve been privileged enough to dine on turtle soup, dog meat and fried moth larvae in northern China (not saying I enjoyed it so much, but never offend your hosts), skied fat pow in Hokkaido, and eat fatty tuna at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, shared a beer with old ski bums in Stuben, and rode a line that maybe a half-dozen people have ever seen in Northern British Columbia with good friends. So, yes.
Suggestions on how to get started in the team-managing biz?
The best bet is to reach out to current team managers, ask them for intern positions, and see if you can shadow them at certain events. Pick up a camera. If you don’t know how to write a web article and take video or shoot photos, then you are not much of an asset as a team manager. It’s not a job for a wannabe pro or overstoked bro-ho. There is so much more to being a team manager than most people perceive— it’s a marketing job for someone who loves the ski industry.
Is this your dream job?
I just consider it my life. It’s not really a job, because it doesn’t feel like work. It’s just something I do and have been doing for pretty much my entire adult life.