How to Become a Pro Skier, with cheat notes from Malcolm Gladwell and TJ Schiller

Malcolm Gladwell wanted to understand why some people become super-successful. He believed that “the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work“, because there are more variables involved in individual success than we’d like to admit. So he wrote the number one best-seller Outliers.

The professional freeskiing scene is seeing a disproportionate number of top skiers coming out of Vernon, BC. When I wrote a feature article for Skier magazine exploring the phenomenon, Gladwell’s Outliers kept coming to mind.

Here was a cluster of successful kids, including TJ Schiller, Josh Bibby, Riley Leboe, Ian Cosco, Joe Schuster, Cam Schuster, Mike Mertion, Justin Dorey and Matt Margetts, blowing up the scene.  And just as Gladwell posited, it seemed that family, culture and friendship played as much a role in their successes as their innate abilities and individual efforts.

Here’s an Outliers take on what went down:

  • Timing is everything. The Vernon Astroboys were born at the right time in history, just as the new school was upping its intake. As 13 year old grommets, they watched Skiing’s Last Stand until they wore the tape out. And then they stepped up to a new definition of what was possible on skis.
  • The 10,000 Hour Rule says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert, and the sooner you can get that in, the further ahead of the curve you’ll be. Vernon’s Astroboys did that. With the Silver Star Air Site, the freeski club and energy to burn, those kids were jumping every chance they got.  Remembers coach Wade Garrod, “They’d literally ski eight hours a day. After they finished skiing with the club, they’d go session the rails at the new terrain park. And then they’d carry snow from the arena in their dads’ pickup trucks and build rails in town to session.”
  • Talent can flail in a toxic environment. A supportive environment existed for them. With coaches like Chad Sayers, Wade Garrod, Josh Dueck and Bob Bibby, the kids in the Silver Star freestyle club had people running interference with ski patrol for them, making sure they could huck somewhere safely, chase great skiers down the backside, and channelling their energy.
  • Genes count. Most of the crew grew up in active families with parents who wanted to ski all weekend. Bob Bibby, who was integral in getting the freeski “jumps and bumps” club going, was a former national freestyle athlete himself. Later, Dan Leboe and Don Schuster, would step up to keep the club running.

The star-power of Schiller, Leboe, Bibby and crew belong to themselves – they put in the hard yards, they made it happen. But if Gladwell’s hypothesis offers any insight into how to break in to the freeski scene in a big way, or any scene for that matter, it’s that you can’t do it alone.

Ultimately, Gladwell wants people to realise that : “What we do as a community, as a society, for each other, matters as much as what we do for ourselves.”

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