THE SNOW CHASER.
Are you a morning person? It depends on when your day begins, doesn’t it? What if it began at about 5 AM? Would you even be able to swat your alarm clock? And what about the commute to work? Instead of a modern office, you leave the city and wave goodbye to civilization altogether at about 6 AM. Then, you drive a couple more hours through snowy woods to reach your destination. And your destination is a place where you’re hoping to find something specific: nothing and nobody. Sometimes you're lucky and it all comes together, but often it doesn’t and all you get for your day’s effort is to go back and try again tomorrow. Starting at 5 AM, of course.
Does that sound like a lifestyle you could lead? Well, professional mountain skier Cole Richardson does this almost every day in his search for the perfect snow, and he loves it. What’s his secret? Let’s join the 21-year-old on his journey with the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4 through the Great White North that is Canada and find out what drives him to do what he does.
Cole was born in Canmore, Alberta in Canada, but these days he operates out of Nelson, British Columbia, also in Canada. He has yet to turn 21, but he’s already spent more time on skies than the average enthusiast will in several lifetimes. It’s really no surprise that it turned out this way, as Cole comes from a large family of skiers. Everyone in his immediate family ski: from his grandparents to his parents and sister (also a high-level skier). He himself has been skiing since he was two years old and has been racing professionally since he was nine. He was in his early teens when he moved from simple ski racing to the world of freeride skiing. As opposed to the highly regulated and regimented former sport, freeride skiers ride on natural, ungroomed snow. There are no gates, no courses, no rules. Except for the ones you make.
“Our parents made sure that skiing was a big priority in our lives, and they took lots of time to give us all the opportunities and training that we needed.” The latter usually came from Cole’s father, a professional ski coach, who taught him and his sister everything he knew. He had them skiing every weekend, and during spring and winter break. This stable and passionate family background has most likely been crucial in helping Cole maintain his love for something that is now his profession. Many skiers fall out of love with the sport the more they get into the industry side of things. Sponsors and festivals don’t just mean more money, but more pressure to perform, as well as additional tasks and responsibilities.
“I 100 percent still view skiing first and foremost as something fun. My whole life I told my parents and everyone that I knew that I wanted to be in the exact shoes that I'm in right now. I’m constantly reminding myself that this is my dream, and I am trying to always stay grateful.” His accomplishments, awards and style made him one to watch in the community years ago. But what does a professional mountain skier’s life look like?
Being a professional mountain skier is much different than just doing it for the hell of it. Because a pro doesn’t just ski for themselves. To paraphrase a philosophical thought experiment: “If Cole does a pretty awesome Misty Flip in the forest, but no one is around to see it, did he really do it?” The keywords are visibility, style, and content. It’s not just competition and festivals Cole has to think about but also keeping a captive audience on social media. That is one of the key ways he increases his value as an athlete and entertainer.
“Almost everything that I do is film orientated. We're in the backcountry every single day, chasing the dream, chasing the perfect line.” And looking for that perfect spot is usually a 24/7 task involving the constant monitoring of weather conditions, conversing with other members of the mountain skiing community and bouncing between locations, looking for the best untouched places that have not been skied on. It can take weeks of planning before they can start shooting for even a few seconds of material.
Luckily for him, British Columbia has some of the best locations for skiing in the world. So, even if he must travel a lot, at least the distances are not as big as they could be. But even when shooting videos “down the road”, Cole’s days can start very early in the morning, as travel and setup can take a long time. Driving hours upon hours to a location is part of the job, so the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4 can come in handy, and Cole has ample time to utilize all the cool features to keep him entertained during these long trips. It is not uncommon that the best part of a day is taken up by the journey to the area they want to reach. They might spend a single day just preparing the route towards their destination. It’s an exhausting job.
And the pursuit of creating content is really what sets it apart from other forms of skiing, ski racing for example. Such an athlete can look at a variety of factors and still be able to train, but that’s not the way in Cole’s industry. “There are so many stars that need to align for us to have a successful day. It’s more common that we go out for a day of filming and don't even push the record button on the camera.” Consider that they are deep in the woods and have no influence on whether the conditions or the natural light is good for filming. They might also discover that the area has already been skied by the time they get there. There are too many factors that can go wrong to list here, but it requires Cole and company to continuously alter their plans on the spot and find solutions for problems they never even thought of encountering.
For someone of Cole’s youth and energy, these continuous challenges are not just a source of frustration, but of exhilaration. He needs to be constantly making decisions about how far he can push himself without endangering himself too much. Some danger is inevitable, and injuries are a matter of when not if in his profession.
But death-defying tricks and award-worthy content is not the be-all of Cole’s ambitions. If it were just about technical prowess, he probably wouldn’t have made it as far as he has. It's the way he sees neglected aspects of the sport through the lens of a professional career that sets him apart.
The attitudes and the schedules of the big mountain world are pretty chill, mostly in the summer months, when less snow is available to ski. However, Cole wants to push himself – and by extension the industry – towards a more intense and serious attitude. “I feel that there's a big lack of training in this industry and it's almost overlooked. People don't think that they need as much to train to be a big mountain skier, yet a ski racer trains 24/7. And in my opinion, you need to be just as strong, if not stronger, to hit a 50-foot Cliff and ski an Alaskan spine [a line or series of mountains and hills – ed.].”
Apart from a more serious approach to training, Cole also believes a more defined sense of style is essential to make it as a professional: “You're not trying to ever fit into the industry. You're trying to be somebody new to the industry and you're trying add your own flavour. If you create your own personality and style, you create something that people can look up to.” And Cole has made his mark by drawing a lot of inspiration from the world of skateboarding and hip-hop, as well as using limited production crews to create his videos. He regularly checks Instagram and is humbled when he sees younger kids imitate his videos (be it through the tricks, the music, or the production). “I'm watching younger kids do the same things I did, like make their videos with an old skateboard cam. It's cool because it defies the norm that you need a huge budget, a large crew, or big sponsors to be able to film. It's making things relatable. And that’s how these kids can develop their own flavour.” In other words, Cole hopes to share the doors his career has opened with others and give back to his community and those who will follow in his footsteps.
It’s also an important lesson – for up-and-coming talents – that the recognition he has received was not with the goal that he may change to match the desires of his professional partners or sponsors. No, the goal was to have these associates adjust the way they look at him. “A huge goal of mine was always to have these companies hear what I think and to hear what I say and to take it into account. To make them interested in my opinions. I think that is the attitude we need in every industry where there is collaboration.” For Cole, this is not just about respect for an athlete or an artist. It’s about remaining the person he is, which is the person that made him interesting to fans in the first place. And companies are enthused by this headstrong vision. In fact, there is something very special planned for Cole and his sponsors at Head soon.
But in the long-term, Cole has a lot of goals lined up for the future: to produce specific videos, to win specific awards, to reach a certain status in his chosen industry. However, there is an underlying goal, that is the backbone of his professional drive, and is something that must be cherished and maintained for it to be worth it all. It is not a coincidence that Cole still does so much work with people that have been long-time collaborators and friends. “Moving forward I never want to forget where I came from and who helped me. I think that's the most important part of it all, to always end up with the same people that brought me here and always remember the people that helped me out along the way.”
This is probably his most important, most personal ambition, and something that he probably started thinking about when he was about two years old, and still helps him get out of bed when the alarm rings at 5 AM.