The Storm Turns 2 Years Old, Expands Nationally

Welcome to The Storm, U.S. America edition

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Two years ago today, I hit “send” on the first Storm Skiing Newsletter, a podcast interview with Killington General Manager Mike Solimano. The date, October 13, was deliberate. It was on this day, some years before, that I had entered the workforce as a bagger at Meijer, the 24-hour superstore best described to outsiders as Michigan’s version of Super Walmart.

The date was easy to remember. It was stamped on every paycheck as my “anniversary date.” On this day every year, my vacation time reset. Paid vacation at 16 years old – that’s what a union job will get you.

But that’s not the reason I’ve clung to that date. No one had wanted to hire me. Over several months, I’d put in dozens of applications, including several each at McDonald’s and Meijer. Never even a call-back. A 16-year-old with no experience and no connections – tough sell. But October 13 was the date I broke through. I stayed at Meijer for five years, and I’ve been steadily employed ever since.

Maybe, with The Storm, I could break through again. Not that I’m a cosmic calendars guy or anything. But that date seemed like a good anchor.

But it was just a starting line. The Storm, as I saw it, needed to accomplish three things to break through. It needed to be consistent. It needed to be good. And it needed to matter.

Consistency was the easy part. With skiing, there is plenty to write about. Even in summer. I don’t get writer’s block. I probably have the opposite problem – an editor would be helpful. And besides, writing is almost impulsive for me; any moment that I’m not writing, I’m teetering on the edge of an existential panic attack. That first year, I sent out 119 emails. This past year, 101. Credit Covid lockdowns with year one’s prolific output. My goal is 100 emails per year. Enough but not too much. Consistent.

Making the newsletter good was somewhat more difficult. Because that’s hard to define, first of all. Does being “good” mean that it’s entertaining? Accurate? Funny? Shareable? Comprehensible? Fair? Researched? Does reason trump passion without dulling it? Does the newsletter establish its own culture and inside jokes without sliding into self-referential nonsense? Do people want to read it? It would seem so – the subscriber list keeps growing. But the answers to these questions very much lean on personal taste and worldview, and most of you are in a far better position than I to say whether I achieved this.

Making The Storm matter has been the most challenging piece. On Oct. 13, 2019, I had no press credentials, no name recognition, no sources, no body of work, no budget. But I did love skiing, had long been a student of it, driven by an unhinged curiosity about how ski areas grew, shrank, adapted, evolved, thrived or failed. It was that impulse that led to the podcast – talk to people who run ski areas. No one else seemed to be doing this. If I cared about lifts and expansions and megapass coalitions, then other people must too. And since I did not have the contacts to break news, the newsletter would complement the podcast with analysis of the trends in lift-served skiing.

I spent five months mapping out the cadence, structure, tone, and technological backbone of The Storm prior to launching it. To make the whole thing more manageable, I decided to focus on the small but important region of the country where I live and do most of my skiing. My initial tagline: “Exploring the business, history, and culture of Northeast skiing.”

That worked for a long time. It helped me build The Storm from a concept into something tangible. In some ways, I’d broken through: I made contacts, built a library of work, occasionally broke news. I’d found, it seemed, a formula for both growth and relevance.

But somewhere in there, my focus started bleeding out of the Northeast. First with Covid, following the initial 2020 shutdowns. Then with megapasses. Then with season passes in general. The boundaries I’d drawn around my coverage area began to seem, not restrictive, but unnecessary. I’d grown up in the Midwest. Had been skiing the West consistently since a roadtrip to Copper Mountain in 1995. I knew these places. The formula that worked in the Northeast – mountain manager interviews, written trends analysis – could be applied to the entire country.

And so, The Storm has gone national. Effective, well, about five or six weeks ago, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. But the anniversary presented a nice opportunity to explain myself.

There will be mistakes. Such as when I made what I thought was a very funny joke about Palisades Tahoe possibly renaming their Squaw Creek lift “Resort Chair”:

And Cody Townsend was like “hey Dumbass you have no idea what you’re talking about,” (but in a very understated and matter-of-fact way):

So, yeah. And they did rename it “Resort Chair.” Of course.

Many of you know as much about skiing, and as much about your locals, as Cody Townsend, and I have learned a lot from the messages we’ve exchanged. Encouragement from skiers outside of the Northeast was, in fact, probably the biggest factor driving the pivot to national. So today I would like to ask for your thoughts: about this pivot to a wider coverage area, about the focus or format of the newsletter and podcast, about the irregular (but consistent) publishing schedule, or anything else about The Storm.

I’d like to know, because I’d like to continue to evolve The Storm. As a platform, yes, but also as a business. Eventually, I will need to generate some income off this. It takes an enormous amount of time, energy, focus, and commitment to keep this going. We left hobby status here a long time ago. Eventually – probably within the next year – I will enable paid subscriptions. Some content, including the podcast, will remain free. But some will not. I welcome any thoughts on this potential change as well.

I’m not there yet. For now, I am focused on growing the newsletter audience. That means knowing what The Storm is and what it’s trying to achieve – and acknowledging when it has become something else. Even as I’ve expanded my scope, I’ve narrowed my focus. I don’t write, as most of you know, about ski racing, gear, weather, dining, après, ski cars, pro skiers, parks, or backcountry. The “culture” part of my initial tagline – again “exploring the business, history, and culture of Northeast skiing” – was, I decided, the component I’m least interested in and least-capable of talking about. So rather than replace “Northeast” with “United States,” I created a new motto for The Storm:

I thank you, very sincerely, for reading. I have smart readers - you are as much the brains of skiing as the people running the mountains (well, some of you are running the mountains). Some of you have been with me since those first weeks, a fact that I find both incredible and humbling. I’m not sure where The Storm will be in two more years, but I hope you’ll be with me to find out.

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