The Storm’s Partial Paywall: What It Means, How It Works, & Why It’s Happening
After two and a half years, The Storm moves toward long-term sustainability
Welcome to The Storm, 2.0
On Oct. 13, 2019, I pushed The Storm live, launching my first Substack email into the ether. It was a podcast interview with Killington General Manager Mike Solimano. The email went to two people: me and my wife.
Despite the elevator-car-sized audience, it was a big moment, the culmination of five months of work. The idea, inspired by this New York Times article about the rise of email newsletters and germinated over hours of spring chairlift rides and commutes to the mountains, actualized slowly. In a spiral-bound notebook, I recorded lists of the people I wanted to interview, technology tools that might help me create a podcast, loose schedules and launch plans. To make sure I would be able to publish a steady stream of content, I drafted essays on my days as a sweatpants skier, random chairlift conversations, and my love of metal wicket tickets.
I had a vision for what I wanted The Storm to be: a bit of a throwback, to the days when ski magazines wrote less about cliff-hucking, trick-throwing radbrahs and more about the experience of the average skier, who skis off a lift at a ski resort and not out of a helicopter in Alaska. But wrapped in a digital package, updated frequently and consumable on the smartphones that have eaten our collective lives. Each podcast episode would focus on one ski area. Each newsletter would break down the world of lift-served skiing and the forces that were changing it: multi-mountain passes, consolidation, and infrastructure modernization, both on the hill and in the digital sphere surrounding it. The Storm would provide a blend of analysis and information that I didn’t feel as though any source of ski media was providing at the time.
I started The Storm because I wanted to read it. I didn’t know if anyone else would. For the past two and a half years, I’ve focused on building an audience. Yes, on Twitter and Instagram, but primarily through The Storm Skiing Newsletter, which, as I often say, is the heart of The Storm.
If you’re reading this today, you have plenty of company. The newsletter is the most popular part of this whole operation. By a lot. In a way, I can’t believe it actually worked. This didn’t exist and now it does. It is the proudest accomplishment of my career. I am humbled that you have made The Storm a part of your media rotation, and grateful for your support, correspondence, ideas, insights, and feedback. The Storm is better because of you.
But The Storm, like a good ski area, needs to continually evolve. And it has. The newsletter, once entirely opinion and analysis, now includes a healthy amount of original reporting. The podcast, originally wide-ranging, is now laser-focused on ski-area managers and the journalists who cover them. Last September, I expanded the scope of the newsletter and podcast from the Northeast to all of the United States.
The next step in the evolution is to establish The Storm as a business. I have tracked every minute of effort that I have put into this newsletter since I sat down at my patio table in May 2019 with a pen and a crisp new notebook. From then until today, I have devoted 2,076 hours of labor to The Storm, all of it on weekends and evenings and holidays. That is equivalent to one year’s worth of 40-hour workweeks. That crisp Storm notebook is now tattered and worn.
While I would love to be able to deliver 100 percent of The Storm for free forever, that is not sustainable. So today I am introducing a partial paywall. Here is how much it will cost, how it will work, and what it will mean for The Storm.
How much will it cost?
I publish this newsletter using Substack, a newsletter service formed explicitly to give writers a platform to make a living. “We believe that what you read matters and great writing is valuable,” the front page of their website declares. “We’re building a future where writers can flourish by being paid directly by readers.”
Substack’s operating model is to remove the tech burden and enable writers to focus on writing. Creating and sending emails is simple. Turning on paid subscriptions is a matter of a few button clicks.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what a subscription should cost. For the next two weeks, you will be able to lock in a price of $6 per month or $50 per year. Individuals who wish to show extra support for The Storm and independent ski journalism may contribute more through a special “founding member” tier. On March 14, the price will increase. I may run occasional sales or holiday specials in the future, but the price will never be lower than it will be for this introductory period. You can subscribe by clicking through below:
Newer readers may be wondering why I would offer an annual subscription for a newsletter focused on a seasonal sport. Veteran readers know that The Storm does not stop in the offseason. In fact, an enormous percentage of what I’m most interested in – resort sales, new pass partners, lift and expansion announcements, management changes – happens in the spring, summer, and fall, when ski area operators can slow down from the constant churn, breathe and think, and make sure our mountains are ready to go when the leaves fall off and we turn our collective gazes north.
How will it work?
Beginning in mid-March, some content will be for paid subscribers only. In many cases, parts of some articles will be free, while the remainder will sit behind a paywall (for example, yesterday’s newsletter may have offered the top story to everyone, and everything below that to paid subscribers only). Podcasts and their associated articles will continue to be free for everyone.
While I will likely tweak my content strategy as I see what readers respond to, this much is certain: starting March 14, a paid subscription will be the only way to guarantee you receive 100 percent of The Storm’s content.
Many of you have written to me over the years asking how you can support The Storm. Mostly I have replied with requests to please help spread the word about the newsletter. That will continue to be vital. But a paid subscription is the best way to support the newsletter and podcast, and ensure it is a sustainable enterprise for the foreseeable future.
What will this mean for The Storm?
Before I launched a paywall, it was important for me to demonstrate that The Storm would be a worthy platform for your attention and a worthy investment for your discretionary dollars. For that to happen, I knew The Storm needed to have three attributes: it had to be consistent, it had to be good, and it had to be relevant. I believe I have achieved those things, but your collective financial commitment will compel me to continually strengthen each of these pillars. In brief:
My goal since launching The Storm has always been to produce 100 posts per year. About a third of these are podcasts; about a third are the regular, multi-subject newsletters; and another third are deep explorations of a specific topic, often with extensive original reporting, such as this analysis of how Whitefish and Jay Peak continue to buck the industry trend of triple-digit walk-up lift ticket prices, or this deep look at Rob Katz’s transformational legacy in the ski industry.
For two and a half years, I have maintained this pace. Here is a breakdown of number of posts by various time periods:
From Oct. 13, 2019 (launch day) to Oct. 13, 2020: 119 posts
From Oct. 14, 2020 to Oct. 13, 2021: 101 posts
Posts in 2020: 118
Posts in 2021: 102
Total posts since launch: 262 - 87 of which have been podcasts
Longtime readers know there is no pattern to these posts. I don’t do a podcast every Monday and a weekly update every Friday or whatever. I believe my energies are best spent writing when there is concrete news to write about. And while I do schedule most podcast interviews months in advance, the schedules of busy ski area operators can shift at the last moment. The pace of podcasts, and posts in general, is a bit slower in the summer, but not by much. I do take vacations and disconnect altogether – The Storm is better for that. Some weeks there may be four posts, and on rare weeks, there may be none.
But the end goal, and my promise to you, is always the same: 100 posts per year. My track record shows that this is achievable and sustainable.
One hundred posts per year mean nothing if they are no better than an Angry Ski Bro rant about THE CORPORATE OVERLORDS DESTROYING SKIING!!!
Each Storm Skiing Podcast takes between 10 and 20 hours to schedule, research, edit, and write. The average non-podcast newsletter requires five to 10 hours of focus and effort. Again, I’ve devoted 2,076 hours to The Storm. Divided by the 262 published articles on stormskiing.com, that’s an average of eight hours invested in each newsletter.
My standard is, and will remain, high. The Storm needs to be:
Accurate. I am a trained journalist, and I hold myself to the standards of a modern newsroom. My opinions will mean nothing if they are not based upon vetted facts.
Balanced. It’s fun to rant, but it’s also easy. Whenever possible, I give the operators or entities I’m criticizing an opportunity to respond to my critiques prior to publishing them.
Readable. This sounds obvious, but many newsletters are riddled with typos. This makes them feel rushed and unprofessional. While I miss the occasional mistake, I carefully edit, spell-check, and proofread each post.
Entertaining. For too long, the majority of non-ski-stud journalism has been tired retreads of corporate press releases. Skiing is fun. Reading about it should be too.
Unique. When you’re reading The Storm, you should feel as though you’re immersed in a singular brand, with a cast of characters both fictional (the Bros), and real (the mountains we all ski and the people who run them). You should feel as though you’re a part of it.
When I conceived The Storm, I did not know a single person who worked in the ski industry. Not one. Over the past three years, I have established contacts at all of the major ski companies and at most major resorts (and many smaller ones), throughout the United States. What this means, for you, is that I often have news before it is public, meaning that I can have an article ready to go the second the press release hits the wire. That is how, last Tuesday, I was able to publish both an overview of Big Sky’s new gondola-tram network and a breakdown of Indy Pass’ first Colorado partner within moments of each other – and the instant each entity announced their news. I had this information days in advance, and was able to craft a deep look at each development.
These relationships are never more important than they are during the upcoming season-pass sales season. When the Indy, Epic, Ikon, Mountain Collective, New England, and Power Passes go live with their 2022-23 offerings, I will in many cases have a breakdown ready instantly. When I cannot secure the news in advance, the post will take a bit longer to appear, but I will in most cases have access to that information as soon as any journalist in the country does.
Forming and sustaining meaningful connections means narrowing the focus of the newsletter in a deliberate way. When I launched in 2019, The Storm was a bit of a catchall, exploring, as I described it at the time, “the business, history, and culture of Northeast skiing.” That was too broad a net, as it turned out, and so over time I’ve narrowed my focus, even as I’ve widened my range. The Storm’s updated mission is this: “Everyone’s searching for skiing’s soul. I’m trying to find its brains.”
That means, in general, I do not cover racing or competitions of any kind, pro skiers, gear, weather, food, lodging, backcountry, skiing’s “progression,” or the dirtbag-as-virtuous-soul. Instead, I focus on the nuts-and-bolts of lift-served skiing: lifts, trails and resort expansion, snowmaking, mountain management, the art of crafting an interesting ski experience, lift tickets, multi-mountain passes, access, learning, diversity, length of the season, and the geopolitical and natural trends influencing our sport through manmade policy or the forces of nature. I also write about the joy of the sport, and about all ski areas large or small. If a mountain is in the United States and has a lift of any kind, I cover it. That’s a big beat, but it’s manageable if I don’t get distracted by trying to cover every snowflake in the storm.
So what’s in it for you?
I don’t, frankly, think that ski journalism weathered the shift from print to digital well. What was once thoughtful, well-edited, well-curated, professionally produced content (mostly in magazines), has been largely displaced by a senseless and ceaseless social-media hurricane. The Storm is meant to be, well, a break from this storm, a thoughtful platform where ski areas are held accountable for their experience, their pricing, their operating strategies. I believe there is enormous value in this sort of independent, purpose-driven journalism, and this is your opportunity to help ensure the sustainability of this enterprise.
And I promise you this: The Storm will remain independent. That means fearless reporting and analysis, even when it is inconvenient or unwelcome, even for individuals who have appeared on my podcast or hosted me at their mountain or paid to subscribe to the newsletter. This newsletter – and my name – will mean nothing if I filter my coverage through interpersonal considerations, and I will not do that.
An unfortunate amount of ski journalism is pay-to-play: favorable coverage in exchange for access and products. That will never happen to The Storm. I have written strong criticisms of ski-area operators who have been generous with their time and access to their people, and I have written deeply complimentary things about individuals who have declined to participate in the podcast.
The ski industry is run by grown-ups. They can handle the criticism, as long as it is fair and considered, and not just a flame-job. And they need it. They know this. We all do. The Storm is not the only outlet doing this work, but it is the only one I control. I promise that, with your support, it will continue to evolve and improve over the long-term.
If you decide to subscribe today, thank you. If you have a moment, please reply to this email telling me why you made that decision.
If you are not subscribing and you feel so inclined, tell me what it would take to make you a paid subscriber. I would value your candid, sober feedback.
Finally, to all of you who have helped The Storm grow, thank you. Without your notes of encouragement, shares with your friends, thoughtful feedback, and consistent opening of these emails, the whole enterprise may have fizzled out long ago. I hope you will join me in this next phase of The Storm. It’s going to be turbulent, it’s going to be unexpected, it’s going to be interesting, and it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.
Hi Stuart, I became a paid subscriber today as I listened to your podcast on Mount Pleasant. The story of how they brought a lift in from Wisconsin was amazing to listen to. I think I first stumbled on to your newsletter about 8-9 months ago and have really enjoyed going through your podcast archive. We're snowboarders in NW PA and Holiday Valley is our home mountain. We enjoy going to the small ski areas and had great experiences earlier this year at Cockaigne (hit the conditions perfectly) and Woods Valley (day after Christmas - a great break from the holiday festivities). (We also made it to Breckenridge this winter so the big areas are OK too!) I find the stories behind the small operations particularly interesting. Thanks much for your work!
Whoa! First it was a guest appearance on Smuggler's Notch's "Hugh's Views" snow report, now quotes in the New York Times! Welcome to the big leagues and congratulations: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/08/travel/ski-trail-maps-disappear.html?action=click&algo=bandit-all-surfaces_impression_cut_3_filter_new_arm_5_1&alpha=0.05&block=more_in_recirc&fellback=false&imp_id=720186811&impression_id=7ae687e5-9ef4-11ec-b3cd-5111dc6756f6&index=4&pgtype=Article&pool=more_in_pools%2Ftravel®ion=footer&req_id=103205839&surface=eos-more-in&variant=0_bandit-all-surfaces_impression_cut_3_filter_new_arm_5_1