Growing up all over Northern California, and learning to ski at Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley, Miles Clark always loved to be in the mountains. But it wasnt until leaving the state for Central Oregon Community College in Bend that he realized just how good he had it in California.I had always loved skiing, so when I turned 18, I was out of here. Then I realized how rad California is and came screaming back.Screaming back for a year at Diablo Valley College followed by two years and a diploma from U.C. Berkeley, during which time he still managed to ski at least 60 days a year.With that kind of dedication to the sport, Clark should have known better than to get himself a real job upon graduating in 2001. But it only took him until December of that year to realize his mistake and move up to Tahoe for a season at Kirkwood.Making the ski bum lifestyle work has required the 27-year-old to do carpentry jobs and bartend in the Bay Area during the summers while living a frugal lifestyle year round. But moving to Tahoe in the winter of 2001 has allowed him to ski all winter long for the last four seasons, the last three of which have been spent at Squaw Valley.People always say, Oh, you must be rich or have a trust fund. But I dont ever go out that includes summer and winter and I pay $2,000 for rent up front, $1,000 for a mid-week pass at Squaw, and thats pretty much what Im doing – Im either in my house or at Squaw. So that leaves $2,000 to live on for six months, which works out to about $10 a day, he said.
So far, gear sponsorships by Spyder (clothing), AK Skis, West Shore Sports (shop sponsor), Marker bindings, Dalbello boots, 661 (protection wear pads & helmet), Reusch gloves, Mendo Mat (the drink) and Carrera (goggles), as well as a part in the Adventure Film Works feature The Good Times Are Killing Me.Ive just been pushing myself and trying to get better all the time always just having more and more fun and meeting more people and just having a blast. And I thought, maybe I can try to see what happens with this, Clark said. At this point I would love to be any kind of low-level pro skier.Clark is certainly not alone in his goal of making it in the ski industry. In fact, Squaw is littered with skiers who claim some kind of professional status, even if they might just get free gloves from a local shop. This is partly why Clark and many other freeskiers trying to break into the industry are now putting so much emphasis on freesking competitions.It was fun when I really thought it was going to be awful, Clark said of his first competition. [I thought] these people are going to be jerks, and super competitive, and kind of like Im cooler than you are. But it wasnt like that. Some of the coolest people Ive met at Squaw, I met through the competitions.So far competition has been a mixed bag for Clark. In his first freesking competition at Taos, N.M. he finished 38th good enough for his initial try at it. But then he went to Aspen and had the biggest crash of his life in a competition and got disqualified.But it all came together at last years North American Freeskiing Championships at Kirkwood, where Clark finished 16th and set himself up to pursue the sponsorships he has put together so far. That kind of spurred me to say, All right, Im going to go for it and see how far I can take this, Clark said.Going for it meant putting in the time to get his name out there in the ski industry.I really worked hard at it. People werent knocking at my door for sponsorships, so I called people last summer I guess you would call it cold calling, he said. So I would call up like Dalbello, who I got boots from, and I had a little introduction set up like, My names Miles Clark, I got 16th, I film with this company, and I really like your boots and was wondering if youre interested in an athlete like me.It was almost like sales where every no puts you that much closer to a yes. And eventually companies would want me to send them something. And Id send it and it would take a lot of calling and rigamarole to get through when they had finally seen it… And finally when they had seen it you could say What do you think? Would you be interested in a product sponsorship. That was my angle.His angle has worked so far, but Clark feels some pressure to do well in the upcoming 2006 North American Freeskiing Championships at Kirkwood at the end of this month because of those sponsors.Im trying not to feel a lot of pressure to do well in Kirkwood, but a little bit I sort of am. I was really planning on focusing on competition this year and so far, nothing has happened. So I have one competition left, he said.Thats part of the double-edged sword of working with the ski industry. If you were a ski bum you would have been at home and you wouldnt have missed any powder days and you wouldnt have to travel which is the way I lived for the last three or four seasons.
If you dont catch him at Squaw or one of the freeskiing competitions around the West this year, Clark can also be seen in the feature film The Good Times Are Killing Me by local production company Adventure Film Works.Clark will also be in next years AFW release, which will focus on a group of skiers trying to break in to the ski industry and become professional skiers.Were all ski bums at heart. A lot of us arent really going to make it that far, or were on the verge of really making it. Its guys who are just putting it all out there, Clark said. You know the life of a ski bum: Youre out there; you dont have anything; youre putting it all on the line; and then when youre trying to make it theres a little added pressure and youre trying to keep your soul but at the same time put it out there a little bit.So our movie is focusing on skiers trying to make it in competitions, and in life and all that kind of stuff. Trying to push the limits and make it as pro skiers.Many of those guys can be found right at Clarks home mountain of Squaw Valley, where weekend warriors intermix with the baddest of pros and everyone in between on the slopes and in the lift lines.Speaking of that community at Squaw, Clark said he has learned a lot from all the different groups who ski there:Gaper is not a kind word, but its not like youre calling them a four-letter word. Its more a guy who doesnt really know exactly whats going on, but hes having fun. And I enjoy those people because they are having a lot of fun. I think on a lot of days on the mountain, the gapers are having way more fun than the pros are for sure, with their crazy gear and style. They fuel the ski resorts being there, and they stay away from where youre skiing if youre an upper level skier. So I kind of enjoy it. They put a smile on my face…But then it goes all the way to the other spectrum to the pros. And its kind of crazy. I do remember my first few times getting to KT early and looking around and thinking Oh my gosh, theres so-and-so, theres so-and-so, theres Shane McConkey sitting right next to me… And it was just really really exciting for me, but also intimidating.All those guys seem really cool when Ive talked to them. But it is weird. And you see them out there on the mountain pushing it, which helps you push yourself too…And then there are the guys who are in the middle the no-names who are just guys that might be your friends, or guys that show up once in a while, who also just throw down and go for it. And they might be right there with the gapers when it comes to whos having the most fun. Because they dont have sponsors; they dont worry about the industry; they have like seven-year-old skis with half the edges blown out and bindings barely hanging on, but theyre still totally going for it and really skiing some impressive lines and having a blast.Whatever group he happens to be with at the time, Clark says, The main thing for me is to just have a good time. I always have a blast skiing, even on days where its just icy and windblown.
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