They were captains and sailors, criminals and police, critics and artists. They cared deeply, but didn't give a hoot. And during the years they worked together on Skier magazine, Leslie Anthony and Jake Bogoch had the power to make you laugh, cry, and, if you were part of the ski industry, just look plain silly. As the mag celebrates it's 10th season of rabble-rousing, it's worth a look back. - By Ulises Dalton
A decade ago, the ski world was a relatively peaceful place. Canadian skiers modestly - and quietly - pushed limits in their corners of the sport, largely without record. The elite superstars of international racing and a handful of steep-and-deep American ski-film companies ruled the slopes.
But ski culture was beginning to change and Canadian skiers were about to receive a lot of attention: Gaper Day was shortly to blossom into a grassroots ski institution, and the skiing newsstand was about to be subjected to a dose of intelligent but irreverent humour. It all arrived with the kicking-and-screaming birth of Canada's Skier magazine.
"At the time, Canadians were leading the world in freeskiing - both big mountain and park and pipe - but you wouldn't know the extent of it if you only read American ski magazines. Or - and this is the worst part - other Canadian ski magazines," explains Leslie Anthony.
Skier filled the gap, a do-it-all publication documenting big-mountain, backcountry, park, pipe and urban adventures. Skier was crafted both for the skiers out there in the trenches as well as those city-dwellers who love the sport and, more importantly, ski culture. Spurred by the rapid and revolutionary changes taking place in the sport - and a perceived parallel need to stop taking everything so seriously - the resulting magazine married Powder- like action, abundant personality, and plenty of cultural iconography with knowledge and authority, delivering a package with the timbre of Outside meets South Park. No one imagined it would last a season, let alone 10, a testament to the niche that was waiting for it.
It began in the fall of 2000, when ski journalist Robert Choquette ( Ski Canada, Le Ski ) invited Anthony to help start a new Canadian ski magazine with Toronto-based SBC publications ( Snowboard Canada, Skateboard Canada ). After the first year's successful three issues, Anthony felt former Powder -intern Jake Bogoch would be perfect for the editorial team. Bogoch had been contributing to Skier whilst living in Calgary and made the move to Toronto. Although Choquette/Anthony had overseen a successful launch, Choquette moved on to other concerns after year two and the Bogoch/Anthony combination blossomed into an entirely different type of partnership. More like an explosive mix.
"Humour-wise, (Jake) and I were kind of cut from the same cloth. Actually, no, he was cut from a far more irreverent cloth than me. He egged me on to be even more ridiculous than usual," says Anthony, who already had a reputation as a straight-shooting rabble-rouser. During his years as an editor at Powder he'd nudged that magazine along more humorous lines, a genre the magazine included more cautiously and less often as it changed owners and personnel several times after Anthony left. "Sure we'd get in trouble with our humour once in a while at Powder ," he recalls. "But at Skier we were in trouble all the time."
Skier never strove to be a voice of record, aiming only to provide a genuinely (i.e., quiet, sarcastic, self-deprecating) Canadian conversation amidst the raucous clamor of the converging park and big-mountain freeskiing movements - the sport's greatest-ever revolution and one that coincidentally owed much of its gravitas to Canadian skiers. By holding up a comic mirror to the proceedings, Anthony and Bogoch relentlessly crash-tested the ever-lengthening bus they were helping drive.
No person, no place, and no thing was sacred, from Crazy Canuck Ken Read's hatchet-proof hairdo and bureaucratic insouciance to Whistler's haughty omnipotence, from Tanner Hall's weed habit to the X Games and even the bro-pro lexicon itself (early on, the word "progression" was officially banned from use in the magazine in any non-ironic context).
The magazine's facetious quirk fast won loyal fans in Canada and a cult following in the States. Skier was more of a buddy than parent - a refreshing change from the squeaky-clean, advertiser-friendly image of Canada's other ski publications and most of the continent's corporate-controlled ski mags. Unafraid to call out, poke fun, invent, swear, and sometimes push jokes farther than was wise, Skier even called then Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien a "tool" in print (although Bogoch did manage to snag an interview, making Canada's PM the only known head of state ever to comment in a ski magazine).
Unlike the fodder padding their competition, Skier 's words and photos offered a more realistic and eclectic world populated not just by the famous and infamous, but by the inept and completely unknown - wannabe pros, indigent soul skiers and, most often, completely fictional characters: there was J.C. Supasta', the miracle trickster from Galilee; P.J. Cliché, a French Canadian freestyler who could always be counted on to say and do the completely expected; and Random McNobody, a name erected to mock photographers' habit of submitting unlabelled photos, but which quickly became a recurring play on all forms of ski-world anonymity.
If these weren't enough to make readers wonder what bizarre beast's belly they'd landed in, there were also the animated shenanigans of Johnny Thrash, J.T. Poisson, Ingrid Hummersson and Ricardo Cabeza, hapless heroes of the long-running "Boilerplate" comic; a Stu MacKay-Smith/Anthony collaboration; and scathing absurdity based on real-life characters and situations.
Bogoch and Anthony readily admit that shaking things up was their aim: at its root, skiing is all about fun, something that could only be reflected by stripping away the pretense of ski areas, events, sponsors, athletes and, most importantly, themselves.
Others had tried: in the end, however, Freeze was simply too juvenile, and Powder , which once set the bar in intelligent ski humour, was too busy being traded among suitors like a hockey card. All of which meant Skier had free rein to do and say something different - and outrageous. Which also explains why it also quickly became notorious for its captions, created during rowdy meetings between Bogoch and Anthony, and later, newly acquired Photo Editor Ilja Herb.
"Captions were the most fun of the entire thing. We'd get the whole magazine ready and then we would go and sit in the office and go through it photo by photo... It was a big deal. If we couldn't get just the right caption for a photo, we'd come back to it next day," says Anthony. "Then we'd be calling in better captions over the phone to the designers just as the magazine was going to print."
"Captioning was mostly about trying to be clever, but sometimes it became this childish, boorish kind of thing where we were sort of trying to out-gross the other guy," adds Bogoch. "We had our themes, and certain people and certain things that we were grinding pretty hard with on a regular basis."
The magazine was filled with gems like "Smiley. Swallows." - beneath a photo of Smiley Shawn Nesbitt flying through the air on a pair of Salomon's new swallowtail powder skis. Ken Read was referred to regularly: precisely 32 times over the decade, of which 19 mentions referenced his hairstyle, including an illustrated timeline history. Aleisha Cline, another favourite target, had her frequent X Games ski cross wins compared to African elections where many enter, a few have their kneecaps broken and the winner is always the same.
One comic masterpiece infuriated a manager at the Big White ski resort: a photo of goofy-looking instructors clustered around the a chapel-like ski school bell was captioned "Choir boys worshipping at the Church of Dork." That merited a call and threat to Skier 's publisher.
"I'm not saying our captions were always the smartest thing, but they weren't something you'd expect in a ski magazine," says Bogoch. "And that was key. People liked that there were little surprises everywhere. It didn't matter what you were looking at - it could be the spine blurb, the Masthead, the statement of ownership and circulation - we'd make sure there was a little joke in there somewhere to let you know that you couldn't read Skier without being entertained. And readers could always go back in an issue and find or discover something they'd missed. There was obvious stuff like photos and headlines and captions, but even disclaimers and apologies weren't straight up. We were like: 'We have to have this shit in here - there's no reason why it can't be funny.'"
Funny or else...
But whether targeting athletes or the industry at large, the Vice- magazine vibe was often too much for the publisher. When later editors like Mike Berard, Colin Field and Chris O'Connell arrived to take the reins, they found themselves fighting the skirmishes and paranoia seeded by Anthony and Bogoch. After hours calming incensed advertisers and victims of Skier 's harpoons, however, the publisher sometimes felt it had gone too far: "Well funny's OK... but does it have to be so funny?" he famously asked in one tense meeting, recommending they replace some jokes with more photos. But the editors were defiant: "We were the funny mag in the industry," says Anthony "we'd worked hard to corner that niche and readers had come to expect it, so we always fought for that ground."
Bogoch and Anthony had little sympathy for conservative or conventional humour. "We wanted advertisers to understand that this is what Skier was about, that everybody knows it and if you buy into us, then you're buying into it," justifies Anthony, before conceding: "Mind you, a lot of times Jake and I were pushing hard in the Vice direction, and we would probably have gone all the way on a few things if the publisher didn't exert some control. I fully acknowledge that we required some control -- but that's the publisher-editor game."
It was easy for Anthony, he lived in Whistler, far from the magazine's offices and didn't have any day-to-day hassles to navigate. That was Bogoch's problem. Keen to keep Skier 's distinctive humour uncensored, Bogoch often hid issue mock ups to head off trouble.
"I had a locked drawer in my desk and anything that was designed, I locked away," says Bogoch. "[There were] spies inside the office," he jokes about his more conservative colleagues, "so we just had to get sneakier." He would often wait until the magazine had been gone over by the copy editors, then change things back during layout, just before going to press.
If there was another thing that readers appreciated, it was the magazine's unique and content-heavy architecture.
Departments were both innovative and sharply labeled: the start, "Open House" was a two-page spread of writing gymnastics that tied up the major contents of each issue over a provocative photo. Then things fired up with "Two Four" - twenty-four true and less-true facts inspired by the issue's theme. After that any loose ends were held together, in true Canadian style, with "Duct Tape," the eclectic front section that saw everything from sticker reviews to mini-departments with titles like "[What's] Going Down." (a calendar), "What's in it For Us?" (ski area improvements), "Biff" and "Caught in the Act" (tragi-comic photos) and "Whatever Happened To...?" (a brief history of the passé and arcane - things like Astral Tunes 8-tracks, long skis and Sun Ice skiwear).
Duct Tape also hosted the tongue-in-cheek "Skier's Guide To..." with serialized topics ranging from real estate to political parties to crafting a pipe from a snowball to alpine food. If you ever wondered what to bring to a Kootney potluck, what kind of food poisoning to expect in Russia's Caucuses, or how to take poutine into the backcountry, here was your answer (hint on the latter: liquefy French fries, cheese curds and gravy in a blender and pour it into a Camelbak).
Letters-to-the-editor were filed under "Anger Management" and opinion under "Dartboard," while "Alpine Dish" served up snippets of gossip, rumor and industry-taunting sarcasm (though these could also be found in video reviews like "Popcorn," and later, "Frame Grab").
"Radar" tracked up-and-comers who would later hold forth in "Word" and "The Probe" once they became industry icons - or "Zero Worship" if they failed to get recognition. "Harvest" was the pick of the photo crop; "Family Jewels" channeled the vibe of the all-important mom-and-pop ski area; and "Rear Entry" was the bar-lowering last page that was even funnier than the savage double-entendre of its title and usually had a caption you wished you'd thought of. Skier also had a penchant for theme issues: Hoser, Invasion, Flashback, No Limits, North, Identity, Icon, Motherland, Dark, Lost, Weird, Green[ish] and Après.
Popular and successful athletes were mercilessly dissected in charticles like "Inside the Brain of..." (featuring actual athlete's heads with the skull-lid cracked open and brain exposed -- Swedish superstar Jon Olsson's brain was 30 per cent ABBA). Mocking the hype-heavy but deathly dull press releases of ski areas, bits like "Eastern! News!" proclaimed all manner of ridiculousness involving wishful weather, fictional skiers, far-fetched events and fake but celebrated (and oddly believable) enterprises like Bling Skis, Big Ass McMountain and Mont-Mange-le-Castor.
All jokes aside...
Celebrating only the madness ignores something else: this was serious journalism and good writing. Travel stories were some of the best in the business, and Skier worked hard to get in and under issues and current events in a way that other magazines didn't - or couldn't. It was nominated for several National Magazine Awards and won honorable mention in several categories over the years. It may have been a Canuck organ, but in the bigger picture Skier charted ski culture with non-partisan élan (when American competitor Freeze magazine closed shop, Anthony/Bogoch invited former editor Micah Abrams to write a feature on its history and impact, something no other ski mag would have dreamt of).
The madness also often covered up the sheer hard work needed to create something funny over and over again, especially with the constraints on today's publishing industry.
"Humour is incredibly hard because it's very, very detail orientated," says Bogoch. "To caption every single photo, to have bizarre little lines hidden in the Masthead, to carry a joke over eight years in the same magazine - in the same spot that the publisher doesn't even know is there - is just very, very time consuming."
"That sort of loving caretaking is over. The reality of most magazines today is that they had to staff down in the '90s and there aren't enough people to take the time to maintain that level of detail now. But that was all that mattered to us," says Anthony.
Another bonus of editing Skier was travel. "I was in Toronto six-to-seven months a year working on production," Bogoch explains "and then I had a blank cheque of free time. So I just traveled all over the world. Ilja and I had some insane trips. Basically it was a contest to see who could go to the most dangerous, backward, f***ed up country."
One trip took them to Georgia, where they found themselves in a military helicopter on its way to the Chechen border where the soldiers on board were investigating possible al-Qaeda entry. "It's a pretty dysfunctional country, and we showed up just after a revolution, so it was... uh, different," says Bogoch vaguely. It sounds like a story worth revisiting after he's had a couple of beers, but Ilja's photos of gun-toting soldiers tell most of the story.
Anthony had the same footloose existence outside of production. One time he and Whistler-legend Paul Morrison set out to ski their way through Sasquatch anecdotes in a story entitled "Bigfoot Eat their Dead," where the bizarre believers they encountered quickly proved more interesting than the stories themselves.
Events were often pure madness: a story on the Saab Salomon X Wing Rally involved driving - and skiing - through checkpoints in seven European resorts in seven days. After several busy days of 1 a.m. bedtimes and 5 a.m. wake-ups, Anthony found himself asleep on a chairlift in minus-15C. A stranger woke him, and he skied off in a dreamy daze only to find that he had to rappel over a 283-metre cliff. "It was just crazy stuff like that all the time. It was relentless," reminisces Anthony.
Some Skier adventures ended up in his popular 2010 book: White Planet: A Mad Dash through Modern Global Ski Culture , but they play in a more mature light without the visuals and snide remarks of the magazine.
Under all the silliness, however, is an enduring affection between all the partners in crime. After Bogoch left for Skiing , Skier 's Toronto responsibilities were taken over by Mike Berard and Colin Field, who in turn passed them on to current editor, Chris O'Connell, who oversaw production of a 10th anniversary issue. Although it's been several years since they worked together, Anthony and Bogoch still speak weekly. Anthony has moved down Skier 's masthead to Features Editor, and pursues his multitude of other projects - science, musical productions, book writing. Bogoch, who recently left his editor-in-chief position at Skiing magazine for a Chicago advertising agency says of Anthony: "He was a true mentor and we became true friends." He describes their camaraderie as the "best part about the job for me."
Anthony speaks equally warmly of his partnership with Bogoch, and adds: "There's a lot of very talented, very funny writers and awesome photographers that we got to work with, and we were both very aware that Skier would not have been anything like it was if we didn't have all this amazing material to work with. All the Canadian writers and photographers and athletes that we wanted to showcase at the beginning are still the backbone of the whole thing."
Their relationship, in fact, reflects Skier 's basic philosophy: sliding down a mountain - on whatever you choose to slide on -- is inarguably, absurdly, incredibly fun. As is making a magazine. Sometimes. And because 10 years of reminding everyone about this fun is the "tin anniversary," it's only appropriate we raise a cold one to that. Or 24.
Editor's Note: Pique Newsmagazine is independent and not associated with any of the above publications. As well, Leslie Anthony is a regular feature contributor and columnist with Pique .