Austin Ross might be best known as a professional skier, but ever since he was a teen growing up in Pemberton, he's also been quietly strumming away on his guitar.
"I've always just loved music my whole life," he says. "It's something I inherited from my parents."
While he's been writing songs—and bringing his guitar along with him to ski destinations around the world—it wasn't until last summer that he played his first real gig at the Big Sky golf course.
One afternoon he went to meet his girlfriend, who works at the course, after work for a drink when he noticed a musician playing guitar for the small audience.
"I said to her, 'This is cool. I could do this,'" he recalls.
His girlfriend agreed and talked to her boss who immediately signed him up for a gig. Ross figured it would be the perfect debut with a small crowd that wouldn't really be paying much attention as they enjoyed their beer on the patio.
Only, it didn't turn out that way. "Next thing I know, it gained so much momentum," he says.
The show was packed with Pembertonians keen to see the hometown boy playing in public for the first time. "It turned into this big thing, but it was cool," he says. "It all went really smoothly. It lit a fire for me to keep perfecting my set list and learn what songs work and what songs don't."
Since then, he's played about a dozen shows in Pemberton and Whistler. While his true passion lies in playing his own songs, Ross also offers a unique range of covers in his set—from Lyle Lovett to Guy Clark.
"It's a lot of classic Texas singer-songwriters," he says. "That's my jam, so I sprinkle my originals in and, for the most part, people don't know."
One unique challenge of performing in the Sea to Sky corridor, however, is gigs tend to span three-hour slots over entire evenings.
"A lot of people start by playing open mics and jam nights," Ross says. "I never did that. I skipped that step and went to a three-hour performance. (At first) I didn't know how to fill it ... I've learned a lot about putting a set together. That's one of my favourite things."
Another highlight has been when crowds react well to his original songs. "I don't play a lot of the typical cover songs that you hear bands play on patios," he says. "I just have a huge desire to play more original music. I go to a lot of concerts and writing is a huge passion."
To that end, he hopes to eventually polish enough of his own songs to record an EP in the future. (For now, you'll have to check him out live to hear those tracks.) "I'm a real perfectionist when it comes to the originals," he says. "I want to make sure I'm totally satisfied with the tunes."
While he's only a year into performing, Ross says he's had a boost from many established local musicians he calls friends—from Marcus Ramsay to Jay Greenway from Marble Canyon and Matt King from Blame the Weekend, who's his neighbour.
Next up, he's opening for Marble Canyon at Norman Rudy's in Squamish on May 16 at 7 p.m.
"I'm psyched to keep getting the call," he says. "I have a lot of spare time in the off season being a skier. If I can justify spending the time (on music), I'll reach out to a few more venues ... Our communities are pretty small, but people seem to like to come out and support live music."
To keep up to date on Ross' gigs, follow him on Instagram at instagram.com/austinross88.