The doctor is in
Leslie Anthony is one of Canada's premier ski writers and a self-described "professor of ski culture." His style of gonzo ski journalism has changed the way people perceive the world of skiing.
Anthony, a PhD in zoology, was managing editor at the influential Powder magazine during the mid-1990s and is trying to recreate that synergy in Canada with the newly released Skier magazine.
Anthony first visited Whistler in 1977 and moved here in December 1999. Pique Newsmagazine had a chance to sit down with the doctor and listen to his philosophical musings on Whistler, ski bums, trolley buses, writing, magazines and the state of the Canadian ski industry.
How did you end up in Whistler?
I was living in Banff and came to Whistler on a road trip in 1977. There was nothing here just the Husky station and I couldn't see anything. It was fogged in.
You have called Whistler the "centre of the ski universe." What do you mean by that?
Whistler's one of the few places you can find all the elements of ski culture coexisting relatively peacefully. There's the core dirtbag ski bum culture; the superstar pro skier-snowboarder deal; the Aspen-Sun Valley-Hollywood jet-set scene; and the middle-class family. I think that all these elements have a certain amount of respect for each other. Some people may not have such a clear sight of the importance of having ski bums living here. But it's very elemental and crucial to Whistler's success that it does have all these various milieus existing and that they're not hidden.
What's the difference between, say, Whistler and Banff?
Banff is grossly commercial in a cheesy souvenir kind of way. The main street is essentially a Western-facade town dressed up as a souvenir shop. But Whistler is in danger of becoming more like Banff if it doesn't watch itself. I've just started noticing the proliferation of cheese here in the last couple of years. The worst thing that I've seen is that trolley bus. That is the cheesiest thing ever. It looks like Disneyland and I think that cheapens the community.
Why did you get into ski writing?
I've always been a writer. Ever since I was a little kid I've been a reader and a writer. I was always better able to express myself through writing. I want to be able to paint a picture and have people see that picture with them in it. It's all about possibility.
What made Powder magazine such a special entity?
The kind of writing we did in Powder has changed the way ski writing is done. We wanted other people to love it, understand it, experience it. A huge part of Powder's success was the great synergy between Rob Story, Steve Casimiro and myself. In the mid-90s, Powder represented every sub-culture of skiing. We were the Green Party of the ski industry. We had big stories, killer photos and lots of humour. Those were heady days and it's still a venerable publication.
Was Skier magazine created with similar goals in mind?
Skier is going to be something that has never been seen in this country before, in terms of content and quality and the use of photography. It will be authoritative and savvy about what's going on out there.
Have you heard any feedback yet?
The reaction has been unbelievable. People have called me from all over and said "not only is this a great magazine for Canada but this is the best ski magazine on the newsstands right now." That's been awesome. There has been so much complacency in this country about having our own magazine. Every other ski country of note on Earth, all have a major, cool ski magazine. Every one of them. And Canada didn't.
What about Ski Canada magazine?
Ski Canada isn't doing the job. Nobody hates Ski Canada but nobody likes it it was just the only thing on the newsstand. Canadian athletes rule the freeskiing world right now. This has been going on for five years and we just published the first issue of a magazine in Canada that lets anyone know that. Ski Canada never, in any way shape or form, reflected the breadth and depth of the Canadian ski scene. Kids in this country would never know who this country's ski heroes were unless they read American magazines. Last year there was one month that every American ski magazine had a Canadian on the cover. And there was Ski Canada sitting on the shelf with nobody on the cover. They blew it.
Is Skier magazine going to fill that gap?
[Skier publisher] SBC Media is the closest thing that I can approximate to [Powder publisher] Surfer Publications. When I first started with Surfer we did Powder, Bike, Snowboarder, Surfer and Skateboarder. They were a small experiential-driven, action-sports publishing house. And it was the best in the world. Surfer Publications was the leader in the use of action-sports photography and Powder magazine woke me up to the possibility that skiing can take you places both physically and mentally. Now, there isn't a ski magazine out there that doesn't have a photo gallery and SBC Media is the only company in Canada that is doing that.
How hard is it to produce a truly national ski magazine?
It's a definite challenge but there were three axis we were trying to balance in this magazine east-west; male-female; and jib-big mountain. That's the same problem we had at Powder. So every person, place and thing has been chosen on the basis of that. There's an east and west in every department and we've included a lot of good Eastern photography. The bulk of Canadian skiing public are in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. That's the market but the Canadian ski industry is out of touch. We're setting out to educate Canadians about the who, what and where of the national ski scene. We're also trying to educate the ski industry, advertisers and resorts about what people want to see and what the possibilities are.
Any words of advice for people wanting to become a ski writer or photographer or a pro skier?
Don't think that you have to follow a prescribed path. Follow your own path.