I first noticed Greg Petrics and famousinternetskiers.com in December of 2009. A early winter storm had dumped rain on most of the east coast, but at the highest elevations on the Green Mountain spine, skiable snow had accumulated.
The photos and accounts posted by Petrics and FIS on their website captured my imagination. Who were these guys, who were doing exactly what I wished I was doing, while I was at work?
It wasn’t long before everyone in the ski blogosphere knew of them, and knew they’d raised the bar. Greg Petrics, a founding member of FIS, agreed to answer a few questions. Our interview follows.
NYSB: Where and when did you start skiing? Did you dig it from the beginning?
Greg Petrics: PICO! Age 2. Liked it, but didn’t love it. I was cold most of the time, and the fact that I never knew what it was like NOT knowing how to ski kept me from appreciating what’s so awesome about it: the freedom. What other sport lets you fly over such great distances at will, and at such speed?! I didn’t figure out how awesome this phenomenon was until I got older.
What’s your favorite lift-served mountain in the Northeast?
Tough call. I like Cannon Mountain a lot. Like… a lot a lot. I love the view from Vistaway, and the actual trail “Cannon” (especially the upper part) has to be the coolest trail in the northeast; relentlessly twisting around. Jester at Sugarbush is similar, but Cannon does it way better. Tramline is awesome because it’s the only trail I can think of that has relentless fall line skiing from top to bottom; no intro, no outro, just BANG… vertical fall line skiing. If Cannon Mountain got Green Mountain spine snow, it’d be on par with the best ski areas in the world. When the Nor’Easters are firing, and NH is getting tagged with pow, I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.
In Vermont it’s a toss up between Mansfield and Pico. Stowe is great, but I like “Mt. Mansfield” more than “Stowe.” On the other hand Pico — the resort itself — is amazing. The skiing is great, the trails are fun, the Coolidge Range gets good-to-great snow for Vermont, the history of the resort is fascinating, and the recent Tuesday/Wednesday closure policy is great for uphill minded individuals when the snow decides to fall midweek. Add in some great rock climbing across the street at Deer Leap, and it’s a cool place to play.
Famous Internet Skiers?
At the time H-Man from TGR coined it, Sam and I had known we wanted to make a website for a while, and we had all sorts of other funny names in our heads, but we kept coming back to “Famous Internet Skiers.” It was a great name for a lot of reasons. It seemed to have a certain ring to it. It was easy to remember. It was the right length for a domain name. But above all else, what I think we really loved about it was that we had no idea what it meant. What does “Famous Internet Skiers” mean? Do these guys ski the internet? Famously? Is Internet Fame equal to, greater than, less than, or incomparable to real fame? All of these were fascinating questions we simply had to tackle.
At the end of that fateful day in June 2009 when we sat down with our credit cards to shell out $69.99 for a year of web-hosting and the domain name, it simply had to be FamousInternetSkiers.com.
When did you start getting serious about the site?
Are you talking to me? You seem to be implying we’re serious about FIS. It’s amazing what some hastily written open source code can imply. When it gets serious, I want out.
The site almost got serious back in late 2010 when we got into a money debate. Specifically: what to do with it? We had a decent amount of revenue coming in, and we didn’t know what to do with it. I don’t want to go into specifics, but we figured it out, and we figured out we can’t take this seriously or else it’s doomed.
Are you a photographer with a blog or a blogger with a camera?
I’m still not a serious photographer. I’m a hobbyist at best. That said, I do submit my photos for purchase or publication to places where I really truly think they would be useful, but by-and-large I try to stay out of the way and let the professionals get the job done.
To the question: “which came first: the chicken or the egg?” It was the chicken. I liked taking photos before I liked putting them on the internet.
What are your top three tips for skiers looking to score pow days in the East?
1) Read FIS weather. Lionel really does have great things to say. He has a lot of fun looking at weather. He’s a busy man and when he has time to look into the weather, and posts on FIS, it’s good stuff. Digest what he’s saying. It’s not NWS point-and-click forecasting, and it’s not resort-specific shilling, but at the end of the day he’s got all the clues you need to find the snow you want.
2) When in doubt, go up. You might have to go up on your own power too.
3) Make that one run count. VT isn’t Utah or Japan or BC. We get the best-of-the-best in terms of snow quality, but not in terms of consistency. So when you got it, enjoy it. It’s yours and you earned it!
We’ve seen a few FIS reports from our side of Lake Champlain. What are your favorite lines in New York?
I love Whiteface, but I can’t get there frequently enough to call myself familiar with it. (DAMN IT ALL!) I spent many weeks at Whiteface for racing series as a teenager, but these days I just can’t seem to fit it in. Someday I hope to have more time to spend at Whiteface. What an amazing mountain.
Further south, I’ve had a few good days at a few defunct resorts in the Catskills (Davos is one I remember), and West Mountain in Queensbury is a groovy little place with a great vibe that I skied at a few times when I was coaching ski racing a few years ago. I still like stopping there when I’m passing by. The night skiing is fun and the lift tickets are cheap.
Also: Hunter rules. The pistes are AMAZING, and I actually like the vibe. PLUS, the Catskills can get SLAMMED with snow sometimes, and when they do, I want to be at Hunter.
What do you consider the most classic descents in the East?
Earned/Backcountry: The Trap Dike, the entire Toll Road on Mt. Washington, the gullies in (Roadside) Katahdin Coolers. The clues are obvious for Katahdin Coolers, but I’m still not saying what they are.
Lift-served: Tramline at Cannon, A Slope at Pico and The Cliff > Bleeker Street > Eisenhower Drive at Hunter.
FIS seems to be a lightning rod at times. What up?
To be brief, I think it comes down to one thing: misunderstanding. To be not so brief, here’s a few other thoughts.
1) The name “Famous Internet Skiers” is clearly put-off to people. We figured that’d happen, but not to the extent that it has. I’m not sorry though. I love the name. It’s been so fun figuring out what it means.
2) Our seriousness is misunderstood (completely and totally). I think sometimes my penchant for faux-bravado and over-dramatization comes across as a poor attempt at the real thing. We’re not Christopher Nolan’s Batman. We’re a bunch of Adam Wests. “KAPOW!” is about to pop onto your screen at any time on FIS. Never forget that.
3) We don’t ever give up location. The reason is that FIS has very little to say about the “where” or the “how” of backcountry skiing. FIS about the “what” (and to some extent, the “who”). Believe me, if I wanted hits for FIS, a “how-to” of every ski descent in the North East replete with turn-by-turn GPS directions would be a well traficked website. I look at our search terms in our web-analytics. It’s clear to me we have a lot of disgruntled visitors looking for an X to mark the spot. There’s plenty of websites around the web though that mark the spot with an X. If you want to find the X, go elsewhere. However, if you want the “what” (or at least what I think the “what” is) welcome aboard!
4) We’re opinionated folks. If we wanted to stay on the right side of the powers-that-be, and make everyone happy, we’d keep our opinions to ourselves. Of course, that’s not our style.
We live in an amazing time. If you think about it, $6.99 buys you a month of effectively infinite circulation capability. If you have something to say that you think people would like to hear, you can say it pretty much for free. Enter Famous Internet Skiers dot com.
What is your vision for the future of FIS?
This is an awesome question. I’d love for FIS to change the way skiing publication and promotion works.
Right now the whole ski publication industry is backwards, and frankly it’s in a disgusting state of affairs. We’ve got athletes killing themselves to become the coolest kids so they can get the sponsorships from the companies that are selling the death-defying stunts of the cool kids to the masses who pay to ski in padded and carefully laid out lawsuit-proof ski-parks.
Guess what. None of the death-defying stunts of the cool kids have anything to do with the ski experiences of 99% of the people who pay their own way to ski. I hate to go all “occupy” on you, but I have to ask: Why is the skiing publication and promotion industry set up this way? Why are they selling death-defying stunts to people who don’t ever perform or want to be within spitting-distance of death-defying stunts? Are these stunts the only images that are brazen enough to communicate to folks that skiing is fun and the ultimate recreational freedom?
Clearly, I think the answer is “no.” There’s other ways to communicate the fun and the freedom of skiing that’s available to EVERYONE. A big part of what FIS is about is trying to accomplish this goal; about trying to find intelligent ways, humorous ways, clever ways, subtle ways, overt ways, silly ways, and serious ways of saying: “skiing is fun. skiing gives you freedom.”
To your average toll-paying skier, it’s not all about the glam, or the deepest pow, or the biggest air. To them it’s about that feeling they get when they’re skiing. We try to communicate that. Everything we do is available to everyone who’s ever skied. You just have to do it.
Guys like Derek Taylor of Powder Magazine fame were really onto something with their thoughtful editorials about the proletariat of skiing, but sadly he’s gone now, and at present I’m unimpressed with the disconnect between what I see in the mainstream ski media and what I see as being the ski experiences of the 99%. If nothing else, maybe FIS can close that gap a teeny-tiny bit.
Tips for aspiring: bloggers, photographers, athletes, Vermonters?
Bloggers: Have fun. If you’re spending time worrying about your WordPress template, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t do what anyone else is doing. If you find you’re doing what someone else is doing, do something else.
Photographers: The best camera is the one you have with you. Before you buy anything else: Learn how to use every camera you’ve got. Figure out how to game the Auto-mode of your iPhone to get the exposure right. Learn how to take stills with your Go-Pro. (Sorry, but no one cares about your helmet-cam footage.) Figure out how to shoot in Aperture-priority mode on your SLR. Understand how composition of a shot affects what you’re capturing.
Athletes: Get an education and a real job. Professional athleticism is not a good career choice. The probability of achieving financial success is unfathomably low (especially in skiing), and the world needs you in other careers. Never give up your passion for athleticism, but don’t focus on it as a career.
Wanna-be Vermonters: Taxes are high, and the mountains are not that big. Have you considered NH?
What would surprise skiers most about the FIS?
We ski a lot of groomers and green circles.
What is your vision of the future of skiing in the Northeast?
I’d love to see a resort that showcases what we have in the Northeast in terms of vertical relief, natural snowfall, capability for artificial snowmaking, and skiing history. Sadly, environmental regulations will never let it come into fruition, but I envision one of the great vertical reliefs of the Northeast developed into an amazing world-class resort capable of standing up with the statistics of any ski area in the world, and also able to host world-class skiing events in the alpine racing, freestyle and freeskiing disciplines.
A few locations that come to mind are the north basin of Camel’s Hump, just west of the Banforth Ridge, and just opposite the Bolton Valley drainage. It would offer 4,000 vertical feet, and proximity to Burlington. Another location suitable for this sort of development would be Bumpus Basin on Mt. Madison.
Sadly, the verve for this sort of development is gone. There are no more “Pres Smiths” willing to saddle this sort of project, and even if there were, there’s no way to get this sort of project through environmental regulations.
Note well: These same environmental regulations that stand in the way of such pipe dreams ALSO do a lot more good than harm. So take my verve to make such a big awesome ski resort with a grain of salt.
If you could have plane ticket to ski anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Don’t forget to toss in the PTO too! Jeez Harv! If I only get one, I think it’d have to be Hawaii. I really want to ski a few inches of velvety smooth pow on Mauna Kea in the AM, and then surf some nice breaks in the PM.
If I could get another trip (and LOTS of PTO), I’d want to go to Zakopane and experience both the Polish ski culture at the resort, and Polish alpinism in their vast (relatively low elevation) backcountry.
Who are your ski heroes?
Glen Plake, Toni Matt, Pres Smith and Groucho Marx.
Interview written and produced by NYSB Staff.