Line Traveling Circus: The Ski Bum Diaries

Comments by Henrik Lampert/

The Line Traveling Cirus released the first episode of Season 4 over Labor Day weekend, and what better way to unveil their latest video here on Freeskier.com than to share with you our featured story on the TC crew from our Volume 14 October issue?

The October issue is currently en route to subscriber mailboxes around the world, and will be hitting newsstands on September 20. Below, you'll find the story as seen in the magazine, and at the bottom of the page you'll find Episode 4.1 of Line Traveling Circus.

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As seen in the Volume 14 October 2011 issue of FREESKIER.

Words by Nate Abbott

This is a dream. This is a family. This is a movement. This is a circus. The wet clothes, the endless hours on the road, the fighting. The truck stops, the antics, the rails, pow, jumps and trees. Eventually, it’s the terabytes of footage that will become the next episode of the Line Traveling Circus. This is the best job ever.

Perhaps you’ve spent some time watching Traveling Circus episodes on a day where wistfulness encroached on your productivity. Maybe you haven’t and you didn’t realize you were missing out until this very moment. “What?” you ask. Let’s explain.

Line Traveling Circus is two skiers and a filmer roaming the country skiing at random spots. Yes, there’s skiing and yes the skiing is impressive, odd and new, but more importantly TC is a video scrapbook that epitomizes the funny moments, characters and the accumulated experiences you, yes even you, could have if you dropped out of school or quit your job to be a ski bum.

Skiers Andy Parry and Will Wesson, filmer Shane McFalls, and a seemingly endless string of guests have been filming and releasing Traveling Circus episodes since 2008. After 21 episodes over the course of three seasons, they’ve amassed a following whose metrics are hard to fathom. Fans have watched TC episodes well over a million times, while their Facebook page has a community of more than 20,000 engaged fans.

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LJ Strenio flipped out when Andy Parry and Will Wesson wouldn't let him in the van.
P: Alex O'Brien | Location Park City, UT
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It’s been a long trip from a humble beginning to being a hot topic among hardcore ski communities, so how did this quirky group of ski bums establish themselves?

It is, for most, the fundamental question: What do I do now? And it comes up many times in one’s life. After high school. After college. After a job or relationship ends.

When the three graduated from college—Parry from Green Mountain College in 2008, Wesson from the University of Vermont in ‘09 and McFalls from SUNY Albany in ‘08—they each faced this same unrelenting question. Their friendship and shared love of skiing meant they faced the dilemma together. McFalls tried to start a video magazine and website (he even got Parry college credit as his intern), but it never got far off the ground. All three skied, filmed with Meathead and made their own little edits as skiers for Line.

The trio eventually approached Line founder Jason Levinthal and proposed some “ridiculous ideas” to keep their ski dreams alive. In response to one concept—an East Coast tour inspired by the defunct Siver Sessions—McFalls recalls Levinthal saying, “That’s a bad idea, man. You’re just going to spend a ton of money and lose most of it.” McFalls credits Wesson with taking a stand. “We don’t want real jobs. We know you’re open to weird stuff, so let us do some weird stuff for you,” Wesson remembers saying to Levinthal.

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Will Wesson + Andy Parry
P: Erik Seo
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What the three really wanted to do was travel around and make webisodes inspired by what Eric Pollard had been releasing. But, says Wesson, “We didn’t think he’d go for that because we’re not Eric Pollard, we’re just random kids who hit rails and stuff.”

Levinthal surprised them all by supporting that idea. Line funded the broke trio with money for gas and together they made a pilot intended more as a reality show than a ski edit. Levinthal liked what he saw and the company spent the off season putting together the theme song, intro and naming the series. Line Traveling Circus hit the internet in November, 2008.

In September of that year, Wesson and Parry took off for Colorado to start work on episode two with little more than some savings from summer work and Line’s gas money and promise to release the videos. McFalls had taken a ski resort marketing job, so the two skiers together faced the realities of life on the other end of the ski industry spectrum: couch surfing, random shipments of gear in lieu of real pay, working odd jobs, sleeping in cars and on floors, and the general limitations of running a start-up business while trying to ski every day. “It was a harsh transition from always having a place to stay—a home—to going out West for a while and not having a real home or anything,” says Parry. “I had to work at Ruby Tuesday’s for a while. Neither of us were expecting to get paid a lot of money right off the bat.”

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Will Wesson works his side job filming with Level 1.
P: Erik Seo_L1P | Location: Reno, NV
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That first season was a mishmash of skiing and oddities filmed by Parry and Wesson and edited by Wesson. After a few months in Colorado, they drifted around—Utah, Tahoe, back East—skiing in front of Level 1 and Meathead cameras, while using any free time to produce a stream of shots that would eventually turn into the eight episodes that followed the pilot. “It wasn’t easy,” says Wesson. “Normally you just stop filming when you don’t feel like shooting. We wanted to make it happen so we forced each other to keep on it and try to get something done. Filming definitely takes away from the fun of it if you just want to ski. We would argue, ‘You film.’ ‘No, you film.’ At the same time, it’s pretty fun to look back on all the edits we made.”

Line Traveling Circus quickly found a following, at first perhaps more out of novelty, and then—as season two rolled with McFalls back on board filming—people started coming back more for the TC vibe: entertaining skiing, the personalities of Wesson and Parry, the low-key humor, the experiences and the exploration of skiing.

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P: Will Wesson | Location: Bonneville Salt Flats, UTline_27.jpg

As the series’ following continued to grow, Line made Traveling Circus one of its central marketing initiatives with prominent placement on their website and the introduction of more Line athletes as guests in each episode.

To kick off season three, the Traveling Circus upgraded their position in society when Line purchased a van and wrapped it in hard-to-miss orange with the now well-known TC graphics. Sure, it was nice to have a traveling home base, a predictable place to sleep each night, but Wesson admits, “There are always pains that come with a responsibility like that.”

By its nature, skiing is a wet sport. When you’re driving, the van warms up. Everyone’s gear, piled communally, thaws. You stop, and it all freezes again before thawing the next time you pump the heater. “It gets to the point where everything is always just wet and cold. You change and you’re standing on the floor with your socks and you’re just getting wet,” says Parry with a bit of pain in his voice.

The trio talks of the van in a generally fond tone, but nearly every story of the van is fraught with stress, like a relationship on the rocks that neither party is ready to quit on. Earlier this summer, filming for season four, they got the van stuck in the salt flats of western Utah. They walked on the vast salt bed and it seemed to be solid and dry. So they took off in the van on the salty racecourse. “We thought it would be fun to go really fast,” says Wesson with a chuckle. “Then we just gradually bogged down into the sand and salt.” After $750 and a visit from a “mud cat”—a snowcat purchased by the towing company from Bogus Basin Ski Resort in Idaho—they were back on the road to a summer of skiing at Whistler Blackcomb and Windells, where they again called the van home.

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S: Andy Parry
P: Dan Brown | Location: Mountain Creek, NJ
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Line Traveling Circus trades in the idea they’re doing something you could do if you had the guts. Actually, you probably already do exactly what these guys do on a smaller scale: easier tricks, less weeks on the road, not as many switch ups, better pow turns, more frequent showers.

“We aim to make it look like anyone could really do this, which is kind of true,” says McFalls. “It’s pretty tangible to everyone.” Even as a part of Line, TC isn’t making glossy high-production ski porn with huge budgets. Last season McFalls bought the most popular—perhaps overused—tool of so many ski filmers: a dolly. “I think I used it twice. Each time I brought it out they started making fun of me. They’re like, ‘This is not what we’re trying to achieve here. It’s the Traveling Circus.’

“Skiing isn’t dragging a generator and a winch out in the freezing cold in the Midwest at four in the morning to hit a rail,” he explains. “Or getting in a helicopter or waiting for the weather. For 95-percent of the people, that’s not what skiing is. It’s going on a road trip with your friends to a resort. It’s nothing like Level 1 where things have to be soooo perfect. TC is kind of the opposite of that. And that’s what the goal is: To make it that real.”

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But with life in the limelight comes inherent discussion about you, whether in the form of love or hate. On the internet, the hate, even just four comments in a thousand, is what most often bubbles to the surface. “There’s this law of internet video: I know before I put an episode out that if Levinthal is pumped on it, kids are going to hate it,” says McFalls. “He’s probably psyched because it’s not all skiing and there’s more of the funny filler stuff that he loves. Because it can’t be all just skiing, how you present that is what makes Traveling Circus different.”

As fervent consumers of online ski media themselves, they are no strangers to the complex social dynamics of the core skiing community. “Since I met Andy in high school, we’ve been on Newschoolers watching people’s edits,” says Wesson. “We always liked to make our own edits for fun. So it’s pretty cool to continue that as an actual job and see everybody else reacting to our videos. We’d probably be doing it anyway, just for fun.”

“Meeting people in person is super humbling,” says McFalls, forgetting about the internet for a moment. “And at the restaurants and gas stations, weird spots off the hill, when you meet someone and they’re real stoked, that’s always a motivator. You think, ‘People do like it.’”

Last year Parry, Wesson and McFalls were filled with the optimism and excitement from a stress-free, Line-organized trip to Europe, TC’s first foray across the Atlantic, followed by a week of skiing powder in Utah. They drove the van east where, for four weeks, they encountered epically bad weather every step of the way, which left the Traveling Circus van and its inhabitants demoralized and 10 days behind schedule for their next planned stop in the Midwest. “After a week of just waking up and it’s raining and you need to go film something, it’s just, ‘Oh my god. This is… not… that… great,’” says McFalls. While rain coated the van’s windows in the parking lot of a tiny resort in Quebec, the trio realized they had no lift tickets, let alone desire, to go skiing.

But this is 2011, and TC has a Facebook page, so they asked their 20,000-strong fan club if anyone could help find them tickets. “And then these kids walked up to the van, just like, ‘Hey we got you lift tickets,’” he says. “And there ended up being a ton of people skiing that day.”

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S: Ian Compton, Evan Williams + Dan Villare.
P: Dan Brown | Location: Loon Mtn, NH
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When asked what skiing is to him, Shane McFalls, ever the filmer, brings up the first ski movie he saw, There’s Something about McConkey. “That always stuck with me because half that movie is making fun of skiing or is just stupid for the point of being stupid. I’ve always thought people know skiing is goofy. ‘Cause it is. If I have a funny shot of your beard, and an okay trick, I’m gonna put the beard in before the trick. That’s just the way we work.”

Will Wesson, his voice becoming more excited, adds, “You go skiing and something always surprises you. That’s why it’s way more fun than normal sports. I used to do almost every sport except football. I quit them all because skiing was more spontaneous. You have the freedom to accomplish anything. You can do as much or as little as you want.”

Asked to describe his ultimate day skiing, Andy Parry answers quickly and with assurance: “October, driving up to Guardsman’s [Pass, in Utah] and setting up our rails and doing combinations of rails and tricks and tree jibs. A nice sunny day with my friends and hanging out in the woods building stuff. I’m 24 now. That’s what I was doing 10 years ago and I’m still here today.”

You don’t need to watch all 250 minutes of their videos to agree with how Parry sums it up: “We are a bunch of weird people traveling around skiing, talking to other weird people.”

Go to linetravelingcircus.com to watch the videos and follow the travels of the Line Traveling Circus

See the rest of the photos from the story in this gallery.

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