John Brown

[Q&A] Catching up with John Brown amid Little Cottonwood’s historic season

[Q&A] Catching up with John Brown amid Little Cottonwood’s historic season

Featured image: Michael Wollery

A comeback is nothing new for John Brown. A slopestyle skier originally from the East Coast, Brown has been chasing the ski dream for the better part of a decade and while he’s no longer dedicated strictly to the terrain park, he has gracefully transitioned out of the competition scene and onto the backcountry stage—massive and impressive tricks still in tow.

Whether he’s lacing together a dub ten or a real estate contract for a client, Brown’s focus is as honed in as it has ever been. Now he wants to use his experience of coming up with a Plan B to help other professional skiers achieve financial success and freedom. FREESKIER caught up with the pro skier to talk about the park scene, transitioning to filming, finding freedom outside of skiing, and where he’d like to see skiing develop and grow in the future. Keep reading for the full interview, below.

How are you? What have you been up to this historic season? 

I have been skiing Little Cottonwood basically everyday [laughs]. It’s been pretty amazing. I just moved to the base of the canyon so it’s been a really good year to position myself right here. I’ve been skiing a lot of Snowbird and Alta and getting out to the backcountry but mostly all in Little Cottonwood. It’s been too good to leave.

For the most part it’s been nice that Alta has been doing the parking reservations because it kind of keeps it under control and the biggest line is the first powder panic of the day and then after that it’s not too bad. I’ve also been staying up [at Snowbird] overnight, which greatly helps the traffic scenario. 

You have transitioned from the competition scene to film production over the last few years, what inspired this move? 

For me, I felt like I was plateauing in competitions and I wasn’t having fun. Injuries built up and I just wasn’t feeling the spark that I used to. I have a creative side—I’ve always put out films while competing—so in 2019 I thought, ‘Well, I’m pretty sure I’ll have a lot better of a time exploring my own creativity and showing up on my own terms rather than cold, windy, overcast days and having the chuck tricks I don’t want to be doing.’ It was a natural progression for me, I felt like I needed a mix-up to explore my creative juices. 

This coming fall I will be releasing a video that brings closure to my competition career, which will be cool. It’s definitely creative storytelling more than a competition film. That video is going to basically open the doors and peek into what kind of videos I’ll be doing in the future, which I’m really stoked about. 

Well this might be an easy question for you then: If you had to choose just one for the rest of your life, park or pow? 

Oh pow for sure! Park is fun but it definitely eats away at the body aggressively. Getting older there are a lot more smiles per mile in the pow. You can always bring your tricks to the backcountry, too. I definitely get in the park every now and then but it’s mostly so I don’t lose my tricks and can execute them in the pow.

PHOTO: Ilanna Barkusky

Tell me more about the Financial Freedom Classic, what is it and do you think it will ever come back?

In 2020 I put on the Financial Freedom Classic. I had Mikey Taylor, Paul Rodriguez and Tom Wallisch and myself speak at an event with a bunch of professional skiers. We had a golf tournament and then a Q&A and speaking panel after. It’s something that I realized when I made the choice to stop competing, I found how hard it was and a lot of my friends were having a really hard time with the transition out of skiing. I fortunately had a good mindset about what I wanted to do after [skiing], and I really dug into that and went for it with real estate but in that journey I found Mikey Taylor to be super aligned with what I had for a thought process about this [event] and he is a very good spokesperson for it. I wanted to bring people like Mikey Taylor, people who are very respected in the ski community and have a proven track record, to talk about how to get ahead of your finances while you’re an athlete because a normal career timeline is basically flipped backwards as an athlete.

Normally when you have a career, you build it up and build it up and the older you get the higher pay you get and more job security you have but when you’re an athlete, it’s usually the opposite. You peak early, when you’re pretty young and your highest pay is at your peak. It’s a bad trajectory to then have to switch careers that are totally different from what you’re used to and it’s a hard mental place to be in. But I wanted these guys to come in and talk about how the drive and morals that you have to become a top-tier athlete are no different for any other career or job, you just have to apply yourself and it’s really about sticking to one thing and doing it. Any professional athlete will tell you they stuck to that one thing, practiced over and over, and once they got really good at it they really liked it and it snowballed from there. 

A lot of people think they have to love it right off the bat but I’m a big proponent that once you gain the skills to become really good at something is when you find the love for it. You know what you’re good at, you know what you like and you need to put a lot of effort into figuring out what you want to do next but it’s also a lot easier when you’re smart about the money you make in your career and learn how to invest it, so at the end of your career when you’re having this identity crisis it’s a lot easier to figure out what you want without the financial pressure so you can look for something you want to do rather than what you need to do. It’s not all about money and finances, it’s more about your overall well being.

I hope to bring it back again this summer, that would be amazing, I just gotta figure out timing. Last summer a lot of people were traveling and I felt like I couldn’t get a date to wrangle enough people together.  

What kind of ski competitions would you like to see more of?

Natural Selection skiing! That’s what we need [laughs]. There have been a lot of talks about how everyone wants it. I would love to be in a position to help out and make it happen. It would have to be the perfect storm of athletes and investors to make it happen because it definitely does  not seem like a cheap competition, as well as a resort that would be interested in doing it because there is a lot of summer prep work that would need to be done. We’ll see who ends up doing it, I definitely believe it’s going to happen.  

What have been your biggest challenges in your ski career and how have you overcome them? 

I would say, for the most part, injuries. I’m not a bulky guy [laughs] but everytime I did get hurt I came back pretty quick but it happened a lot. I definitely had a long competitive career of injuries, so it felt like every time I was good again, something else would happen. Even if it was little, I would ski through it because you can’t miss competitions and then it  would lead to a bigger injury. That and also trying to fund it all for the  most part myself, I had some sponsor support but it was a lot more extensive than I was getting. I’d spend all summer working while everyone else was air-bagging and going over to New Zealand, so it felt like every fall I was playing catchup and then that would lead to more injuries. It is what it is, I felt like I became a more well-rounded skier and person just having to do that but I’d say those were my biggest challenges. 

What advice would you give to skiers who are trying to go pro? 

You’re going to have to want it more than anything else and if you realize why you want it and you can have that as a top priority to then be able to have the backbone to say no to things that are pulling you in other directions you can really focus in and give it your all. That’s when it will pay out. You can’t go pro just to go pro, you have to either really love skiing or you have to have a different why other than just wanting to be pro, it’s gotta be a more grounded reasoning than that. For the motivation to maintain through the hard times like injuries or plans not working out, you can’t have a shallow reason why you’re doing it. 

PHOTO: Ilanna Barkusky

What inspires you on a daily basis?

I’m pretty competitive with myself and I have this philosophy of slow-motion multi-tasking. Back in 2020 I was losing motivation [for skiing] so I hopped over to real estate, set a bunch of goals, got a bunch of excitement and motivation for that, which then lifted all tides and brought more life into my skiing. Now my whole outlook on life is a growth mindset rather than being stuck in a rut, so bouncing back and forth between different mediums of life helps me gain momentum. Last year was a really bad snow year so I didn’t ski that much and really told myself I was going to ski more this year and it was perfect timing [laughs]. Everytime I go out—it’s a deep-down addiction for me—I look for cliffs to hit and continue to build. It’s the never-ending battle for mastery, it’s proving to myself that I can do it. 

As long as other people’s achievements excite you and expand your thought process of what is possible, that is the healthy way to gain motivation from others. Rather than looking at someone else and wondering why they’re better than you. 

Do you listen to music while you ski? If so, what are you listening to? What gets you fired up?

I’m all over the place! In the backcountry I tend to listen to less music so I can listen to my environment and maintain good communication with my partners. 

Fun fact: every shot in Peep the Game I was listening to one song—50 Cent’s Many Men—and that was my competition song. If I’m really trying to pump myself up I’ll listen to something like 50 Cent. During my competitions I would listen to something really mellow like Tash Sultana and then right before I’d drop in I’d switch over to heavy rap to feel thug for my run [laughs]. My skiing in general is pretty aggressive, so that shows through. But now I’m a big proponent for the shuffle, so you’re going to get rap, country, some sort of alt vibe, a lot of classic rock, so basically everything. Pow days is a lot of Pink Floyd and Van Morrison. 

What does the perfect ski day look like to you? 

Two feet of pow fell overnight, I’m staying up at the Cliff Lodge, the road’s closed, but the mountain is open all morning and I’m getting country club laps at Snowbird/Alta. If there’s enough time for a park lap or two I’ll head to the Woodward x Snowbird park. Then I’d  head down the canyon when it opened, grab my snowmobile and go rip around. Finish with a nice dinner and fire in a cabin out in the backcountry with good friends and our snowmobiles parked out front.

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