Giray Dadali had to reinvent himself for people to take notice. But he’s still set on making his own name, if not through skiing, then through his own company.
“It’s kind of bogus that you’re known as Ahmet’s Brother,” says the fidgety teenage kid sharing a ride on Snowbasin’s John Paul Express with Giray Dadali on a milky Saturday in January. It’s his lead after spending half the ride eyeing up Giray in attempt to match the Instagram account to the living, breathing human sitting next to him.
“Yeah, man,” Giray laughs, “but I am Ahmet’s Brother. You can call me Giray if you want.” The kid, a regular at the relatively quiet resort launches into a conversation covering everything from Giray’s “Bro Model” ski to his favorite tricks and backcountry-versus-terrain park influences. Giray loves this sh#t—talking shop with someone equally as passionate about skiing. He’ll engage anyone and everyone stoked on the sport because as he puts it, “I’m just a guy from western New York… the only reason I’m here is because at some point, someone didn’t blow me off.”
The kid brings up a good point, though: What’s with the pseudonym?
Any short answer would be an oversimplification. Giray, now 26, grew up in Canandaigua, a sleepy, rural lake town outside of Rochester, New York, that should be on a shortlist of most influential places in freeskiing. Alongside childhood pals, Will Wesson, Andy Parry, Erik Olson and, of course, his older brother Ahmet, Giray poached the snowboard-only halfpipe at Bristol Mountain every day after school, built jumps on the snow gun whales and set up backyard jib features for the times when the mountain pulled their passes.
A camcorder made its way into the mix and the crew released annual ski flicks online under the moniker of “I Hate NY,” which garnered impressive exposure. Combined with inspiration derived from stories of the West told by Tim Russell—one of the crew’s role models and the first official “pro” from Bristol, New York after he appeared in a couple bonafide ski movies—it became clear what everyone would do after high school.
Being the youngest brother, Giray watched Ahmet move west after graduating and almost immediately link up with Rage Films and Level 1 Productions, picking up his first meaningful sponsorship from Völkl as a result. Soon, Ahmet was starring in memorable, acclaimed film segments. “That’s when it all began,” says Giray. “On the East Coast competing, it was always Ahmet and Giray. When he blew up, the name Giray just got left behind.”
When his turn came, Giray headed to the University of Utah with a scholarship and a bit of a road map to “making it” in the industry. His engineering classwork cut back on ski time so he struggled to log enough video clips to produce a film segment or go on any big ski trips. “I kind of got the ultimatum,” says Giray. “Do school or be a pro skier. It never fully clicked. I didn’t think I had to make that choice.”
Though he appeared in the occasional short film and gained some recognition among skiing’s core group, Giray couldn’t keep pace with guys like his brother who were skiing full time. When he took the winter of 2010-11 off to ski, he lost his scholarship. Injuries followed in subsequent seasons: a separated shoulder, an MCL tear and, in one fell swoop, in 2013, a broken pelvis and back. The latter injury forced Giray to shelve his dreams of making a living as a pro skier; the pursuit of skiing stardom took a back seat to a much heavier line of thought. “When I woke from surgery,” he says, “I had feeling in my legs, but rehab was all about walking again. Skiing was done.”
The winter after his injury, Giray made it back on snow with a completely new perspective molded by months of rehab. “Every choice you make in life should be because you want it and endorse it,” he says. After the injury, he fully backed skiing in every form and for no other reason than he could do it again.
Easing his way back into skiing, Giray reached out to Jason “J” Levinthal, the respected ski maker who after nearly two decades of building skis—many of them at the helm of the popular brand Line—started his own company, J Skis. The new venture, a creative, small- batch manufacturer rooted in fun, suited Giray’s new perspective and J had been one of Giray’s biggest supporters almost since the beginning. It seemed a natural fit.
“Giray called me up saying, ‘I’m kind of stagnant right now, I’m not really going to stand out at this point, but I just want to help out,’” Levinthal explains. J told Giray plainly that he’d been hovering on the scene for a while without really rising to the biggest stage—he warned Giray that this longevity would potentially be a roadblock in an industry that’s pretty quick to jump on the next hot trend or phenom. But a novel idea came out of that early conversation, one that would ultimately help to solve Giray’s lingering identity crisis.
“I got it all the time: ‘Dude, that’s Ahmet’s brother over there,’” Giray says. “Finally, when someone came up to me, I just said ‘Yeah, I’m Ahmet’s Brother,’ and in some weird way I took it as my actual name. Why reinvent the wheel? I worked so hard for my own name and it never happened. If Ahmet already has the Dadali fame, why keep fighting it? So, I lit it up and made a big joke out of it.”
J immediately hopped on board. “I wanted him to go full Hulk Hogan with it. Make it this whole character,” J says. Giray bought in and changed his entire internet presence and identity as a skier. Next came the Bro Model ski, a J Skis creation (check out this year’s version, here). And all at once, the inside joke that had followed Giray around for the last decade became a “f#ck it” moment—equal parts frustration and marketing experimentation. “He just kind of went for it. We didn’t know what was going to happen,” J recalls. “And it caught like wildfire. It started with me needing some promotional videos, but he’s helped in so many ways. It became an infinite collaboration. It’s so unique.”
Ahmet chuckles about the situation, too. “I thought it was f#cking hilarious. Genius really. He’d fought for his own identity for years. You can’t be offended by [a nickname] if you own it.”
Truthfully the kid on the chairlift at Snowbasin might never have recognized Giray Dadali, but Ahmet’s Brother is a joke just about everyone who follows freeskiing is in on, partially because it’s so relatable. “People hate that sh#t,” says Ahmet. “Little brothers, girlfriends, no one likes being known because of someone else.”
But, don’t mistake Giray’s new visibility for paychecks. The modest royalties from his Bro Model don’t pay the bills, so he’s pieced together the last couple years with odd jobs that allow for maximum ski time. The caricature he’s created has had a side benefit—unintended but appreciated. Giray Dadali has wanted to be a pro skier his whole life. By channeling his ski career into Ahmet’s Brother, a quasi-spoof personality that can just go out and have fun, he’s taken an immense amount of pressure off himself. Ahmet’s Brother frees up a lot of brainpower for Giray Dadali—a smart, observant and driven dude with an engineering degree—to put focus elsewhere.
“When Giray was stoked,” says Chris Trunek, a 29-year-old Ohio State industrial design grad and Salt Lake City ski bum transplant, “I knew I had something, and things started taking off.”
Trunek had designed and prototyped an alpine-touring adapter for regular bindings, first with Legos, then with wood and sheet metal, but he struggled to find the time and energy to push things to the next level. This product was basically an alpine trekker with a much burlier and more sophisticated pivot mechanism that wouldn’t bend, warp or fall apart; the contraption fit Giray’s backcountry needs perfectly and Giray signed on as a partner in the business. Easy to use and affordable—relative to an entirely new backcountry setup—their product, the Daymaker (a subtle nod to the aphorism given to the original trekkers, or day wreckers), allowed skiers to ski and huck in the backcountry on alpine gear.
Trunek got to work sourcing a manufacturer. Giray took over marketing and operations—videos, a website, shipping. His new found “fame” as Ahmet’s Brother helped get the word out to influential skiers and to his vast network. The father of a kid Giray coached at the Park City Freeride team offered to fund a midsummer production run of 50 units and by mid-October, they’d already sold out. Now, from their basement turned assembly line, design studio and office, they’ve spent the fall improving the Daymaker, sourcing more affordable production, securing patents and selling a pre-order of the next batch of the product to deliver in January, 2017.
They’ve mathematically proven, “on chicken-scratched napkins,” according to Trunek, that their four-bar linkage pivot, similar to a mountain bike’s suspension, offers a more efficient stride and less strain to the knee and quad than current bindings. To these engineers, the Daymaker isn’t just a product, it could be a whole new paradigm in ski-touring.
Scoping the pillows forming @sunshinevillage on the @daymakertouring Alpine Adapters. Best part is I didn't have to bring another pair of skis on the trip just for touring and use my rock skis ! #britishcolumbia #banff #alberta #shortpoles ???? @parryandy #november15 #showusyouradapters #alpineadapters #daymakertouring @snocru #turnthemountainson
Ask Giray about his new venture and he lights up the same way he does talking to a stranger on a chairlift at Snowbasin. He personally follows up with every customer to offer support and spread stoke. He knows that starting a small business is no easier than becoming a paycheck-in-hand pro skier, but he now controls his own destiny.
“I just want to do things that help me to explore my passion for skiing. That’s taken me to Daymaker,” Giray explains. “It’s a struggle, nothing’s easy, I’m still not ‘making it’ or anything. I don’t have much money. I don’t have a car. But with a lot of hard work, I know my path. I have good people in my life and what makes me happy is just being here.”
He finishes his thought as he crests the top of a small hike at Snowbasin revealing a virgin pow field below. With the smile of a recognizable pro’s bro and a click of his poles, he drops in and disappears behind his vapor trail and the falling snow.