Things I’ve Learned: Get to know Luke Van Valin, “the voice of freeskiing”

September 13th, 2013 by

Luke Van Valin is a go-getter. Whether he’s shredding endless backflips on skis, bowfishing for massive carp or shaving intricate patterns into his chest hair—it’s never a dull day. While Luke enjoyed a handful of years on the pro tour, skiing for 4FRNT and trotting the globe from event to event, and filming with the likes of Level 1, he’s better known today as “the voice of freeskiing.”

Luke now spends his time calling competitions both live and for television. He’s covered events from the X Games, to Dew Tour, to JOI. His knack for words combined with his love and knowledge of action sports has even earned him summertime gigs at contests including the Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Tour and summer Dew, to name a few.

We caught up with Luke this week, as he’s in the midst of riding the wild wave that is the iF3 world tour—having been in Santiago, Chile in August, and heading next to Montreal.

Luke says:

I got my first ski sponsor while riding on a chairlift with Matt Sterbenz. I had snuck into Superpark, and he was starting a new ski company called 4FRNT Skis. To this day, I’m still not sure if he liked my nerve (for poaching the biggest photoshoot in the sport) or my tricks more, but he proposed sponsorship and I gave him a hell yeah. I had some small regional deals with Rossi before that, but nothing like the deal I got with 4FRNT.

4FRNT Skis is a family of people who work hard and play hard.

My fondest memories of the pro skiing days are numerous. It was a combination of witnessing and experiencing a new and amazing sport unfolding before my eyes. Risk, exhilaration, travel, mind-bending celebration, and sharing it all with like-minded people. A good example is probably a trip I took to the Candide Invitational four or five years ago… I showed up without a place to stay, and Laurent Favre offered me a bed at his parents’ place. It had already snowed a couple feet in La Clusaz that day, and wouldn’t end up stopping for about a week. For anyone who hasn’t skied there, I would describe it as mini-golf paradise. Anywhere you look there’s a wind lip, or cliff, tree bonk, or a perfect gully to jump off the chairlift into. We ended up doing it all. So many backflips. On the last day, most of the top pros headed to Sweden for Jon’s event but Sammy, Simon, Laurent and Candide stayed behind for a final on-hill event. Right before I had to head down and catch a cab to Geneva, I slung a double back over this thing that looked like a field goal post and stomped lightly in deep pow. The next day I stepped off a helicopter onto a red carpet in Sweden. Jon greeted me with a glass of champagne right as my phone was ringing—it was Laurent telling me that my double backy was voted best trick and I won a suped up four-wheeler. Not a bad memory.

Although we had some outrageous times while skiing, some of the best times were spent off of the hill. I remember one time I met up with Tanner Hall in NYC. He was there with Jon Olsson, Simon, and Travis Rice shooting for some photo feature in Maxim. Travis took us out to a speakeasy in the city called Death and Co. for some drinks and food—I definitely recommend it. When we wrapped up there, we bounced around the East Side for a while until Tanner decided to split off and hit this underground reggae show. He asked me if I wanted to go, so without really thinking I just said, ‘Yeah!’ Keep in mind I’m wearing jeans, and a nice button down shirt. An outfit, I would soon realize, that stands out like a zit between the eyes at a reggae show. So we hop in a cab and roll up to this club that is literally ‘underground.’ Walking into this place is like stepping into a mineral cave. Everything around you is like a stalagmite, or a weird jungle-looking waterfall, or catacombs, all spun together surrounded by the scariest looking big, black, dreadlocked Jamaicans. I was uncomfortable, but Tanner? It was like he was home. Every time I turned around he had some new pal. He was broing down hard with, what was in most cases, a fully frightening looking person. He was one of them for sure, and constantly getting introduced to this crew and that. Meanwhile, I couldn’t start a conversation with anybody in sight. If I made eye contact with someone and said hello, they would look at me like I had a penis growing off my chin and carry on. I finally just stopped acting like a poser, and let T do his thing. It’s so funny to think about that night in hindsight, I was so out of place, but Mr. Tanner Hall was exactly the person he portrays in the world of skiing—a white reggae enthusiast with style all his own. And in this dark underground cavern-style club, somewhere in New York City, he was treated like family. It was cool.

I think the best moment I experienced at a major competition was either Laurent Favre’s switch 720 at the US Open, or when Candide Thovex and CR Johnson took pipe skiing to new heights.

My favorite people to ski with back then were Austin Ramaley, Chad Warren [snowboarder], Tanner Rainville, Candide Thovex, and TJ Schiller. All of these kids have two things that I love: natural style and fearlessness.

It’s weird to think that this sport was started by Canadians.

I lived with The Dumont for a while and that kid is ridiculously talented at anything he tries. For this, he blames his competitive mother who used to serve him some rather ruthless beatings in games of a various sort. But I personally think he is just a member of the first wave of a terrestrial Native American reckoning. It’s hilarious, and most of the time I just want to give him big warm bear hugs, but it can be tough to get in there.

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Photo: Nate Abbott

The transition from pro skier to announcing was a smooth little ride. It happened, basically, in one season.

When I first started some of my friends seemed to feel like I was giving up on freeskiing. But in reality I was making a conscious business decision to transition to an opportunity that presented increased monetary compensation as well as longevity potential.

I got my first big break when Uncle E brought me up to the booth to announce the US Open big air. It was the night that TJ Schiller did a switch 1440 and [shouts] damn near stomped ‘er in the parkin’ lot! Needless to say, being in the right place at the right time to inform onlookers of the madness they had just beheld was a distinct pleasure. Not to mention, having that microphone thing… which allows me to talk to a multitude at once. I like that, too.

By doing what I’m doing doors have opened all over the map.

The biggest challenge I face is penetrating a saturated market as I peer onward in the world of announcing. There will come a day when I, too, must pass the torch as a freeskiing announcer down to a worthy soul. The question is: whether or not it will be worth it for me to continue on the ‘hosting’ front, or transition into some entrepreneurial opportunities I’ve been investigating.

My favorite aspect of the gig is being able to genuinely promote the sport I love most. Announcing, for me, is also ‘all shot through’ with that deep satisfaction that comes from ‘blooming where your planted.’ I think everyone has a talent, and the engine within me shifts into a high gear when I am speaking to a large group of people.

The hardest thing about working with big networks is the deep pool of talent that they draw from. Vertical television brands have massive reach, and an entirely unseen network of connectedness to various levels of talent. It is my opinion that there is a perfect person in existence for every television job imaginable, and for most of them I would not be a logical choice. In hopes of letting the reader ‘in here’ a bit, my struggle seems to be having the balance to not take occupational rejection personally.

But the rewards are outstanding. Aside from the obvious upsides of traveling, free hotels, fluted destinations, and making a living by watching freeskiing, there are constant communication lessons to be learned, endless networking opportunities, and endorsements on the side.

As for the Olympics I’d love the honor, but will accept the directive of the deciding parties. [Ed's note: Skier Jen Hudak started a petition in hopes of securing a job for Luke in Sochi. To date, 878 people have signed the petition in support of Luke. Learn more, and/or sign the petition here.]

Beyond Sochi lies the future. A wide open canvas of untouched potential, and a life with the most smashing babe alive.

Married life is the best decision I’ve ever made. It was so much more than a stroll down the aisle. For me there was an internal, spiritual connectedness that began that day. I have a lot to learn, but I can’t imagine life any other way. Plus, Caitlyn and I have Henry the French Bulldog, and he’s a staple.

I can’t give enough thanks to my wife who always supports what I do, and gives me the will to pursue a goal. My parents, who told me I could move to Tahoe straight out of high school, and just pursue college later. Uncle E who got me into announcing and taught me a shit load about it. Shawn Poser who gave me an eye for the ‘bigger picture’ in action sports events, Rachel Taylor who gave a broke-ass skier punk an affordable home in Mammoth, Bob Legasa who took me from a skier doing crappy 360s to a kid with skills in spinning.

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Photo: David De Pas

Thanks to the Almighty, Caitlyn, my family, Nate and Racheal, Tim and Annie, my Mom and Dad, Carrie and Mike, Dan Bell, Danny and Heather, Ian and Rebecca, Kathleen and Jacob, Uncle E, Dan McClung, Shawn Poser, TJ Walker, DC Robbins, the whole gang at Echo, Riley Poor, Rob Sheets, Debbie Spander, Billy Matthews, Todd Harris, Micheal Spencer, Troy Micheals, Matt Sterbenz, Austin Ramaley, Randy Bruce, Jon Shares, Steve Lindecki, Billy Berger, Brian Lewis, Bob McKnight, Simon Dumont, Colby West, Jersey Mike, Benny Schmitt, Omar Otte, CR Johnson, Chad Warren, Joel Cline, Tony Facciano, Ski Shack in Hayden, Mary Quinn, Bob Legasa, Josh Loubek, Steele Spence, Camp of Champions, John Smart, Bibby and Teej, Dorey, Margetts, Chug, Jon Olsson, Tanner Hall, Orage, Jake Largess, Nate Abbott, Henrik Lampert, Mike Nick, Candide Thovex, Monster, Shay Williams, Cody Dresser, Davey Smidt, Willis, JP, JF, Felix Rioux, the whole iF3 posse, Doug and Dave Bishop, Benchetler, Rainville, Nolan, the Seans, Jared McCrum, Ryan Price, and Matt Gillis, Johnny Decesare, Liam Downey, Josh Berman, Freedle Coty, Tim Russell, Craig Coker, Rachel Taylor, Tyler Joerz… damn it, I know I’m forgetting someone. Much love to all.

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About the author:
Henrik Lampert loves hot dogs, the Boston Bruins and Norway. He's the Online Editor here at Freeskier.