Early one clear morning last spring, I pulled into the parking lot at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in southwestern Pennsylvania, about an hour from Pittsburgh. The road to the resort wove through tightly packed hills and valleys covered with thick trees, but now I could see a few lifts and wide trails rising above low flatlands to the east. I was meeting a big crew of skiers who had gathered to film for Good Company’s Two, the second release in the simply named web series produced by Tom Wallisch and his agent, Tom Yaps.
The directors, AJ Dakoulas and Kyle Decker, are longtime collaborators with Tom on video projects for 4bi9 and Level 1. Decker also directed The Wallisch Project, which was released in 2013, a concise and unrelenting eight-minute video—all Tom and all banger action. Good Company’s new webisodes, however, are expanded to include some of the friends Tom skis with on a regular basis.
One and Two, both released in 2015, incorporate more context as well as more skiers. Over about 30 minutes total, the editing seamlessly transitions from street features to backcountry to terrain parks. Any break in the A-plus action is as much a chance to catch your breath as it is an opportunity to introduce the setting.
Late one night during the shoot, Karl Fostvedt succinctly explained the overriding philosophy behind Good Company’s latest releases, “Show skiers in their element, doing what they do best.” No matter if it’s a knuckle trick, big wall ride, rail or monstrous kicker, the action is self-judged with the most critical eye. If any single skier does not stick out as better than everyone else in the edits, neither is there a weak link. This company is good at skiing.
The wordplay isn’t exactly subtle. “Good” is a quality. “Company” refers to either companionship or business. But within the financial connotation, another level contains more than a spoonful of sarcasm. Has this one-time underground skier sold out? It’s a touch that might come off as disingenuous if Tom wasn’t so damn wholesome.
A few nights after I arrived, the motor drive on my camera clicked away as Tim McChesney slid on his side down the landing of a large man-made jump. I knew the photos would be deleted, yet a feeling of respect for the greater story held my finger on the shutter release button until he came to a stop.
The skiers and filmers formed a group around McChesney, just off the snow where he had dragged himself to catch his breath. “I can’t believe you didn’t break at least your collarbone,” Tom said with a shake of his head.
“I’m built like a strong bull,” was McChesney’s wry reply. After a few minutes, everyone crowded close to the small screen on a video camera to see what had gone wrong. Instead of being downcast, cheers erupted. “Get back up there,” shouted one voice over the rest.
Finally, the chatter tailed off. “If I would’ve gone a little bigger,” McChesney mused, “I think that would’ve worked.”
“You came around a little late,” observed Dakoulas before Tom chimed in again.
“It’s a high-consequence trick, if you come around a little late …” He left that thought in the air, his head again moving from side to side.
Over the next few minutes, various conversations rose up then faded away. Should Tom Arnell—one of the filmers—do a triple shot of Everclear as he’d vowed to if McChesney landed the triple, even though the trick wasn’t stuck? And how close was Tim to getting the trick, really?
What about the top-to-bottom dirt patch some of them had been eyeing up on another run? Ripping down the brown would be high consequence as well but perhaps more entertaining than a triple flip. Through all the banter was the rumor of a snowboarder doing a quad cork and video of that trick surfacing online. Finally someone pulled it up on a phone.
“It’s just not snowboarding anymore,” Tom declared as we all leaned in to watch.
“Of course you can do a quad flip, you’re an Olympic gymnast,” replied Dakoulous. “You can probably do that on the floor of a gym.”
“But did anybody see the penguin danceoff video GoPro posted? ‘Cause it is adorable!” exclaimed Tom with natural, low-key, uninhibited jocularity. And that’s maybe why he is the future and present face of skiing. It may have been just a moment among friends, and he’s talking about one of his sponsors, but it was clear that his sarcasm wasn’t negative. It was an honest acknowledgment that he loves penguins and that, well, dancing penguins are cute as hell. And, oh yeah, you can film anything with one of those ubiquitous cameras.
As the drumbeat of the penguin video ended, Tom declared that the penguin video was “way more fascinating” than a quad. And still, the conversation circled back to corking.
“I cannot imagine doing another flip,” replied McChesney. At this point, he wasn’t fighting to catch his breath, just reclining on the slope of the hill with the jump behind him.
“Do you see how right away that first flip is done?” asked a voice from the fringe of the group. “That’s why snowboarders triple so much easier than us.”
McChesney asked if he was bleeding. “Yeah,” I responded. “Just on your forehead where your sunglasses hit.”
“I will say, that’s the…” someone began, before Tom finished the thought, “…first triple done in a ball cap and sunglasses.” The circle of friends laughed as one.
“Should we take a break and come back for a sunset sesh?” inquired Tom. His voice was assured, friendly and calm. If someone had spoken up and said they wanted to ski, if they named a trick they wanted to film while the landing was slushy, everyone would have fired right up. But Tom’s opinion was clear. The crew had already pushed their skiing towards the edge of what is doable; John Ware was injured in an unlucky circumstance, and Tim got shook really going for it. It was time to relax and eat some snacks at the bottom of the hill.
As the sun began to set, we all went back to work. Decker launched an RC helicopter, and the other filmers wandered through the russet grass on the sun-baked slope and found angles that did justice to the jump Seven Springs built, the skiers’ style and the warm light. And the athletes did whatever trick had the least impact on their bodies at the end of a long season. But they still asked what would look best for the camera and repeated certain tricks until they were happy with their grabs and body positions. There was no Latvian judge whose score would be dropped. Instead there were countless judges: The skiers themselves, the camera guys, the editors and, finally, the fans.
By virtue of winning FREESKIER’s Skier of the Year contest in 2010 and 2012, Tom has had his story told in this magazine. But if somehow you don’t know about Tom, here are the basics: He grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and learned to ski thanks to devoted parents who are, like their son, amazing in an unremarkable way. Enthusiastic without being obnoxious; supportive without micromanaging; hard working without being Type A.
Tom’s love of skiing and the nurturing of his family coalesced with his athletic talent, and in 2007, at just 19 years old, he won Level 1’s Superunknown contest and debuted on video to the masses in Realtime with a trick-by-trick redefinition of terrain park skiing. He was already known to the Internet ski audience, and as he showed remarkable consistency through contest results (X Games gold in 2010 and 2012, FIS World Championship gold in 2013 and an AFP year-end slopestyle title in 2012) and parts in major ski videos (from 4bi9, TGR, Field, Stept and the previously mentioned Level 1) Tom’s presence grew exponentially.