What to Read: Stuart Winchester is inviting everyone to ski
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s your Substack about in one sentence?
The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast explores the world of lift-served skiing in the United States.
What motivated you to start this publication?
Ski media did not weather the shift to digital well. Most of the magazines that shaped my love for the sport in the 1990s disintegrated in the past decade. Social media filled that vacuum with an endless scroll of low-quality content. And the remaining professional ski writers abandoned the resort skier and shifted the bulk of their coverage to the rarefied world of freeskiing (think skiing off cliffs, with a flip or two thrown in). That’s fun, but I’m writing about the lift-served skiing universe, where 99% of skiers spend 99% of their time. It’s for individuals who don’t necessarily live in a ski town but get out 20 to 50 days per season at a variety of different resorts. I highlight a different ski area on each podcast episode, and a lot of people tell me they listen on their drives to and from the mountains.
You don’t have a background in the ski industry or in ski journalism. How did you get started?
There was a moment in 2019 when I almost quit before I ever launched. I was making a list of ski-area leaders who I wanted to interview on the podcast, and I panicked. I’d never worked in the ski industry, had no reputation and no track record as a ski journalist. Why would any of these people ever talk to me? It turns out, folks in the ski industry are very accessible. I’ve hosted the leaders of the three largest ski companies and huge resorts on the podcast. That’s the advantage of creating a niche publication without a ton of existing media coverage: even the biggest names are pretty easy to get to.
What sets your writing apart from other ski media?
There’s an elitism that runs through skiing, with self-imposed standards police skewering anyone who skis in jeans or only skis a few days a year or sticks to groomed runs. I didn’t own goggles. I skied in a jacket from Kmart. I didn’t start skiing until I was 17, and I had no idea what I was doing. I skied in sweatpants my whole first season.
This is a sport where participation has been flat for decades—we need to figure out a way to be more inviting, not alienate potential future skiers by beating our chests about how much cooler we are than everyone else. One of The Storm’s missions is to help frequent skiers ski as much as possible, for as little as possible.
“This is a sport where participation has been flat for decades—we need to figure out a way to be more inviting, not alienate potential future skiers by beating our chests about how much cooler we are than everyone else.”
What about skiing has changed in recent years?
Last season (2020-21), there was an outdoor boom, which only accelerated as health authorities determined that Covid-19 spread much less easily in the open air. A lot of people who hadn’t skied in years rediscovered the sport, and that enthusiasm has spilled over into this season.
The ski industry is also evolving in a lot of positive ways. Operators are finally acknowledging the sport’s overwhelming whiteness, and are making efforts to attract more diverse crowds to their mountains and their workforces.
You recently turned on paid subscriptions. Any advice for writers who are thinking about making the switch?
I waited about two and a half years to go paid. The upside was that I built a dedicated audience eager to support The Storm when I finally turned on subscriptions. I copied the ski industry’s early-bird model of offering season passes at a discount for a limited time. After a two-week introductory period, I activated the paywall and raised prices 20%.
I also set expectations I could meet. I read a lot about writer burnout, especially trying to maintain a one-person newsletter, and I think a lot of that comes from setting a rigid schedule that doesn’t conform to the vagaries of life. Instead of promising a podcast every Friday and a news update every Tuesday, I commit to 100 newsletters per year. Some weeks I write four. Some weeks I write zero. But 100 over the course of 52 weeks is very achievable. I kept that pace for two years (118 posts in 2020, 102 in 2021), to prove I was producing a reliable and relevant product, before asking readers for money.
Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?
I’m not a sneakerhead, but I really enjoy The Kicks You Wear by Mike Sykes. The newsletter embodies everything that a good niche newsletter should be: consistent, frequent, concise, and breezy. I’ve also been enjoying the quirky Rohn Report by Rohn Bayes, who I met via Substack Grow last year.