If anyone knows the dedication and passion it takes to follow one’s dreams, it’s Ian McIntosh. Born and raised in Invermere, McIntosh is today one of the most sought after extreme skiers in North America. With over a dozen films, countless magazines and a couple of top-three finishes on the world freeskiing circuit under his belt, McIntosh – who just turned 31 – was back in the valley recently visiting his family, and took some time out to share the secret of his success with The Valley Echo.
“My parents got me skiing at 22 months old. And I was in the race program at Panorama,” he said, but it was two of his older cousins in Fernie who really opened his eyes to the world of freeskiing.
“They were starting to become kind of legendary in Fernie for things they were skiing,” said McIntosh. “When I was really young, I would see photos of my cousins in Powder Magazine and so on and so forth… I decided it was something I wanted to pursue.”
So he quit ski racing at 13 (“I just wanted to ski backcountry”) and after graduating from David Thompson Secondary School, moved to Fernie where he freeskied for a season before moving to Golden for the opening season of Kicking Horse Resort.
Deciding to ski year round, McIntosh then went to New Zealand for the summer, where he entered a competition called the World Heli Challenge and placed in the top five against some of the biggest names in the sport. He was nineteen.
It didn’t take much for the Canadians competing in the challenge to convince McIntosh to move to Whistler and make a career out of what he loved to do. After returning to Canada, he did exactly that and started competing on the freeskiing world tour, road tripping with other “ski bum friends” to events he could afford.
“After a couple years of glimmers of success I started to realize the only way to do well is to stay on your feet,” McIntosh said, laughing.
Soon he was consistently placing in the top three, and his winning cheques paid for him to keep competing.
“I would go to France and I’d be like, ‘OK, the only way I can get to the next event is if I get a podium,’ and I would and I’d go to the next event and it would be the same thing,” he said. “At the end of year, I finished second in the world and first in North America.”
That was 2004. McIntosh began to see interest from sponsors, and though he wasn’t getting paid aside from what he was making as a carpenter in the off season, he was getting gear and a travel budget. After ending up third overall the following year, he began to look at transitioning to a film career. “If you’re a North American free skier, there is no money to be made on the tour; not too many people pay attention to it outside of the core community,” he said. “The way you make a career is you get into the films.”
His impressive portfolio caught the interest of an action sports company in the States called Teton Gravity Research that gave him the opportunity to spend a season filming with them locally in Jackson, Wyoming and if he made the cut, he would get a spot in their next film.
“So I went to Jackson basically with a credit card, slept on a couch for three months, and skied for TGR’s cameras,” he said. “It went really, really well.”
Not only did he get a spot in the film, Anomaly, but TGR asked him to go to Alaska with their A-list athletes to keep filming, and McIntosh began to receive contract offers, among them North Face, his biggest sponsor to this day, and Rossignol.
“Anomaly was basically the start of what I would call a professional career,” he said. “Travelling the world now basically is my job; I do everything from skiing for the films, to avalanche safety presentations to going to sales meetings to talk about product. I’m on the move most of the year now.”
McIntosh was forced to take the last year off to recover from a broken femur, but said he’s now in the best shape of his life with three more film projects in the works. He comes back to the valley two to three times a year to visit family, whenever he can find the time. When asked about filming in the Purcells, the mountains he grew up skiing in, McIntosh said this might be the year for it.
“I’ve been suggesting it year after year to TGR… the mountains here are amazing.”