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Rising Stars: Skiing, Writing, Working Hard

By Rachel Johnson

Four days after graduation, Graham packed up his car and drove from Vermont to California to begin his job as managing editor for two ski publications. After this first dream job, he now does sports marketing for the ski company K2.

Name: Graham Gephart
School: Harvard
Major: History
Years Out of College: 2-5
Title: Sports Marketing Manager
Company: K2 Inc.?
First Steps

Skiing may seem like an impossible career path for all but Olympic athletes. But Graham found his way into work doing what he loves with the same trait he brings to the slopes: fearlessness. During his sophomore year, out of a "desire not to spend the summer in the city," Graham sent a letter to a Lake Tahoe-based telemark ski filmmaker swearing my enthusiasm and ability to learn quickly," he recalls. He landed an unpaid internship, and that summer lived in his employer's guest room while working on everything from film shooting to editing to sponsorship. Not only did this position provide him with the connection that became his magazine editorship, it was also "the real spark...that got me started where I am today," he says.

From Then to Now

As a history major Graham did enjoy researching and writing, but credits his second so-called job during college--skiing competitively on the local New England circuit and working as a regional pro for Karhu Skis--that provided his first exposure to careers in the business of sports. Graham says "it was a desire to switch things up that turned my interest in skiing into a career in the ski industry."

Challenges Faced

In choosing such a unique path, Graham's biggest struggle was making a career out of his interest in a niche sport and a small industry. He also fears the hazards of overlapping passion and work: "I don't want to think of skiing, or writing, as drudgery. So far I've balanced that well, but it hasn't been easy sometimes," he says. For the future, he wants to make sure that personal creative work or freelancing remains a part of his life. "The bottom line is I just need to work hard at that," he says, which is "something his jobs thus far have definitely prepared him for."

My Experience

Four days after graduation, Graham packed up his car and drove from Vermont to Truckee, California to begin his job as managing editor for two ski publications. The magazines were niche sport publications for passionate, experienced skiers, one specializing in telemark and the other in human-powered backcountry skiing (he describes it as "hike up, ski down"). "Both niches are sort of my passion," Graham says,"and I dove into the job pretty quickly. It was my version of the dream job out of college: engaging, creative, full of travel, lots of time to ski, and a chance to work on my writing."

Responsible for the production and editorial content of magazines with a total circulation of 20,000, Graham worked intensely for nine months, pulling 50-90 hour weeks at the busiest points of the production calendar. "But once February 1 rolled around, and once the last issue was out and the tradeshows were over," he says, "it was our own time. We had a rule that you had to be in by noon, but I was free to ski, travel, and write." His trips to gather content for the following ski season took Graham to California's Southern Sierra, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Vermont, Nevada, and Alaska.

Next Steps

But after a few seasons, Graham was ready for a change. The small office environment that made work fun almost meant under-staffing and frustration. "I learned a lot about running a small business from working there," Graham says, "but there also wasn't really any other place to go up, other than trying to buy the business. Also, perks don't pay bills," he adds, and financial security began to matter a little more.

Just as Graham was contemplating working for a larger organization, the right kind of opportunity came along--his current job marketing for K2 Sports--and he took it.

Just to get a sense for what Graham's current job as a sports-marketing manager is like, he conducted his interview with us from Jackson Hole on what he calls a "working vacation" skiing with the editors ofPowdermagazine, one of the sport's largest media outlets. But his day-to-day work also suits him so well because it "tackles lots of different projects and demands many different skills...a necessity for my own happiness." Recent projects include designing catalog copy, organizing this season's athlete team, conducting market research, generating PR, planning tradeshows, and working on product design.

Advice for Others

Graham says that he came to his current job because "I found myself at an intersection and chose a new path. I don't know if or when that next intersection comes along, but I'll always keep my options open. As for grad school: "I feel like I'm getting a great hands-on experience. It sort of is my business school right now." Most importantly, he'll stick with following the advice that has served him best so far: "to 'Go For It' when I've contemplated some big leaps."

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