Ryan Markham!

Ryan grew up in Midland, Ontario with his parents and younger brother Todd. Initially, both he and his brother showed interest in rep hockey and Ryan played until age 14. It was at this time that politics within the sport began to take some of the fun out of the experience, leaving the family at odds as to whether they wanted to continue with hockey or find something else for the kids to do. The Markhams found skiing to be a great family sport that was fun and one that everyone could participate in ten minutes from their doorstep. No more costly road trips living in hotels and spending thousands every winter keeping up with the Joneses. They now had one arena to learn a new craft and start a new family tradition. Mountainview Ski Hill in Midland Ontario is a mighty 150 vertical feet of awesomeness. “We learned to ski all terrain at Mountainview: glades, moguls, steeps, park, and untouched powder when Mother Nature delivered. We were building our own jumps and learning to flip on second hand 200cm straight Spalding skis.”

The sport was a natural fit for Ryan and his brother. It was at Mountainview where he met long time family friends and he could apply his inline skating and trampoline skills to the snow. “Our equipment was limiting in those days for landing switch for misty flips and standing up 540s. One morning, I woke up excited and went down to my workshop in the cellar. My thought was to cut a pair of skis down to 120cms and center mount the binding. I then sanded the back of the ski to duplicate a Kemper Snowboard a friend was riding. And voilà, I suddenly had a ski that would allow me to land backwards (or switch) on.” Snowboarding was also a very influential sport as most of Ryan’s friends rode boards and helped him and his ski crew to define their style on skis.

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During Ryan’s years of skiing at Mountainview, he discovered two of his close friends were also very passionate about skiing: Tom Dolezel from The Georgian Peaks, and Sarah Burke from Horseshoe Valley. As great friends and fellow competitive athletes, Tom and Ryan spent their summers skating in contests together as a part of a larger crew. The two connected competitively years later while travelling on a world tour that took them to places such as Germany, Austria, Japan and the US for big air and slopestyle disciplines. And of course, there was Sarah Burke – a close friend in his circle who was a competitive mogul skier. Ryan would travel to Horseshoe where he cheered Sarah on from the sidelines with her father Gord Burke. Ryan could never have known back then just how influential these two friendships would become, to both to him personally and to the very fabric of the twin tip ski industry itself.

In the off-season Ryan was involved in aggressive inline skating, experimental waterskiing, bridge jumping and riding bikes. It was only natural that he would want to draw from the traits of these other passions and incorporate them into his skiing. This was long before the invention of twin tips, and back then riders who wanted to experiment in the half pipe and on jumps would ride snowboard, straight skis or snowblades. Yes, you read that right. Snowblades. Yeah, that’s what they were called. And they were almost cool…then. Not so much now. Officially, it was called skiboarding and it was a movement that was gaining momentum worldwide. The first true twin-tip ski had evolved from boutique companies such as Line & Canon skis. Nevertheless, what we called it…what it was known as…what we could ride on…was still skiing. This is not a snowboarding article. I repeat…this is all ski. Without knowing it, Ryan and his friends were at the forefront of the development of a new sport: twin tip skiing.

In 1998, Neal Lyons, an old inline skating buddy of Ryan’s, ran into him at Mt. St. Louis Moonstone. He had just returned from filming scenes for the first skiboarding video in Squaw Valley, CA, and was excited to see that Ryan had taken up the sport as well. This turned out to be a very chance meeting. Not only did it prove that what Ryan and his friends had been doing was gaining international interest, but he also unknowingly had an established connection with one the sport’s top athletes who just happened to also be from Ontario. A new door was swung wide open and Ryan passed through it without hesitation.

“It was the next generation of the pioneering years of freeskiing, I drove my father’s “Hoopty” old van to the X-Trials in Vermont with a great friend, Darren Brien. Darren was my rock back then, helped me stay cool and prepare for a life-long dream. “Thank brother!” After a weekend of nerves, great parties and networking I had done it, I qualified for the X-Games in Crested Butte, Colorado as an alternate rider. This was my ticket to begin shaping my professional snow dreams. A ski California based sponsor picked me up and I was on my way. Many years lapping the parks at Mountainview, Mount St Louis & Horseshoe Park had paved a new chapter for me. Unfortunately due to circumstances at the first big contest at the X Games, I wasn’t able register to compete in time as an alternate skier for big air and slopestyle. I was in the throws of practicing when I heard from a fellow athlete that my opportunity had arrived and someone had been hurt. Sadly, as I was at the top of the course when I got word to sign up, the registration desk was closed by the time I got to it. This could have been a truly crushing moment for me…if I had let it be.”

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Not to be deterred, one month later, Ryan travelled to Japan and competed successfully in the Japanese X-Games. This laid the foundation for a four-year competitive ski career and long-term partnerships with two California based ski companies. Consistently one of the top skiers on the tour, Ryan enjoyed several podium finishes that included a silver medal at a World Cup Big Air competition in Austria.

The sport itself began to wane just about the time that Ryan was looking at a team management and athletic development role. “The competitive series and spirit of skiboarding was dissolving and the twin tip ski industry was still emerging. As an athlete it was getting very costly and was no longer sustainable, so I went back to school and worked on a degree in business marketing.”

After school, Ryan received a call from his old friend Darren Brien regarding a new role that had opened up at Norco. Ryan was hired soon after as the bilingual tech representative and was also heavily involved in the special events team. He was then approached by Jodi Cooke (Whelan) from Blue Mountain Resort about coming on board. There, he worked with Jodi for 3 years creating events, mentoring athletes and growing industry relations. His time at Blue was very special and he formed great relationships bringing new talent and festivals to the mountain year round. After four great years at Blue he was picked up by Red Bull in their first year in Canada. This was a career pinnacle working with the best marketing company in the world! Ryan’s role with Red Bull was to develop and support grassroots and large action sports events. He met and entertained many of the movers and shakers in many action sports industries building a solid network of talented people and friendships.

At this point his days were spent commuting between Barrie and Toronto and he felt that the time had come to settle down and set roots in Collingwood. “I had met my wife at Blue, and came back here to start a family. I grew up on Georgian Bay and it’s home for me. This is where I wanted to be. I’ve travelled to many beautiful places around the world, but Georgian Bay is still my first choice!” This decision led to taking on a key role with Craigleith Ski Club as the assistant supervisor of freeskiing and snowboard programs with Sonja Dawson. Ryan reflects on this as “an amazing transition back into the industry.”

It had been a whirlwind career and throughout his entire journey, Ryan had always stayed in touch with fellow skier and close friend, Sarah Burke. She had transitioned her competitive career from moguls to twin tips in the late 90s and was the pioneer of women’s freesking. It was Sarah who competed against boys and lobbied for women to have a division to compete in at X-Games, the 2014 Olympics, and many other global events. As is often the case, bonds that form in youth are friendships that last a lifetime.

Tragically on January 10, 2012 Sarah fell during a training run at Park City, Utah and succumbed to her injuries on January 19, 2012. This event changed the trajectory of Ryan’s life and stitched new meaning into why he wanted to coach and share the passion and fun that Sarah taught to so many athletes, friends and family.

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“That was a turning point. I wanted to become more proactive on the hills where I knew I had to and could honor and celebrate Sarah’s life, work, and legacy. It was she and Dave Blake who fueled my desire to give back to the industry that had given me so much. The hills and mountains alike are the places where I felt and still feel most at home and centered. That was how Dave and Sarah saw it too. It was our bond.”

This new spirit and determination finally brought Ryan to Alpine Ski Club for the 2013/2014 season, where he took on the role of Head Coach of freesking and has not looked back since. The success of Ryan’s program at Alpine is complimented on the training arena in which he works. The Alpine Olympic Playground offers a top-to-bottom terrain park, which is unique unto itself on the ridge. Derek Livingston is our most recent Olympic athlete competing in Sochi 2014, X-Games and Burton Open in 2016. Derek’s roots are here at Alpine and he’s giving kids hope that they could do the same one day. “I’m very lucky to call our park, my office.” Alpine’s Freestyle programs have been successful across the ridge with both Ryan & Tyler King’s endless passion and energy for this culture.

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He says what is most gratifying about being a coach and mentor to young kids is seeing a spark of interest for the sport ignite in their hearts. “To see the passion for wanting to be on the hill is a huge piece. We see that they are all having fun, are driven in the development their skills, and all support their fellow teammates like family members. We are a ‘live, eat, breath and sleep’ ski and snowboard group culture here at Alpine. Our riders may or may not place on the podium but, when one does, it feels like the whole team is up there…we all go home winners.”

Ryan also incorporates a ton of all-mountain mileage with his team “Freeskiing is not based in the park alone. We ski the entire mountain, backwards and forwards! Our priority is to make phenomenal skiers first, and then build on different skills moving ahead. Also, there are a lot of elements around freeskiing. 80% of the time is spent in the terrain park, but that being said, on a powder day we chase it across the mountain! What I try to teach is muscle memory, teach my team that the more laps they do, the easier it gets. Plus that allows me the ability to fine tune the team’s already-existing skillsets.”

Skiing has come full circle for Ryan Markham. When we asked him why he loves the sport so much, the young kid who started skiing at Mountain View Ski Hill shone through: “Skiing for me makes the life worries that we all struggle with everyday just disappear. I feel free and at peace when I am skiing. A big part of my coaching is my own personal development, and my love for shared learning. My team and I feed off of each other’s growth, successes and challenges. The fresh air, the culture that surrounds skiing and snowboarding is amazing. Nothing quite matches it. It’s snow therapy.”

Ryan’s career as an athlete opened many unique opportunities such as becoming a professional MC, freeski judge, trampoline coach, athlete manager, events specialist, a carpenter, furniture builder and finally a father and mentor, which he values above all other achievements.

None of these present endeavors would be possible without the support and generosity of Steve Young, Chris Salhaney, Colin Pape, Squire John’s, Frank Mcguirk at Mountainside Sports, Pat Wilson from Elan Skis, Mike Szozda from Vooray, Lee Jack and Emily Pattison from Spy, JD Wheeler at Red Bull Canada. Ryan would also like to thank his young family, mother, father, brother Todd and MTV family. “I have an amazing network of friends and family, thank you to all who played a part in my journey!”

We here at Squire John’s have no doubt that Ryan is helping to carry on Sarah’s legacy through the work he is doing now. It’s incredibly special that the shared love of sport that helped forge his friendship with her is now being mirrored back to him through the eyes of his children, friends and the kids that he is coaching.

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