In ski racing, time is always of the essence, right down to the hundredth of every second. And there’s very little time to think about life’s bigger picture – the long-term plan – when rushing from race to race and finish line to finish line becomes the day-to-day norm. In fact, some may say that playing the long game is a waste of time in this sport; skiing fast and hard while your body allows and figuring out the rest later is the way to go. Well, that’s just bad advice. The long game does matter, and Daron Rahlves is living proof of that fact.
Over 10 years have gone by since Rahlves – one of the most successful U.S. ski racers of all time – retired, yet he’s still an absolute force in the snowsports industry with so many strong ties that it’s hard to keep track of them all. The Californian legend is an invaluable resource to various brands, organizations, and teams across the globe. And the process of cementing himself in this position didn’t begin post-retirement; it started long ago.
“Back when I was racing, I loved to just talk to people, to try and spread the word about the sport, be personable and connect with others as much as I could, and that’s really paid off,” says Rahlves, now 44 years old and not looking a day over 30.
“My relationship with Reusch Gloves is a great example of that: When I worked with them through the U.S. Ski Team, they were always asking what they could do to give us a better performance – a better glove – and they did all this custom work for me because I would actually talk to them about it extensively. And then a couple years after ski racing ended, they contacted me again and asked for my help to get more involved with the freeskiing world. So, I designed my own glove with them that I believe is in its seventh year now: the Reusch D Money Glove. We work together on every detail and it’s a lot of fun to have a relationship like that.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg for Rahlves as far as brand partnerships go. Moving down the list, he explains a similar story with Giro, another industry player with which he has deep roots. This time, a company was curious about how to re-enter the ski racing scene after a lofty break.
“We made the Streif helmet that I raced in for a while back in the day, and then they faded out of ski racing,” he recounts. “But they came to me two years ago and said, ‘Hey, we want to get back into ski racing. We’re committed to designing the best helmet we can possibly make and we want you to help us out.’ So, I had the engineers and product managers come to my house, we watched tons of World Cup video, discussed it, got an overview of everything, and it then turned into a whole product development project. Then we made the prototypes, went over things in the office over and over, finally produced the Avance MIPS helmet, and signed Travis Ganong, who I’ve always been a huge supporter of.”
Then there’s Red Bull. You know, the company that sponsors more than a handful of top-notch racers on the World Cup circuit who wear those flashy silver and blue helmets.
“What they’ve done for ski racing is absolutely incredible, and I’m glad to have been with them through it all,” says Rahlves. “I was the first ski racer to be lined up with the brand back in 2004. Then they got Aksel Lund Svindal and Erik Guay and Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, and Marcel Hirscher in a smaller capacity, and others. These days, I’ve been traveling around to some of their big marketing events where they bring together really anyone who’s worked with the brand to talk strategy. It’s a lot of fun to stay involved after all these years.”
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And let’s not forget about Atomic, the brand that Rahlves has been loyal to since the days of pointy-tipped skis and neon GS suits. To this day, he’s been one of their go-to contacts for all things gear, as well as marketing tactics – testing out products viciously and guiding them into the future with excellence.
“You know, I finished racing, I did ski cross, I got into filming with crews like Matchstick Productions and Teton Gravity Research, I had the chance to build my own powder ski – the Atomic Atlas. So I’ve been progressing with the brand over the years,” he says. “For the past three years in particular, I’ve been putting a lot of work in on the Vantage series. We’re launching – and I say ‘we’ because I’ve been with this company since 2001 through ski racing and freeskiing – a big redesign in 2018 that I’m really excited about.”
Rahlves’ influence pertaining to ski gear alone is pretty damn baffling. But he’s also heavily involved with organizations that focus their efforts on building skiers, not products – like Sugar Bowl Resort, NASTAR and the U.S. Ski Team – serving as a coach, pacesetter, and more. A training camp from back in May at Mammoth Mountain with the American Downhiller squad had him particularly fired up this summer.
“The first year of this camp, which was last year, Marco Sullivan and I wanted to set some certain sort of level of skiers who have that extra edge – the ones who are really committed. But this year, we wanted to open it up to a broader range: all U14s and U20s who were interested,” he explains. “And, fortunately, every kid there had great work ethic and passion and really wanted to learn. There was never a time we had to be like ‘Hey! Listen up!’ The kids were just tuned in and that opened our eyes a bit because it helped us realize that, yeah, we’d love to work with that top level but if we open it up to whoever is interested, man, you never know where those kids are going to go. We were working with some kids that aren’t quite to that superstar point yet, but they could absolutely develop into it. There are a lot of skiers that are successful with years of effort and just don’t have it right away like others.”
As if his plate wasn’t full enough, Rahlves is also trying to keep his competitive edge sharp through offbeat events like Arctic Man, which he won in 2016 with Levi Lavallee, as well as some motocross races in the offseason. And, speaking of radical events, although the famous Rahlves’ Banzai tour took a hiatus this past season, he hopes to host a one-off event at a new, yet-to-be disclosed resort this coming season.
Daron Rahlves is, quite simply, crushing it, ladies and gentlemen. He’s shaping brands, he’s shaping skiers, he’s shaping skiing at large and, oh yeah, he’s raising his 10-year-old twins, Miley and Dreyson, with his wife Michelle – taking the hardworking and passionate demeanor he’s always had and applying it to his family. All is well for this skiing legend; that’s what happens when you play the long game.
“It’s funny,” he admits. “I’m still living this lifestyle and able to provide for my family through skiing. It’s much different now, for sure; I used to have my own agent, and now I do all of my own stuff, my own deals, my own connections in the world so there’s no downtime at all. But that’s OK with me. Skiing’s always going to be on my mind. It’s something that affects my life every single day.”