Recently, I lost a job (or two or three). After a few days of depression (or partying), I decided it was time to pull myself up by the bootstraps and secure employment for myself. I fine-tuned my resume, ironed my slacks and slid my tie up high enough to create a double chin that I was sure would land me that overpaid office job I had been searching for. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. Group interviews with bums in cut-off jean shorts, conference calls with a dozen other “qualified” applicants—this was becoming too much. After being offered minimum wage for over 15 years of experience, I was done looking for that managerial ski shop position. Thanks to a nationwide unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, I was competing with every kind of applicant: the up-and-comers, the has-beens and the never-weres. I didn’t stand a chance. If only I could have made it as a professional snowboarder, I’d be jet-setting the globe with my long hair, tight leather outfit, and fighting off groupies instead of the repo. If only I’d had somebody to guide me in my ways, instead of making poor decisions, choosing bar tabs over hot laps. If only there was a company or team dedicated to offering hope and optimism. If only I had Team Prospect.
Team Prospect is Smith Optics’ and Spacecraft Collective’s Intermountain, regional grassroots, ski and snowboard team. Being a part of this experience offers local athletes the opportunity to fast-track advancement through their five-tier sponsorship program. What sets Team Prospect apart from other flow sponsorships is the organization from top to bottom. The riders are backed by seasoned leaders and a company dedicated to life-long relationships, offering rider input and a larger-than-most advertising/marketing budget for its riders, regardless of their status. Like the current job market, it’s hard to land yourself on the radar without the right amount of exposure and connections. This is the difference with Team Prospect: The goal is to assemble the most talented riders and provide them with the opportunity of exposure and advancement. Though, ultimately, it’s up to the athlete to decide his or her own fate. The objective is to “… Make the great shredders better,” says Team Prospect Team Manager Jeremy Tidwell.
In order to understand how this branding tool was created, we need to take a quick look into the history of the company. Smith Optics was created in 1965 before snowboarding was even a glimmer in Jake Carpenter’s eye (or whomever is getting credited as the pioneer these days), in nearby Sun Valley, Idaho. When not practicing dentistry (orthodontics in particular), Bob Smith, a ski buff and skilled handyman, began to create ski goggles that he would trade in exchange for daily lift tickets. Soon after, Smith struck up a manufacturing deal right here in Utah and created the first sealed lenses goggles with ventable foam (both features are still used to this day). Long story short, his product gained momentum, and Smith Optics ultimately became one of the world’s largest and most recognizable eyewear manufacturers in action sports.
The company created its first Utah grassroots program back in 2001. Garret Rose, the Rockies Territory sales manager, began to “flow” Hayden Price, a local skier, with product to help him enhance his skills while pursuing a professional career. Over the next few seasons, Smith’s grassroots program grew exponentially, and the brand realized that the free goodies were helping expand their exposure. Due to its success, a team manager was brought in to oversee and organize a team of “potential” talent for the pro team manager to farm from. Tidwell, who grew up snowboarding in Utah and has worked in the industry for countless years, was put in charge of the team two years ago.
In 2010, Smith began a marketing initiative called “Prospecting Idaho”: a social media web series that showcased the sponsored athletes riding and developing product at the Smith’s Headquarters in Ketchum, Idaho. Team Prospect was a direct result of the success of this marketing two years later. “For years, the program was just casually called the Smith Grassroots Team. We wanted to bring a new feel to things, give ourselves a name and at the same time, tie into the marketing initiatives of Smith Optics [Prospecting Idaho]. So, we came up with Team Prospect as kind of a play on words and our team name,” says Tidwell. Spacecraft jumped on board to help increase the team’s budget and provide additional support while expanding their own brand image. Now with its own webpage full of videos showcasing the team’s talents and endeavors, Team Prospect is bringing about a change in how flow teams are managed.
“Having athletes who realize that being a part of this team is a huge opportunity that can be used to jumpstart a professional career in winter action sports—that’s what we are going for. For the right people, at the right time, this program should be nothing but a hit.” The way Team Prospect is structured differs immensely from other companies’ flow teams. Long gone are the days when flow implies “homie hookup.” Due to the increasing numbers in participants every year, the brand decided it was time to shy away from handouts and concentrate on opportunity. Through Tidwell and Snowboard Promotions Manager Nate Farrell (who was once a Grassroots member back in Vermont), participants have years of industry insight. Activities are organized before, during and after the season to create familiarity between riders and managers, and hopefully create bonds in order to progress and push each other. The communication between the two managers creates a seamless transition from one tier of sponsorship to the next for the riders. “I couldn’t be happier knowing that there is someone spearheading the program with such passion. Jeremy has really put his heart into this team,” says Farrell.
In the last few years, the team has produced a ton of talent. After being a part of the team for just one season, two riders quickly advanced from flow to factory status, thanks to Team Prospect. On the women’s side, Stephanie Sue Feld displayed plenty of freestyle ability to promote herself to the factory team (amateur in layman’s terms). “The team was an awesome opportunity to meet some rad riders and expose [myself]. I expected a well put-together program with a supportive crew, and that’s what [I] got: life-long friends and a way to advance to the next level,” she says.
Local rider Ozzy Henning also caught Farrell’s eye with his rail skills and love of snowboarding. He was quickly brought up and will certainly be on the verge of pro status shortly. This year, with 45 riders on the team, Tidwell can see the future growing before his eyes. “Maybel Harris gets me really hyped. She is the youngest athlete on our team. The girl is better and meaner than most boys her age at 11, and rides tram laps at Snowbird faster than many full-time shredding adults. I have no doubt that she will be turning heads on her shred stick for many years to come,” he says. “John Rodosky is a young buck from Jackson Hole who has basically ‘willed’ his way into the invite-only graces of the 2013 Freeride World Tour. Also, watch out for Alex Gavic, Alex Lockwood and Treyson Allen. These dudes have proven early to be more motivated to grab this opportunity and run away with it than most.”
Coming into this season, Team Prospect plans on enabling local talent to concentrate on getting to that next level. Tidwell shared with me that he plans on not only offering his knowledge, but also organizing more events, like gathering the team for the upcoming SLUG Games. Farrell hopes to “… Get a bunch of rippers stoked. Hopefully, once the season is over, a few team members will have risen to the top and can make the jump to factory status.” Me, I hope to get some more riders educated on these types of teams and programs so I have fewer “experienced” applicants cutting me in the food stamps line.
For more information on Team Prospect or to be considered for next year’s team, visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/teamprospect. You can also find Prospecting Idaho’s webisodes on smithoptics.com/prospectingidaho.