Alex Kaufman doesn’t need to host and produce a podcast about skiing; he’s got a family, a full-time gig managing properties across the U.S. and all sorts of other responsibilities that make him a very busy dude. Yet, the ski-crazed Vermonter runs one anyways—dubbed Wintry Mix—for one overarching reason: passion.
Over the past couple of decades, Kaufman has been heavily involved in the ski industry, bouncing around between Boulder, Colorado; Vail, Colorado; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Killington, Vermont; Attitash, New Hampshire; Sunday River, Maine; Mount Bachelor, Oregon; then all over the East Coast as a Jack of all trades for the multi-faceted brand, Ski The East. After leaving Ski The East, he knew totally abandoning the industry just wasn’t an option, leading to the creation of Wintry Mix—an insightful podcast that discusses all things skiing.
From mom-and-pop rope tow operations to Vail Resorts’ world dominance to the latest gear trends and everything in between, Wintry Mix covers it all. This isn’t just some random production, either; the podcast airs on Vermont Public Radio (most episodes are East Coast-focused), and Kaufman says his episodes are potentially going to serve as course materials at certain colleges with ski industry programs.
In this Q&A, we discuss how the podcast came to fruition, what it’s like running the show essentially solo and more. Enjoy, and make sure to add Wintry Mix to your list of podcasts ASAP—available on iTunes and Soundcloud.
How did the idea for the Wintry Mix podcast come about?
Frankly, I needed an exit strategy from Ski The East, which was the passion-project second job that was crowding out my growing primary job: affordable housing asset management. It was super hard to bail, but I knew it was time to pass the baton to younger talent who could focus on it full time with co-founders Geoff [McDonald] and Rooster [a.k.a. Chris James]. I wanted to keep my creative side and ski business roots alive via a project that had a bit less of a time commitment and an ability to flex with my schedule and raising kids. So, I started poking around for a media partner to help me launch it in late 2014. It finally launched in late 2015 and the first season overlapped with my final year as the communications and sales guy for Ski The East.
Our official family photo. Thank you for an incredible year! Here is the crew (and dogs) that worked so hard to bring you awesome gear, events and videos in 2016. Happy new year to all our followers and customers… big plans for the future and thank you for your loyal support! #skitheeast #bornfromice
The podcast is now aired in cooperation with Vermont Public Radio (VPR). How did that relationship come to fruition?
I shot the idea of a regular ski business radio hour or podcast to a few Vermont media outlets. Since I’ve been a truck-living ski bum; front line resort worker; retail marketer; quasi-sponsored pro; ski club organizer; and corporate resort spokesperson across American Skiing Company, Boyne and Powdr. Plus, I went to college for broadcasting and meteorology, I have a broad exposure to the snow business and enough editorial sense to find my way.
I guess VPR sensed the same and it was right in the time period of public radio testing ways to partner with outside producers on the digital side. I was sort of a guinea pig for them from a partnership perspective and at the same time they helped me through the learning curve of working in the audio format, in which I’m still a newb.
Despite the partnership with VPR, it appears that this podcast is largely a one-man (you) show. Is that true?
At first, VPR was very involved, though it’s an AK [Alex Kaufman] production, for sure. They kept a very close ear in that first season; doing eight drafts of a podcast can get tiring, especially when you were hoping it would be a side job.
Letting someone else publish from outside of their brand was new to them and I definitely needed the help. They loaned me some equipment to make the on-the-go episodes possible and would give me feedback on the episodes during the edits. I’m fairly certain Wintry Mix wouldn’t exist without Angela Evancie, who was my main go-between at VPR during the launch phase and primary production coach during the early episodes, so she deserves a major shout-out. After the first 10-ish episodes, we were able to maintain the partnership components but with less oversight to save everyone time. So now I just hit them up when I have a question and they ping me for my thoughts on ski topics sometimes. If you live in Vermont, you likely hear it mentioned on the radio, too.
You’ve got some pretty awesome sponsors to help out with supporting the podcast. What’s it like trying to figure out the monetary side of things to keep Wintry Mix afloat?
It’s tricky. The time between seasons when I open it up to new brands is always very brief. I often have more folks wanting to advertise than I have space to sell. Also, not everyone is ready when it’s time to decide, but the seasons wait for no one. I went from having no sponsors for the first couple episodes, to one often-changing sponsor, to five sponsors for a full season, which I think got a bit top-heavy. Now, I’ve scaled that back to three for this season, even though I keep getting hit up.
I don’t want to burden the product with too many ads and it’s a total pain in the butt to swap out sponsors often. Since I’m doing it as a side job, I do what makes my life easy rather than maximizes revenue, frankly. I need to maintain the option of quitting or doing less episodes due to that pesky primary career, so I never over-promise. I also decided I can’t have an eastern ski area sponsor, because then it’s weird to cover their neighbors. Seems that my best value is to western resorts trying to reach rabid eastern skiers, or business-to-business companies trying to reach industry decision-makers. Every once in a while, a gear brand comes sniffing, but if it’s not between seasons, I don’t have much to sell.
It’s clear that you spend a lot of time on the road working to make these podcasts happen… After all of that, how long does it usually take you to actually sit down and produce each podcast?
The funny thing is that a few of my more distant [far from home] episodes (18, 27, 28) were thrown together because I was in town on business looking at property or dealing with apartment buildings I already manage. I do travel in New England a decent amount as well, yes.
The real meat as you note, is in the editing. It ranges from four to 20-plus hours per episode. But most end up in the 6-10 hours range. The studio episodes are quicker to edit than the mobile episodes where I record way too much to make sure I have enough useful tape.
Who’s the most interesting person you’ve interviewed for the podcast thus far and why?
Now the hard questions… I’d say Andrew Bresnahan from episode 24. It wasn’t even really about skiing. It was about the lifestyle and being a legit bush doctor in Labrador, Canada where they don’t really have roads. Everything is sleds and planes. After that, I’d say the Herishko brothers who built their own ski hill complete with snowmaking and lights, that’s episode 28. The NWS forecast office tour was interesting as was the sit down with the VT Agency of Transportation plow driver.
What’s your very favorite episode of the podcast thus far and why?
Episode 23 has been the most popular. Talking to Jon Miller who almost died at Tuckerman Ravine while also hearing from his wife and baby is some pretty heavy stuff.
Choosing a favorite is hard, though. I sort of hate them all after I’ve spent hours listening to the tape and taking out a millions “uhs,” “ahhs,” and bad questions or answers.
The podcast focuses on the entire ski industry, but largely on the East Coast. What is it that makes East Coast skiing so worthy of honing in on?
The truth? It’s no one thing. The amount of people. The history. The densely-packed nature of the resorts and cities, as compared to out west. The fact that FREESKIER, Teton Gravity Research, Powder, SKI Magazine and others are out west and leave some space for little guys like me. That I was born here and, aside from years in Colorado and Oregon, it’s where I have the most connections and knowledge to bring the audience behind the scenes.
We get a bit less snow and bit more rain, but there’s as much or more “ski culture” out here as anywhere. But it’s mostly because I live here and if I’m going to do a sustainable podcast it ain’t going to be about the Sierra all that often. That said, 30 percent or so of the episodes have been non-East Coast topics.
It seems like everybody wants to start a podcast these days. What’s your biggest piece of advice for those looking to get involved?
Don’t be in a hurry. Unless you have a line-up of super-celebrity types, it’ll take you a bit of time to get your groove figured out and build an audience worth busting your ass for. The beauty of the medium is that the episodes have a long shelf life, so find a niche that isn’t already being catered to and, even if it takes you a dozen or more episodes to get traction, people will go back and catch the earlier stuff. Every day, half of my listens are from the archive, not the recent stuff.
Also, worry about sponsors after you’ve hit your stride, know your audience and know how much time you have to pour into it. Or just be like me, a dude with two kids who used to be deep in the ski biz, but now is just keeping the dream alive on the side.