When I finished school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Honestly I had no idea. I went to college and then university and studied geography. But I still didn’t have a clue what I’d like to do with my life. So hopefully this story of how I became a snowboard writer and adventure travel journalist will inspire others who are not sure where their life is heading.
It is worth adding, I don’t really consider myself to be a journalist. I don’t have any official journalistic training, have never had Press Card and don’t belong to the National Union of Journalists. But I am often described as a journalist by the people I write for. Plus I attend many adventure travel and action sports press events as a ‘journo’.
Personally I consider myself to be a writer. I discovered a love, and hopefully a little talent, for writing when in my thirties. And just like my love, and more questionable talent, for snowboarding I found it completely by accident. Eventually I combined the two to write about snowboarding, which also happened by mistake.
After graduating with a 2:1 B.Sc. in Geography and getting a first in my dissertation I was offered a Ph.D. But I turned it down to work and save money and to travel the world. It took three years and a couple of marketing jobs to save enough. I travelled for nearly two years exploring the world and having as many adventure as possible.
During my travels I worked in sales and discovered a bit of a talent for it. So on my return I fell into sales. I wasn’t thinking of a career, I just did the jobs that would earn me the most money. I worked hard, partied harder and somehow made very good money.
In 2003 a Dutch girl I had done door to door sales with in Tasmania asked if I’d like to help decorate her parents new chalet in France. In exchange I would get a free stay and she would teach me to snowboard. So a mate and I flew out to Geneva and stayed with Maartje and her parents for a week near Les Contamines.
True to her promise she taught us all she knew about snowboarding – unfortunately this was not a great deal. We got the basics of how to strap in and point down the hill. The rest we learnt the hard way! As any snowboarder knows the first few days are painful with lots of falls.
Despite a lack of formal training we both took to snowboarding quickly. By the end of the first day we took on an unpisted red run, we fell most of the way down but loved it. During the week we did a little decorating and a lot of snowboarding, even hitting a half pipe and a kicker on the last day (both unsuccessfully).
This week of spring snowboarding lit a passion for the sport in me. So next December I quit my job to go snowboarding in Whistler, and live in Canada for the season. I went from loving a sport I knew nothing about to becoming fully immersed in snowboarding (and often snow) for six months.
I knew that I wanted to work in snowboarding but I wasn’t sure how. At first I pursued photography, I bought a digital SLR (a relatively new concept back in 2004), and took lots of winter sports photos in Whistler. I even got some published in marketing materials for a travel company. But ultimately it didn’t make me any significant money.
At the end of the season I travelled across Canada with my girlfriend and then returned to the UK in need of a paying job. I went back into sales and did a few photography courses in my spare time. Sales jobs can be quite volatile and after being made redundant and being unfairly dismissed (both by the same employer), I decided I wanted to be my own boss.
I threw myself into photography and got a part time sales job at AdventureSportsHolidays.com (ASH). I got a few paid photography gigs and people said nice things about my photos. But ultimately I found that I enjoyed taking pictures of scenery, but that didn’t make much money. Photographing people was more profitable but I didn’t really enjoy that.
Around the same time my the part time job at ASH became running the company. I was made a partner in the business and grew it from just myself as the first employee to having a team of six people.
It was here that I discovered I enjoyed travel writing. Every travel website needs new content all the time. At first we did not have a dedicated writer so I did it myself. I found that I enjoyed writing and produced fairly good copy, Unfortunately as we grew I got to do it less often.
I ran the ASH for around seven years. During that time I went snowboarding as often as I could, which amounted to around 10-14 days of slope time a year. But being a partner in an adventure travel business meant I was working in something I was passionate about and I was working for myself (kind of).
The big break for me becoming a snowboard writer was when my snowboard was stolen in Cervinia. Having recently bought a flat I could not afford a new set up. So I arranged to review the Raven Core snowboard from a low cost, and pretty much unknown, Polish brand.
Looking back the article is not great. But the editor as ASH said I had a good style and should write more. So I set up a Crystal Ski family snowboarding holiday to La Plagne for the following season. It was in exchange for advertising through a sequence of articles about taking a baby on a ski holiday.
It was around then that ASH reached a crossroads. The other shareholders and I disagreed about how to take the company forward. So I suggested we split the business. They agreed and I took the 18 satellite sites that fed into the main domain. I relaunched them under the AWE365 brand with my snowboarding buddy Nathan.
The idea was to blog about adventure sports on the 18 different sites. But the main motivation was to be a snowboard writer on SnowboardingHolidays.net. This went much better than I expected and soon I was being invited on press trips all over Europe by resorts, tour operators and PR agencies. Plus winter sports brands were sending me gear to review.
Initially we used external writers to produce copy for our other sites. But overtime I became more and more involved. Snowboarding press trips extended to mountain biking, hiking, surfing and much more. We still use experts when we need specific information. But I now knew enough about most action sports to become an adventure travel journalist.
After a couple of years we merged the 18 individual websites into a single domain: AWE365.com. Since then AWE365 has gone from strength to strength. As has the demand for my snowboard writing and articles on everything from skydiving to scuba diving.
We outsource our adventure copywriting services to a variety of tour operators and action sport websites. In fact demand is often so high that we have built up a network of more than twenty freelance writers to help. Often I manage the process and act as the editor.
In addition to writing external copy for brands and tour operators I’ve also had articles published in a range of magazines. I’ve worked on a freelance based for publications such as Family Traveller, InTheSnow, Love The Mountains and Snow Mag.
But most of my copy is on AWE365. This is because I make better money advertising on my own site than I do writing for others. To be honest, as a freelance adventure travel journalist you are often paid quite poorly. So if you don’t have your own medium you can always try writing for sites like essaypro.com or writemyessay.nyc in order to make some extra cash.
It was nine years ago I wrote my first snowboard review. Since then I have written gear reviews for more than 100 brands. I have worked with everyone from Nitro Snowboards to Helly Hansen, and The North Face to Marmot.
Away from the winter sports I have reviewed a Goosehill paddle board, a mountain bike for B’Twin (Decathlon), tents for Skandika and sleeping bags for Snugpak. I have tested so much outdoor clothing, footwear, backpacks and adventure gear that I could probably write a book about it.
When it comes to press trips I go on one or two a month and have snowboarded in more than one hundred resorts. I could go away more, but with a young family I just don’t have the time. Some highlights include heli skiing in Turkey, snowboarding in Japan, five star luxury hiking in the Dolomites and surfing in Morocco.
When I turned down a Ph.D. at the University of Liverpool to save money to go travelling I had no idea I would become a snowboard writer and adventure travel journalist. It took a long time to find what I enjoy and I am good at. But I have created a career in something I am passionate about. I have even started to write some fiction!
My advice to any youngsters (or oldsters!) who are not sure what they want to do is to keep your options open and follow your passions. I chose geography at university because it was the topic I was most interested in, despite people suggesting I go for something more vocational.
I have friends who knew they wanted to be a solicitor, engineer or doctor so they did the appropriate degree. That’s great, but if you don’t know don’t let people push you down a path you’re not interested in. At each stage of my ‘career’ I have chosen to do what I thought is most interesting or which fitted my short term goal.
That said, I use everything I have learnt along the way in my current role running AWE365. The skills and knowledge from my geography degree frequently still come in useful. My time in sales and marketing are key to growing AWE365 and the photography helps illustrate my articles.
Even time travelling and doing a ski season have been key in becoming an adventure travel journalist and snowboard writer. Without embracing all of these experiences I would never have found writing and perhaps I would not be doing something that I love.
Don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to do. Link together the things you find interesting and are good at to forge your own path. Don’t fret if your journey meanders all over the place or leads you to dead ends, just keep following what interests you. At the very least you will have a lot of fun, but you’ll probably also find the career that is perfect for you.
Check out these adventure travel career tips for more useful ideas.