Pro skiers used to be measured by their cliff drops, their rankings on big mountain competition circuits, their ski film parts and their photos in magazines. No longer. Social media followings can make or break a skier’s career, to the point that there’s even a parody account calling out the phenomenon.
On the bright side, skiers get to control their narrative. Rather than being completely at the mercy of directors, producers, and writers, skiers have more power over their public image than ever. On the downside, you could argue that an enterprising, average skier might be able pull off pretty pictures and clever captions and earn themselves a career as a “pro,” and that the constant need to create content places a huge burden on skiers whose greatest talents lie in snow-sliding, not self-promotion.
But, for better or for worse, Instagram is a major part of the game these days, and some skiers are better at playing the game than others. Ever wonder what the secret sauce is? Take a look at the top ten freeskiers on Instagram, below, to see how they make it work.
Gus Kenworthy: 640,000
Kenworthy, an Olympic silver medalist, got a serious boost in fame with a 2014 Sochi podium. When he came out publicly afterwards, he earned the admiration and attention of a more mainstream community. His account isn’t ski-heavy; in fact, you might have to scroll a bit to find a ski image. His lifestyle shots and selfies earn him far more likes than his skiing content, but that doesn’t mean he’s not working just as hard to earn himself a spot on an Olympic podium again this year.
Candide Thovex: 423,000
The impossibly creative, ballsy French skier rarely shows his face—and rarely Instagrams. In the last year, he’s posted just 20 times. But just about every one is a doozy. He usually posts clips from his mind-bending edits, and he rarely posts an image that doesn’t have to do with skiing.
Tom Wallisch: 241,000
Tom Wallisch holds a beloved place in the ski community, thanks to his joyful, creative, crazy-technical skiing and his charming personality. His account is full of bangers—mostly short clips of park and urban skiing—and the occasional, goofy photo of him holding a penguin.
Bobby Brown: 222,000
Bobby Brown’s image is cereal-box ready. He has a classic face, long brown hair, and an unassuming personality, which brings in plenty of fangirls (thanks to the Olympic fame) to boost his already healthy following of skiers. He doesn’t have the versatility of someone like Wallisch—his skiing is pretty much all in-bounds—but his account is a reliable source of high-res, brightly colored aspirational ski shots.
Jesper Tjader: 195,000
Jesper Tjader is a skier’s skier—no lifestyle shots, maybe the occasional skate, bike, or surf image in the off-season. But he’s online for one reason, and he knows his followers are too. He posts often, and favors still shots more than other popular skiers on Instagram.
Henrik Harlaut: 181,000
Harlaut’s unique style and personality propel his following, as does his frequent posting. The guy is always skiing and documenting, and he regularly uploads iPhone-shot videos. The unpolished, unselfconscious account feels like a more direct, unfiltered look at the skier’s life than maybe any other ski account with this type of following.
Tanner Hall: 157,000
This legendary skier will have an audience as long as he skis. Though a few years ago many thought his most innovative, groundbreaking skiing may be behind him, Hall is revisiting competition skiing and even the massive backcountry hits that made him famous when he was first on the scene. His effortless, unmatched skiing carries him through backcountry glades, wide-open Alaskan faces, and rail-jams alike. With such an unpredictable career, Instagram is the best place to keep track of the self-named Skiboss.
Caroline Gleich: 144,000
Caroline Gleich has a mission. Actually, she has several: to protect public lands and our planet in general, to fight against cyber-bullying and harassment, to create opportunities for women in male-dominated spaces, and, of course, to ski technical, demanding lines at home in the Wasatch and beyond. She’s refreshing, articulate, intelligent, and honest about her struggles, which makes her account relatable and endlessly interesting.
Chris Benchetler: 115,000
Did you watch Chasing AdVANture yet? If you need any help understanding Benchetler’s appeal, that should do the trick. This skier, artist, surfer, climber, and general renaissance man leads a pretty inspiring life. His account features his outdoors-inspired artwork, his graceful, surfy skiing, and the occasional pic of his tiny adventure yorkie, Reese (a celebrity in her own right).
Kalen Thorien: 102,000
Whether she’s riding her motorcycle across the United States decked out in leather, adding a tattoo to her impressive collection, or skiing her way around the world, Kalen Thorien’s general vibe is, in a word, badass. She’s open about the work that goes into making her Instagram as aspirational as it is, and readily acknowledges that many of these moments are planned and posed before they’re posted. But that honesty doesn’t make the reality of her life, lived at high speeds and usually on the road, any less compelling. In fact, it makes it more so.
Photo by Caroline Gleich