Ben Rifkin’s about to embark on an exciting new journey. When we first contacted him last week for this profile, he was the publisher of three of the nation’s most respected skiing publications — Ski Magazine, Skiing Magazine and Skiing Business. But tomorrow, he takes over as VP of marketing for the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge, a new entrepreneurial challenge and a new sport. Read on for this Greene native’s insightful take on Colorado, “living the brand,” the best ski trip ever and more (but you’ll have to go to the link if you want to know his favorite college heckle).
Name: Ben Rifkin
Home town: Greene, Maine
Now living where: Denver, Colo.
I have a very good friend who left Maine for Colorado? He loves it there. What’s Colorado got that Maine doesn’t? For me, the mountains were the original draw. I grew up alpine and nordic skiing in the winter and hiking/backpacking in the summer, and those opportunities in the West are simply bigger, though I absolutely owe my success and passion for these activities to Maine (and my parents’ shared passion). After college, I landed an internship as an editor of SKI and Skiing’s website (then SkiNet.com) in Boulder, Colo., and didn’t have to think twice about combining my greatest passions at the time, skiing and writing, into a career, so I packed up the car and drove out.
Do you miss us? Every day. I miss roaming around 20+ acres of forest and farmland. I miss summer downpours – the sheets of rain almost beating you to the ground. I miss hard, fast snow. I miss the hidden gems of antique shops, local craftspeople and garden-ocean-farm-fresh cuisine. I miss real seasons. But, the great thing about Mainers is they tend to explore and bring their perspective all over the country. A Mainer works two offices over from me here at SKI and Skiing. A Mainer runs the shipping store four blocks from my house. And, last week, I had a meeting in Telluride with a Mainer. We’re all over the place!
Starting tomorrow, Feb. 27, you will take over as VP of marketing for the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge. Are you an avid cyclist or about to be an avid cyclist? I will still be in Denver and that was a big part of my decision – to work closer to home and spend more time with my family. I’m an avid mountain biker currently and do plan to get on the pavement more in my new role. My father is an avid cyclist and I’ll look to him to show me the ropes before I get hammered in the peloton!
What is the US Pro Cycling Challenge and what’s your goal as the new VP of marketing? The US Pro Cycling Challenge is a multi-day stage race that launched last year and met with great success. The best cyclists in the world showed up and challenged the rough terrain of Colorado, while bringing over a million spectators out along the course to enjoy Colorado’s scenery and charm. My two biggest goals will be: 1) increasing audience size of event spectators on the side of the course and those sharing the experience via TV, social media and traditional web channels; and 2) extending the footprint of the brand beyond the race event. I’ll lean heavily on my media and content background to leverage our existing assets and create new brand extensions. Maybe I’ll see you at The Dempsey Challenge!
Until taking this new job you were publisher of three of the nation’s most respected skiing publications — Ski Magazine, Skiing Magazine and Skiing Business. Now you’ll be involved with cycling. It sounds like you try to get outdoors a lot, or are you really a closet couch potato living vicariously? I’m an ardent believer in work-life balance, and use the passion I have for my lifestyle to inject authenticity into my professional career and leadership style. I’ve partnered with Nature Valley on many projects in the past and one of their core beliefs is “Live the Brand.” That value pervades every behavior and decision they make and helps create an authentic voice for the brand, its consumers and its employees. In my world, if you’re not “living the brand,” you’re just another suit looking for a handout.
Do you think growing up in L-A helped prepare you in any way for these jobs you’ve been doing? My parents chose Maine and L-A because of the lifestyle Maine affords outside of their professional careers. They raised my sister and I to be honest and passionate about everything we do, whether educational, professional or recreational pursuits. Life is cumulative: All of the people I met, places I’ve been and experiences I had growing up helped form who I am and what I’ve been able to achieve.
It goes without saying that you took the ski publication position because of the travel, the free food and skiing, the extended apres ski partying and the ski bunnies in bikinis. Are there cycling bunnies in bikinis? What’s the attraction of this new job? You are a pretty astute observer! Yes, I originally started with SKI and Skiing to write about the mountain lifestyle and of course, a big allure was the travel, amazing cuisine and endless turns. I won’t miss the ski bunnies because I have my own – my wife, who is a former X-Games and Gravity Games competitor. I’m excited to learn about the culture of cycling – it has nearly as much history as skiing (certainly standing on boards came before the invention of the wheel), and, like skiing, cycling owes much of its tradition to Europe. I’m also looking forward to building a world-class brand from the ground up. SKI and Skiing are well-positioned for growth and long-term success and they have an innovative and supportive company in Bonnier backing them. Those brands are in good hands. I’m ready for a new, more entrepreneurial setting and opportunity.
Your boss was Terry Snow, the CEO of the publishing conglomerate that owns the skiing magazines. Now that he’s your former boss, you can tell us: A man named Snow owns three skiing publication??? Is that for real? Did you make fun of Terry’s last name around the office? You know: “Hey Ben, it’s the Abominable Snowman on line 1 . . . ptttttt.” Terry actually owns four skiing brands when you count SNOW Magazine (not to mention one snowboarding brand – Transworld Snowboarding). He is truly passionate about the lifestyle of skiing and the storytelling opportunities around the sport and its enthusiasts. We tried to come up with a good heckle of Terry, but he’s one of those people that honestly “lives the brand” and it’s hard to poke fun at authenticity!
Speaking of which, let’s get the elephant out of the room: Word on the street is that when you were at Dartmouth College, you minored in heckling. Specifically, the opponents of Dartmouth’s soccer team. (http://thedartmouth.com/1998/11/18/sports/dr/print) Confess: Will you now be heckling other competing cycling events? And what’s your favorite sports heckle? Ah, youth! Glad you didn’t dig any deeper in The Dartmouth archives . . . As long as heckling is in good fun and respectful of the fans around you, I think it’s a great aspect of competition. I’ve never tried heckling at a cycling event, and to be honest, I think it will be a little tough. With riders zipping by at 30 mph, I doubt abrasive words will have much effect, but there’s probably a good one-liner to be found!
Finally, although you’re leaving the skiing publication industry behind, what’s your dream ski resort trip and why? Tough question. Every day on the hill is a good day, so it’s hard to pick a single destination. In the U.S., Jackson Hole is my favorite place because of the local community, natural setting and amazing skiing. Skiing in Europe is fantastic – the culture of skiing is so pervasive and, in all honesty, so much better than the skiing culture we’ve established in North America. And then there’s heli-skiing – my brother-in-law owns an operation in Haines, Alaska, and I need to get up there for a “visit.” This is a dream trip, right? Here’s the itinerary: two midweek, non-holiday two-foot powder days in Jackson Hole, staying at the Four Seasons Resort, followed by a day of heli-skiing at SEABA in Alaska. Then, a quick charter flight from Haines to Hakuba, Japan, for dried fish snacks and more deep powder skiing. Round that out with a heli-drop at the top of the A’guille du Midi and a couple nights in Chamonix, France, and I think I’d be pretty satiated. I’d have to have my family along, too. I’ll send you a postcard and some P-Tex.