Going behind the scenes to make it to the top

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Most skiers know someone who works in the ski industry. For the average skier, it’s probably a ski shop employee or perhaps an instructor or patroller. If you live in a ski town, it could be a snowmaker, groomer or an executive at a ski area or resort. These folks are visible locally, but a significant number of Maine skiers have worked their way up in the business in places where we don’t see them — although Maine skiing played a key role in their rise. One example is a vice president, Alpine Division for Fischer Skis USA. Erik Anderson was promoted to that position Dec. 1 for one of the top three ski companies in the world. Indeed, Fischer for many years has been the largest producer of skis, especially when its cross country skis are counted. It may have dropped a place or two with all the consolidation in the industry today, but if it’s not No. 1, it’s close.

Before you consider pursuing a job in this side of the ski industry, take a look at what Anderson’s job entails. First a reorganization of Fischer’s distribution set up in this country resulted in two people now doing the work of five. Typically, there is a national sales manager and a product manager. Anderson is both.

That means as sales manager he has to set up for shows, coordinate availability of samples, order from the mother company, distribute product to dealers and clinic sales representatives on the line at sales meetings. Anderson also takes care of media requests, sending out information and providing images for publications and broadcast outlets. Both positions call for an intimate knowledge of all Fischer products and those of competitors.

Product managers work with the line from design and production right through presentation. They are responsible for mounting demo skis and maintaining demo fleets for magazine tests. On a recent day, he spent the morning in sales meetings and the afternoon mounting bindings. He also has to maintain a liaison with the Austrians to make sure the right products are produced for the U.S. market.

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Naturally, that calls for frequent trips to Europe. As Anderson puts it, “I get to travel to places where other people go on vacation”. It may sound glamorous, but there is a downside. “My son was born Oct. 29, and to date I have been gone for one quarter of his life.”

Part of his job is taking care of guys like me. He is one of my contacts who supply me with catalogs and price lists for my equipment reviews. Thanks to his Maine roots, we had a pair of Fischer skis to auction off at the Ski Museum of Maine fund-raiser in February. And a year ago he was able to find a pair of the Fischer Downhill skis that Kirsten Clark had used on the World Cup. They are now on display at the museum in Kingfield.

Anderson’s background is interesting and instructive to anyone looking for a career in the product side of skiing. He learned to ski as he describes it “at the ripe old age of three, at Pleasant Mountain,” home hill for his grandparents who were long time members of the Downeast Ski Club. Growing up in Rhode Island, which he described as “geographically challenged,” he skied at Pleasant Mountain until middle school when he joined a ski club, opening up ski trips all over New England, finally taking trips out west at age 14. By 16, he was working in a local ski shop in Warwick, R.I., and after graduation spent a year at Tahoe working in another ski shop.

In 1991, Anderson returned to Maine and the University of Maine at Farmington and the Ski Industry Program, which allowed him to work a year at the Ski Rack on Sugarloaf’s access road (Now the site of Seth Wescott’s restaurant, The Rack), and the next three years for the Jack Frost Shop on the Sunday River access road.

He described his time at UMF as critical to his career, “They taught me how to ski all over again at age 18, to understand movement patterns and achieve Level II PSIA certification, something I could not have done on my own in two years.”

Anderson went on to explain how internships led to seeing the link between what they were learning and the outside world. “We had places to be Saturday and Sunday, out side of the college cocoon,” he said. His internships included learning boot fitting from Tim Hutchisen at the Jack Frost Shop, a key ingredient in equipment sales. In between graduation from Farmington and enrolling at the University of Southern Maine to work on his MBA, he spent a winter at Jack Frost and another at Kenny’s Double Diamond in Vail.

A progression of jobs followed completion of his Master’s in 2000, each an advancement, at Sunday River Sports, hardgoods accessories buyer for ASC, and hard-goods buyer after that.

With the breakup of ASC on the horizon, he began to look around and saw an ad from Fischer for national sales manager and submitted a resume. When he got a call from Fischer, he assumed they had seen his resume, but the call actually came when someone else had recommended him to the company. He interviewed and got the job, which is what he was doing when I got my information on Fischer skis from him while testing skis a year ago. Erik Anderson is the perfect example of how an education can be combined with work experience while in school to prepare for a career. He still considers Maine his home base even though his work requires living in New Hampshire, and he has a New England Gold pass so he can ski at Sunday River when the job doesn’t have him skiing out west or in Austria. We no longer have the full ski industries program at UMF, but there are plenty of opportunities in Maine’s ski industry to work part time while in college, and it can be a path to the top.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer who lives in Westbrook.

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