Bryon Friedman: Embracing the Mountain Lifestyle

Courtney Harkins
2015-09-17 14:25

From local ski hills to the PyeongChang Olympics, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) encompasses all athletes that share a passion for skiing and snowboarding. We explore what makes each skier and rider a champion with stories from the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Snowboarding and U.S. Freeskiing, next to kids winning a NASTAR medal, landing their first cork 7 or joining a club team. Alongside USSA’s mascot Champ, take a look at how all of these athletes strive to be Best in the World.

As we continue to explore what makes USSA athletes champions, we’re learning more than we ever expected. To be a champion goes beyond the medals and the titles. It’s someone with great character and an undying belief in themselves; it’s someone who loves their sport with an unmatched passion—whether they’re still actively pursuing it or not. In this installation, Content Manager sits down with U.S. Ski Team alum Bryon Friedman to discuss #WhatMakesAChamp.

Bryon Friedman encompasses a lot of identities. The American Downhiller was on the U.S. Ski Team for 10 years, but is also an outrageously talented musician, a ripping big mountain skier and now heads up an ecofriendly business that produces handmade bamboo ski poles. But how does Friedman define himself now that he’s done ski racing? We dive into his background, upbringing and present to figure out what he thinks makes a true champion.


Friedman was born in Atlanta—not a typical place for a man who made his career out of a snow sport—but his love for the mountains stemmed from regular trips to Vail throughout his childhood. Finally, his parents consented to move the mountains when he was 8 years old and ski racing was a foregone conclusion. He tried out for the Park City Ski Team when he was 10. “I was raised by the Wasatch Mountains, I guess,” shrugged Friedman, who emanates a soft-spoken strength. “I remember vividly watching the America’s Opening World Cup in Park City. Stars like Alberto Tomba and Marc Girardelli became human. That’s when ski racing became real to me.”

Friedman smiles at a World Cup race in 2003. (Getty Images/AFP-Vincenzo Pinto)


The domino effect to the World Cup started at age 12, when Friedman won his first ski race. He made the development team at 15—alongside athletes like Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso—was named to the B team at 21, and finally made the A team at 24. All in all, he spent 10 years on the U.S. Ski Team—scoring a few impressive World Cup results and national titles.

However, when asked about his biggest accomplishment in his sport, Friedman ignores the years he spent on the World Cup circuit. Instead, he recalls the J2 Junior Olympics. “I won the super G and the downhill, but blew out in the slalom and GS,” he said. “But it wasn’t about the result. They gave me the sportsmanship award, which was amazing. For me, ski racing was about enjoying the process and being a good person. I was just stoked to be on the mountain. And when you’re stoked, you’re going to ski fast.”

So, why did he retire? “The short answer is a bad injury,” said Friedman. “I was skiing really fast in 2004 and 2005—I had three top 10s on the World Cup and I realized I could win. I was beating Bode in training; it was time.” But after pushing out of the start at a race in Chamonix, he crashed and broke his leg.

Bryon Friedman skis in a Val Gardena training run in 2003. (Getty Images/AFP-Thomas Coex)

“I remember it so well,” said Friedman. “It’s hard to emotionally connect to an injury, but inherently my body knew it was a career-ending injury.”

But Friedman didn’t want to accept defeat. He took time off to recovery and moved to California. “As much of a bummer as the injury was, it opened me up to play music, write music and express myself,” he remembered. “But I couldn’t give up racing. Skiing was my passion. I wanted to prove to myself, my peers, my coaches, my family that I could still do it.”

Though he tried, he couldn’t come back in the way he wanted and retired in 2009. “I was holding back and I was in pain. It was time for me to go,” decreed Freidman. “I walked away quietly and I have no regrets.”


Although Friedman retired from ski racing, it doesn’t mean he left the mountain community or stopped skiing. On the contrary, he started a company called Soul Poles alongside fellow U.S. Ski Team member Erik Schlopy in Park City, Utah in 2012. Friedman now runs the company, building bamboo ski poles by hand and fervently works to keep it ecofriendly. “Most materials needed for skiing are mined from the earth or produced from plastic,” he said. “We’re trying to do the right thing at Soul Poles. Our clothes are made from recycled X-ray film and plastic bottles. Our bamboo comes from a family in China that selects it and sends it to us.”

“I didn’t know what I was getting into—how hard, how ridiculous, this was going to be,” said Friedman about the company.  “But I love it. My goal is to be the sustainable sport brand. Doing good matters.”

Alongside running a business, Friedman also helped start the World Cup Dreams nonprofit—a program that helped athletes transition from being injured to racing again. But it quickly became another fundraising arm for athletes. “We step in to empower athletes to do their own fundraisers and get them back to the sport they love,” said Friedman. Although he had focused negative attention toward his former team in the past, he commented, “I want to be a part of this organization now. It’s an opportunity to create something great.”


As much as his life seems different than when he was on the ski team, you can tell that Friedman’s competitive fire hasn’t gone out. He still treks around the globe with a ski bag—but it’s not just for World Cup races anymore. Instead, he flies to the far ends of the earth for backcountry ski trips. So, how does he define himself now that he’s not a ski racer?

“At the end of the day, ski racers can’t deny that we were raised by the mountains,” Friedman finished. “I just embraced the mountain lifestyle. I truly love the opportunities that it has given me.”

In his thoughtful way, Friedman took some time to answer our three questions on what he believes makes a champion.

U.S. SKI TEAM: In your words, what makes a champion?
BRYON FRIEDMAN: You hear that ‘you gotta work hard’ thing all the time. But, I don’t care what they say. You have to work smart and have balance and focus. At the end of the day, a champion is born from a love for the sport and an accountability to make themselves better at that sport. No one is going to do it for them. It comes from within. That fire and love is uncoachable.

It starts at the foundation. It’s like a solar system. There are tools athletes have access to—coaches, equipment, training, mental prep—that act as the planets. Then there’s the fiery sun that’s a gravitational pull for these planets. The earth is the core, the sun is the balance, Saturn is the technique. Everything balances each other and works. It starts with the fire.

U.S. SKI TEAM: Do you remember the first time you felt like a champion?
 I go back to being 12 when I won my first race against older competitors and bigger field. That’s what solidified that for me and made me want to do this for a long time.

U.S. SKI TEAM: What is the biggest piece of advice you have for aspiring kids who want to be sitting where you are today?
BF: Don’t make bamboo ski poles! I don’t want competition [laughs]. I would say, do what you love. My dad taught me that. If something is telling you that it isn’t right then listen to that. Listen to your gut. Know who you are; know what you want to do. Have a vision and put the pieces together to get there. It comes down to accountability—you can’t blame your coach or technician. It’s an individual sport. It’s how you interact with all the pieces.