Chris Davenport, 45, is driving back to his hometown of Aspen after guiding newbies around Silverton, Colorado. Rather than chill and enjoy the ride and brief time away from clients, in the passenger seat he posts an update on the trip to his Instagram and Facebook accounts.
He’s building his brand, he says, and supporting his sponsors, which allows him to raise his family in a posh resort town and continue doing what he loves most: skiing. Social media, he says, is as important to his living as the equipment he uses.
“I’m a brand, and the product I sell is me,” says Davenport, the 1996 world extreme skiing champion, an X Games bronze medalist and one of the sport’s biggest ambassadors. “Social media is huge in helping me accomplish that. It’s a massive outlet with a global market that didn’t exist before. It works great for me as a content producer.”
And combining content production—even simple 15-second videos—with social media has been huge for Davenport’s career. As it has been for a handful of athletes across the action sports genre.
A host for Outside Television and member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, “Dav” is one of the sport’s most prolific content producers. Just a month earlier he co-hosted a packed-house keynote lunch at Denver’s Snow Sports Industries America tradeshow called “A Million Warren Millers: How Digital Media is Revolutionizing Winter Sports.” On stage with him was GoPro’s VP of International Marketing, Bryan Johnston.
“Chris is one of the best in the business as far as utilizing social media (to push his content), which is a very powerful tool,” Johnston said in introducing Davenport. Illustrating social media’s marketing power, he used the example of Travis Rice recently posting a 20-second trailer from British Columbia with GoPro’s new Session camera, which garnered a half million views in just nine hours. “That kind of exposure is huge,” Johnston added. “In the olden days that would’ve taken forever to reach. We’re in the golden age of user-generated content.”
And perhaps no skier—save maybe Candide Thovex—has embraced it as well as Davenport. As recently as 2006, he says, he was filming in Alaska with a giant, 8mm counter-weighted, neck-tweaking Volex camera strapped to his helmet. Now, with new, smaller-than-ever POV cameras, combined with innovations like Twitter’s new live-streaming Periscope platform, which he used to broadcast in real-time at SIA, “people are their own ESPN Sports Center.”
“The content world has been flipped 180 degrees in a very short time, where everyone can now be their own producer,” Davenport adds. “In the old days it was an analog distribution network. Now it’s way more powerful and far-reaching.”
He adds that while growing an audience is super important, so is measuring that reach for your sponsors. “All these different forms of social media give you a much larger voice than you ever had before, and a way to bring more value to your brands,” he says. “And they also let you quantify the results.” In other words, his bosses are always watching.
He’s obviously doing something right: “Dav has made a long, successful career in skiing by being proactive with his voice and actions,” says fellow pro skier Sage Cattabriga-Alosa. “And reinvented himself to stay relevant and ultimately, been able to fulfill his true passion: skiing. His use of social media mirrors this as he uses an authentic voice. I look up to him.”
Davenport says his audience is highly-engaged and offers valuable feedback, all of which has been paramount to his bottom line. He was Red Bull’s first athlete in North America, and remains sponsored by it as well as GoPro, Spyder, Kastle Skis and his hometown resort of Aspen/Snowmass. “A big part of the equation that they all look for,” he says, “is what the athlete is doing for them on the product and branding sides. Social media, if handled correctly, is a huge part of that.”
An early adopter of new technology, he says he spends at least an hour a day on social media-related products himself and employs a manager who helps increase his social footprint as well. “It’s well worth my time and money as a business to have someone to help me,” he says, admitting to the time it takes to be successful in the social realm.
To get his and his sponsors’ brand messages spread as far and wide as possible, he’s started thinking like a brand, channelizing his message: the big three–Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are for day-to-day minutia. His website is more overarching (recently re-launched, with enhanced social capabilities, BTW). “The website provides more of a 30,000-foot view,” he says. “I keep everything I do at a very high bar, whether it’s skiing, guiding, developing product or producing content.”
And his sponsors are stoked. And paying.
“Chris has been in the game long before GoPro and social media,” says GoPro sports marketing manager Davey Smidt. “It’s amazing to see how he has adapted (his camera work) with social media. He skis year-round and sometimes finds himself in places and situations where no camera man can go.”
Indeed, Davenport says that in the old days he often had to convince cameramen to tag along with him on expeditions or even a day shoot. Now, he can do it himself. While he did so as much as technology would allow when he skied all of Colorado’s 14ers in a single year in 2006, last season, when he wrapped up a nine-year project with Christy Mahon and Ted Mahon skiing the 100 tallest peaks in the state (350,000 vertical feet, if you must know), he was able to post his corn and crust exploits daily.
Plenty of action sports athletes are their own content machines and are leveraging it, too : John John Florence, skier Candide Thovex and mountain biker Danny MacAskill come to mind.
Of course, it’s not altruistic. He Tweets, posts on Instagram and Facebook so he can keep doing what he really likes, which is skiing, and use it to support and raise his family, including boys Stian, Topher and Archer, and wife, Jesse, a ski patroller at Aspen.
“I’d rather be in the mountains skiing for sure,” he says. “My main motivation is to be skiing every day, and social media plays right into that.”
As soon as Davenport arrives back home after a long day guiding, he prepares a few more posts after dinner with his family. He has to get caught up. He has more clients coming in to town and his kids’ ski races to watch before a trip in April to British Columbia. But unless you’re living in a cave, you’ll see all that, too.