The 25-Year Ski Trip: How a Short Holiday Turned Into a Life on the Slopes


The perfect job: Skiing and taking pictures like this all day. (Photo: Brad Kasselman/Coast Mountain Photography)

In 1990, Brad Kasselman graduated from the University of Michigan and decided to be a ski bum for a season at Whistler in British Columbia. He liked the area so much that he vowed to stay “one more year.” Twenty-five years later, he’s still there, hitting the slopes all winter long, but he also now owns and operates the area’s biggest photography business. How’d he make it happen? Brad spoke with Yahoo Travel to share his tips on turning one’s travel passion into a career.

“Most people try to find the best job and go wherever that is,” Brad said. “Me, I went about it backwards. I found the best place and then tried to figure out how to get a job there.”

As a fresh college grad, Brad grabbed a couple of ski magazines and began calling numbers for resorts, hotels, restaurants, tour companies — anyone at a ski area that might support his dream of living near the slopes. In his research, Brad saw that Whistler had just been named the best resort in North America. He decided he had to go there.


Brad’s ski pass from his first year at Whistler (Photo: Brad Kasselman/Coast Mountain Photography)

With only a vague promise of a job, Brad hopped in his Acura Integra for a road trip to Canada with all his worldly possessions: skis, boots, a mountain bike, a futon, and a stereo. “I got up there and didn’t have a pot to piss in,” he said.

Having studied Japanese, Brad was able to find a job with a Canadian company providing guide services to Japanese tourists. He enjoyed skiing more than 100 days that season with clients in tow. “But I was barely getting paid, living like a real ski bum. If I wanted to stay up there, I knew I had to do something better.”

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The next season, Brad signed on as a photographer with the on-mountain photo team, working on commission. “I was the worst photographer, by far, among the staff, when the season started,” he said. “But I worked hard in training, emulated the experienced staff, and my work did improve.” That improvement, coupled with his Japanese-language sales skills, enabled him to become the company’s top-selling employee.


Brad doing his thing on set at a photo shoot in 2014 (Photo: Brad Kasselman/Coast Mountain Photography)

Now with enough money to make it to another season, Brad continued to work on his craft by becoming an unpaid assistant to a local professional photographer. As his skills developed, he talked his way into yet another epic ski-town job: a helicopter ski — “heliski” — photographer.

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“There was no such job as a staff photographer for any of the heliski companies then,” Brad said. “I had to convince the owner he should give up a $400 seat on every flight to me and that both of us would make some money from it.”


These days, cool shots like this do the convincing for him. (Photo: Brad Kasselman/Coast Mountain Photography)

The owner hesitantly agreed that Brad could join a few flights to test out the idea. On the first trip, they sold more than $1,000 in photos to clients. After repeating the sales, the owner demanded that Brad fly on every trip thereafter. They split the profits, and Brad was able to save money for his next project. And not incidentally, Brad was able to go helicopter skiing every day for over three months through some of the most spectacular mountain terrain in the world.

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The following season, Brad, his photographer mentor, and another friend developed a business plan to start their own on-mountain photo concession. Whistler’s partner resort, Blackcomb, agreed to the idea, and the three went into business for themselves. They were so successful that Whistler asked them to take over the business for both mountains for the following year.


A Coast Photo staff member shooting a World Cup race at Whistler (Photo: Brad Kasselman/Coast Mountain Photography)

Never one to miss an opportunity, Brad was there to help when Whistler-Vancouver began developing its bid for the 2010 Olympics. At first offering free photo support for the bid, Brad was later contracted to supply many of the stock photos used for the effort. One of his shots got so much publicity that the provincial Department of Motor Vehicles bought the rights to use it as a custom license plate design. Now, more than 300,000 cars in British Columbia have Brad’s photo on the back. Not a bad photo credit for the former “worst photographer on staff.”


Brad definitely earned his license to click with this sweet shot. (Photo: Brad Kasselman/Coast Mountain Photography)

Today, Brad’s photo service enters its 20th year of business, having expanded to more than 40 employees and a year-round clientele of corporate, tourism, and event photography.


Brad’s Coast Mountain team, just living the dream (Photo: Brad Kasselman/Coast Mountain Photography)

But Brad still gets in at least 30 days a season for pure skiing. He’s never seriously thought about leaving Whistler, finding it his perfect destination, with its natural beauty, healthy lifestyle, and, oh yes, skiing.


Of course Brad is totally content: He gets paid to shoot gorgeous hotels like this! (Photo: Brad Kasselman/Coast Mountain Photography)

Brad’s advice to others thinking about following their dream to the mountains or anywhere else exotic? “You need to create your own opportunities. Your ideal job probably isn’t going to be in a help-wanted ad. Seek out people who are doing what you want to do, and convince them you’re worth it to bring along for the ride. It has taken me a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, but my reward is that pretty much every day when my work is over, I’m happy to be exactly where I am.”

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