Finding Culture In Thin Air 

Paul Thornton on mountain entertainment

For some, cross-country skiing along quiet tree-lined trails offers peace and solitude and a chance to re-energize. For others, skiing and snowboarding are group sports and need to be accompanied by time trials, competitions, big crowds and plenty of music.

For several years, the organizers of the Jeep King of the Mountain ski and snowboard event in Sun Valley were fully aware of the second group of people. And, in 2006, a couple of lifelong skiers asked Boisean Paul Thornton, the founder and then president of Bravo Entertainment, to help them create something like the King of the Mountain, but with entertainment playing as big a role as the snow sports. So he did, and last year, they launched the Honda Ski Tour. Eventually, someone came up with the even better idea of combining the forces of the two events and creating something more than just an event—it's more like a mountain subculture. Though they have yet to determine a name for the new event (Jeep is the new sponsor, so it's a safe bet it will be the Jeep something or other), or have the musical acts set in stone, Thornton is burning up phone lines and pounding away on his keyboard, getting together all the pieces he'll need to make the event a success.

BW: How did you become involved with the Honda Ski Tour?

Paul Thornton: I was approached by Kip Nelson, the founder of the ski tour, and his co-founder, Steve Brown. They called me up to Sun Valley to sit with them in May of '06. They've both been skiers their whole lives, and Kip's a member of the U.S. Ski Association board. Kip said, "We want to put these [ski and snowboard] competitions together but we want to add an entertainment [part of the event]." So I put together a proposal on how I saw that happening and rolling out, and they really liked the idea. We brainstormed from there, and instead of just one event in Sun Valley, it became four events in four different resorts last year, and it's just taking off from there.

And you'll do the same thing this year?

We're doing the four winter events again. We're going to Telluride, Park City, Squaw Valley and Sun Valley and we're doing summer events as well that have mountain bike races attached to them. So now it's a full year-round project instead of just a winter project.

Was it originally formed as a Bravo event?

No, Bravo contracted last year to do all of the entertainment. Through my selling of Bravo and my agreement with them, I was able to personally take over the Ski Tour account and take it under my own wing.

Was running the Ski Tour part of the reason you left Bravo?

I was supposed to stay on with the company through the end of next year and help with the transition phase [the Knitting Factory now owns Bravo Entertainment] of selling the company and getting a management team in place. But we had really sped up that process and gotten some good people in place. What happened was that the Ski Tour, which was just kind of a side account of Bravo, had come to the point it is now, coming into this year, where it was going to need much more focus anyway. That meant either Bravo had to put a ton of more resources into it, or back away all together or let me step out and take it over on my own.

You've already grown, and it's only the second year. Are you looking at this as something that in 20 years, you're still climbing up the ski hills to put on the tour?

I sure hope so. Last year, it turned out that we planned an event and we ended up having a gathering. It was just this really cool thing of cultures aligning with athletes, musicians and people who just love nature. It's come to the point where we've realized it's more than an event. It's more than a gathering. We're creating a mountain culture brand. We know what people want to do and know about even when they're sitting at their desks in L.A. or New York. We want to create that one week they can get away and really live outside of what they have to do every day—live the life they'd prefer to live if they could every day. We're revamping the fact that we're more of a culture than anything else. We want to create a [Web] site where everyone goes to find out what's going on in the mountains: Where's the best snow; where are the best mountain bike trails. When people think, "I want to get outdoors, I want to get in the mountains, I want to be a part of that culture," we want them to think about us.

Does that mean you're going to have to change the name from Ski Tour?

Yes. With the Honda Ski Tour and the Jeep King of the Mountain combined, we are in the process of coming up with that brand new name. Jeep is our sponsor and we are very close to rolling it out. It's interesting, because we've been very quiet about it, but we're really close.

What entertainment do you have lined up this year?

We're only just now confirming all of that, so the only thing I can say is the first headliner in Telluride is Michael Franti and Spearhead.

Will you be using any local entertainment?

Most of the entertainment in the clubs [in town] and in the tents [will be] national bands that have a really big name and big fan base and are aligned with our mountain culture, or are really strong up-and-coming bands. What I want in this tour is for people to walk away and talk about bands they just fell in love with that they've never seen before.

Did you have some of those last year?

Yes. In Sun Valley, Danielia Cotton was amazing. People didn't really know who she was. She won Best New Artist last year at the Milwaukee Summerfest, which is a huge festival. Here, people were blown away by her. You could hear it in the street, people trying to get into the Roosevelt, which was completely sold out. She just rocked. She's like Janis Joplin reincarnated.

Since you're no longer involved with Bravo/The Knitting Factory, is this tour going to be your main focus?

Yeah. It really will be the main focus. I'll probably do some other festivals that have approached me. But I'll be back in the position that I can pick and choose what I want to do and not have venues I have to fill every day.

Telluride Ski Resort, Telluride, Colo., Dec. 14-16; Park City Mountain Resort, Park City, Utah, Jan. 11-13; Squaw Valley Resort, Squaw Valley, Calif., Feb. 8-10; Sun Valley Resort, Ketchum, Idaho, Mar. 14-16. For more information, check

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