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Dream Jobs: Freelance Writer

Travelling the world in pursuit of obscure adventures, Chris Solomon strives to tell the story of the unknown and extraordinary.
posted: 07/09/2014
Dream Jobs: Freelance Writer main

A former newspaper reporter with a passion for skiing and the outdoors, Chris Solomon struck out on his own as a freelance adventure writer in 2002 and hasn’t looked back. Solomon, 43, technically calls Seattle home, but he’s often on the road for assignments. His work has been featured in Skiing, SKI Magazine, Outside, The New York Times, Men’s Journal, and many other publications.

What would you tell someone trying to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of freelance writing?

The best piece of advice I was ever given: Have an area of expertise. Have something that you’re known for, and that you know extremely well. In my case, I know skiing. Not like the statistics, or the little specifics, just what’s going on in the world of it. I leaned on that heavily when I was starting out. I became primarily a ski travel writer. When I left the newspaper, I learned all I could about what was going on in the industry—and eventually, once I made a name for myself, people began to call on me for what was going on.

What’s your favorite place you have been skiing?

I have trouble picking favorites because so many places are cool in their own way. One place I will always remember is skiing in South Korea; although the skiing was absolutely horrific, the experience was incredible—I wrote about it for SKI Magazine. It was so fun to go over there, to drink fish broth between tremendously icy runs under the lights at night as Korean hip-hop blared over loudspeakers. That was unforgettable.

What do you enjoy the most about ski writing?

I’ve learned over the years that it’s more about the experience, and not necessarily the perfect powder days. It’s not all about getting that iconic face shot, or that perfect gourmet meal at a four-star restaurant. People don’t always want to read about great days—those days aren’t what make us. The challenging, weird, get-your-ass-handed-to-you trips are the ones that are fun to read and write about. Standard resort stories are boring; they lack a narrative. Skiing is all about finding cool, new places and meeting cool, new people. After a while it’s not really about the snow, or the skiing itself—at least not for me.

On average, how much of your time is spent travelling?

I don’t travel as much as I used to. I’m trying to branch out to other subjects. It really varies, though. I might be home for two months, and then gone for two weeks, and then home for a long time. I was in the Alaskan backcountry, and then had another story that I travelled for shortly after that. I never have a normal vacation or a set schedule.

How do you discover ideas for stories?

Friends often tip me off to potential story ideas. I find that coming up with ideas is the most challenging part of the job. Doing the research and writing is hard too, but that part is also satisfying because by that point you know what you’re going to write about. Magazines will call and ask me to look into a subject, and I have a slew of websites that I regularly look at. I read a lot, try to keep up on the news, and just stay plugged in and curious. I try to catch topics that look interesting to me and think about how I can make them interesting to other people. If you want to be good at freelancing, you have to be naturally curious and always asking why things are how they are. Find something you’re passionate about, so you’ll want to be learning and knowing about what’s going on.

What’s one of your most unforgettable experiences?

Hands down, the most incredible skiing experience I’ve had was a mission for SKI Magazine in 2006. Five other reporters and I had the chance to stay on a newly refurbished 200-foot mega-yacht on a lake in British Columbia. SKI got invited to send a writer up, and they thankfully called me. This was no little boat: It was the definition of crazy, over-the-top, fit for the ultra-wealthy. The helicopter would literally land on the ship to pick us up. It was all glasses of Dom Pérignon and heli-skiing at its finest. But believe me, I’ve scratched plenty of icy turns and skied some horrible conditions before I could earn that trip. Not to say that they were any less meaningful.

What do you predict will happen to the writing industry with the rise of digital media?

I’m not sure what the future holds for people like me, for people who make a living off of their writing. And I’m not sure what this transition to digital will mean. My short answer is that I just don’t know. Despite that, I think that there will always be a place for those who do interesting writing. Multimedia journalism is on the rise—supplementing your work with photography and design will undoubtedly become more standard, and writers who want to stay relevant will need to build those skills. I hope that there will always be a place for good storytelling—for those who want to read stories, and for those who want to tell them.

Don’t know the difference between they’re, their, and there? Check out other dream jobs in the ski industry.

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