EARLY IN THE 1999 SEASON, Ryan Schmies drove from Steven's Point, Wisconsin, to Ski Brule, Michigan, to get his first turns of the year. On a crowded run, he popped a misty 720 off a trailside kicker, landed flat-and smashed his knee into his face. The damage: fractured upper jaw, nose, brow, and cheekbones-plus collapsed sinuses and a cracked eye socket. "I thought I was going to be blind when I woke up," he says. "Later, I could barely draw. I was seeing double." He still suffers from tunnel vision, but Schmies, 25, has no trouble putting pen to paper: He designs the streetwise graphics for K2's factory freeride skis.
"Ryan's the only artist I've worked with who can translate ideas into design, knows younger skiers-and is one," says Mike Gutt, K2's team manager. Gutt first saw Schmies's portfolio in 2000 at Whistler Blackcomb's summer ski camps, where the kid was a "digger," building terrain features for pros. "I knew right then that we had to get him on board," says Gutt. Shortly after, Schmies's first ski, the Public Enemy, hit shelves-and its illustrator went back to finish school at the University of Wisconsin.
Finding a job was a breeze: K2 hired him straight out of college, and his sketches went straight to its top sheets. If you've seen the Seth Vicious or the MissDemeanor, you've seen Schmies's work-which is a combination of hand-drawing, athlete feedback, and Photoshop touch-ups. Beyond that, there's no big secret. "Basically, Mike and I look at what's been done before," he says, "and try to depart." -JAMEY VOSS
UNDER PRESSURE: "I designed the Made'n AK overnight and Gutt presented it to K2's execs the next morning. I knew it'd be fine."
SQUIRREL BAIT: "When I was 10, I was climbing a tree and felt something dig into my hand. A huge squirrel was going to town on my fingers. My right hand now has deformed digits-looks crazy as hell. But the injury acts as a big calloused pad that holds my drawing utensils nice and tight."