Snowboard UK vs White Lines: The Editors' Interview
Interview by Sam Baldwin
Published Dec 2007
Of all the jobs in the snowboarding industry, being the editor of the UK's two biggest and best magazines surely ranks pretty high up on the list. We speak to Mark McGettigan, editor of Snowboard UK, and Ed Blomfield, editor of White Lines, to find out if spreading snowboarding propaganda to the nation's shredders truly is a dream job.
How did you get into snowboarding, and how did that lead to becoming editor?
I did three seasons in Tignes (two before uni, one straight after) and with my degree in English I put two and two together and thought working for a snowboard mag would be the perfect job. If I'd known then how few jobs there are at these mags, I probably wouldn't have bothered! I started writing a few freelance pieces though, sent some CVs around and then out of the blue I got asked to come in for an interview. The editor job at White Lines had come up - the rest is history.
Returning to the UK in 2002, I embarked on a series of snow sports related jobs (travel agent, shop staff etc) before becoming a copywriter for Snow+Rock. Then the leap to the editor job was simply the result of applying to an ad in Snowboard UK.
Where in the world have you snowboarded, and what was your favourite trip?
Ed WL: Tignes in France is like a second home; I've spent a lot of time there, met some lifelong friends and ridden some of the best runs of my life. I've also ridden in Scotland, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Tahoe, Utah, New Zealand and India. Not forgetting Halifax and Castleford! Kashmir (India) was the best trip. We found immense powder and had the adventure of a lifetime.
Mark SUK: Mainly Europe (frustratingly yet to ride in North America): Italy, Switzerland, France, Austria as well as two trips to the South Island resorts of New Zealand. Favourite trip? The recent trip to Chamonix where we got a heli day in takes some beating as best day, but trip-wise it has to be the first time I went to NZ in 2000. I basically rocked up in Auckland with my board bag, a pre-booked lift pass for the Queenstown resorts (Coronet Peak and Remarkables) and a return ticket for three months later.
Are you worried about the detrimental effect global warming may have on the winter sports industry?
Ed WL: Yes, though I wouldn't say I'm worried about the industry as such. In the big scheme of things, my job, or selling snowboards - or even whether or not people can slide down mountains for fun - is a pretty small consideration. If we clean up our act generally, then the rest will follow.
I believe that in years to come historians will look back at us and think we were worse than the polluters during the industrial revolution. I mean, the basic renewable energies are already there, but instead of applying the best minds to it, we go with the cheapest short term option and keep burning oil. I honestly don't understand why money hasn't been ploughed into green technology and banning cars from cities instead of fighting pointless wars in the desert.
Mark SUK: I think we're all worried about anything that will have a negative effect on the industry - not just environmental issues. It's obviously an awkward one because on the one hand we're trying to cut carbon emissions, be a bit greener, but on the other I'm desperate to fly out to North America just to go riding, or hire a chopper to take us a bit higher; it seems a bit oxymoronic.
Being the editor of a major snow sports magazine must be a great job, what are the best and worst aspects of the job?
Ed WL: Best - it's creative, always challenging and varied (even switching between words and picture editing can be refreshing). I get more free kit than my snowboarding talent warrants and get to go on trips to new places.
Worst - Those trips are fewer and farther between than you might think. I don't usually get out of the office till mid February, so I miss most of the season. Also when you're out there you are usually too busy organizing riders and photo shots to just ride for yourself. The other shit aspects are industry politics, feeling stretched (there are only 2 full time editorial staff at White Lines - myself and the designer) and deadlines. Seriously, your whole life revolves around the dreaded deadline, and office stints till 6am are not unheard of. Would I give it up though? No.
Mark SUK: The best bits? I think it's the fact that you get to travel through the job and it's a great thing to tell people at dinner parties when everyone else is a banker or lawyer! Oh and it's nice to have a copy of the mag in your hand and go, 'I did this (with a little help of course)'. And the worst bit? I think that sometimes putting the mag together can be a bit soul-destroying and that's hard when it's supposed to be a 'dream job' in the sport/industry that you love.
With the rise of the web, do you think the traditional print-only publications will survive?
Ed WL: Yes, but they will need to adapt. We have a new website (whitelines.com) which is where we are placing more and more of our news. It's the only way to keep up and to avoid filling a magazine with stale content. The paper mag is reserved for more timeless articles and in-depth content.
There's still something about reading a great story and looking at photographs on paper that can't be replicated online. Why do you think people still buy books? It's the "bog-reading" theory. Magazines are tactile and you can carry them around and collect them in your home. Still, I do think that they need to become more book-like and less disposable in order to compete with free content on the web. You basically need to give the reader something they can't get elsewhere. That's why we've invested heavily in better quality paper and are always searching for the best possible photographs.
Mark SUK: God I hope so. I'm probably not the best person to talk to cos I'm a real Luddite but I think that even with the rise of the digital camera, people still want to print off photos, put them in albums etc and I think it's the same thing - there's something nice about having a concrete product to hold and flick through (and not just for the loo breaks). Also, I think that the print quality can really help photos so as long as we're a photo-led publication printing mags will survive.
Do the think the skier vs snowboarder feud is still raging, or have we reached peace on piste?
Ed WL: It's a boring question that has been done to death but somehow it keeps coming back! I have friends that ski and to be fair the shit skiers do on film is often gnarlier than anything snowboarders do. BUT… there is something gay about them aping the whole snowboard look, which reminds me of rollerbladers. We just posted a reader poll on the WL site asking this very question. 52% of people believe skiers are "still bent" whereas 34% believe it depends whether or not the skiers use twin tips.
Mark SUK: 'Peace on Piste' - like it. To be honest, who knows? There's always someone, somewhere slagging off the other sport for doing this or taking that so I'm not sure. But are Rugby League and Rugby Union fans best mates? At the end of the day, I know some skiers who are good guys and I know some snowboarders who are pricks...
Where in the world would you like to ski/snowboard (that you haven't yet visited) and why?
Mark SUK: Pretty much anywhere in US or Canada - the whole set up appeals but when I see shots from the likes of Kicking Horse or you speak to the guys at Tahoe and they tell you how much annual snow they get, it's hard not to think 'that's where i should be going'. Alaska maybe, but I'm pretty sure I'd be out of my depth.
What advice would you give to those trying to get into snow sports publications industry?
Ed WL: Be proactive and submit creative material off your own back. Don't wait to get commissioned, chances are the editor will want to see proof of your ability anyway. I've written a lot more about this on the new site - go to: whitelines.com/jobs
Mark SUK: Only do it if you have no serious financial commitments - the money is not great. That aside, if you want to get into the writing side - write some stuff, send it through and ask for feedback. The same for photographers; you have to shoot plenty of shots, send them in and ask for feedback. Try covering local comps or something similar - a foot in the door might just lead to bigger and better things.
How important are ski/snowboard magazines in the promotion and growth of snow sports?
Ed WL: They're still important. People are loyal to magazines in a way that they're not to videos and websites, so they're a great way of getting messages across to an audience. Videos need mags to help promote them, mags need videos to chart progression, so the whole thing works together.
Going back to your original question, for a sport to grow, people need to have their imagination captured. This is the first basic thing, and to be fair it is likely to happen with no input from a magazine. It might be they've seen footage of snowboarding (the Olympics, a random advert, the Extreme channel etc) had friends tell them about it, or been taken to the local mountain/dryslope.
Having tried it out and got the buzz though, magazines are there to fuel those flames and help create and sustain the whole culture around the sport. Chances are this alternative culture is part of the attraction in the first place - people trying snowboarding are often looking for something less competition-orientated than football or cricket.
Mark SUK: They have a role to play definitely. I'd like to think that giving mags away on schools tours, at local slopes or at events encourages people to take up the sport - although at times we're doing a lot of preaching to the converted.
The magazines should be aspirational and inspirational - we want people to pick them up and want to go riding, to want to get better. Plus we're promoting events, riders etc and the more coverage they get, the better for everyone.
What do you think of SnowSphere Magazine?
Ed WL: To be honest I've been too busy to read it much! Travelling to new places is a big part of snowboarding though, so it seems like a pretty good idea.
Mark SUK: I think you're doing a bang on job there Sam - good mix of articles and features and all from a straightforward point of view - who doesn't worry about where snowboarding fashion is going?
Are you living the dream?
Ed WL: Yes and no. It's hard work but yes it is rewarding.
Mark SUK: I think if someone had told me when I was still doing seasons that I'd be the Snowboard UK editor a few years later, I'd have taken that - definitely. Complaining about it seems churlish and I know for a fact that it beats the hell out of data entry or mucking out horses' stables.A big thanks to Ed and Mark - make sure you pick up your copies of White Lines and Snowboard UK and check out their websites which have both been revamped for the new winter season.
*A Brief History of Snowboard UK and White Lines
1991 - Eddie Spearing and "Stig" launch first issue of Snowboard UK. The mag is put together in an cold and noisy office above a carpet factory in Kidderminster in the West Midlands.
1993 - The skateboard magazine RAD spawns a rival mag "Snowboard World", which lasts just a few issues, but is then replaced by a new kid on the block - White Lines.
1999 - Eddie, founder of SUK, leaves to start the UK's third Snowboard Mag - Document Snowboard. The British Snowboard Industry holds its breath; can the UK support three snowboard magazines?
2007 - All three snowboard magazines continue to spread their snowboarding propaganda to this day.
*According to the article "The Big One Hundred: the story of Snowboard UK" that appeared in Oct 2005 issue of SUK.