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Ski Slopes to Start-Ups: How an Athlete Turned Pro in Sports Marketing

By Camille Ogden, Duck Career Program Coordinator

Ryan Barnes, BS ’98 may have graduated as a Duck but his college career began at Seattle University on a ski scholarship. Ryan says, “…racing is what took me to Seattle U but education is what drew me to the UO.” The UO Business School education Ryan thought he wanted was hard work, which this competitive guy didn’t mind, but as a transfer student (struggling in business calculus), completing his degree was going to take longer than expected. So as a senior, Ryan heeded the advice of a professor and stuck to his graduation timeline by making the switch to Sociology. He found the “slight departure” from business classes “refreshing and enlightening” and says it gave him “a more realistic view of the world and a more holistic perspective” on his goals than if he had stayed “buried in business” all four years. Though this wasn’t the education Ryan moved south for he was happy with the outcome and says it “played in his favor” because it drew him back to the slopes—this time as a coach.

The winter after graduating, Ryan took a coaching position with the Mount Hood Academy – a year round ski education program that is also home to the Mount Hood Race Team & Academy. During this time, Ryan enjoyed, “celebrating the successes of the athletes” and took the team to Norway multiple times to train and race. During the off season, Ryan also worked on special projects with the US Ski Team in Chile. While racing in college and taking sports marketing classes, Ryan realized he wanted to build a career within the sport and outdoor industry so he took an internship with K2 Sports the summer prior to graduating. When Adidas acquired Salomon and brought the high end French ski company to Portland, another door opened for Ryan and he “jumped on the opportunity” to work for a brand he knew first hand as a competitor and his career in sports marketing took off as a promotional rep for Salomon. If traveling the globe to ski competitions, testing new products designed for top performing athletes, and managing products for the US ski team sounds like a dream job, that’s because it was - at least for a time.

Eventually, Ryan grew weary of the road and his entrepreneurial interests led him to a start-up focused on electronic and video game accessories. A well-established marketer and brand ambassador, Ryan liked the challenge of a start-up and found a natural talent for building a brand from the ground up. But something was missing, “at the end of the day, a product is a product,” and Ryan realized, “I needed to be selling something I was passionate about.”

This revelation led to another start-up experience as Ryan joined The Clymb as a business development manager focused on acquiring brands for running, fitness, and you guessed it, snow sports. He was part of the team that took The Clymb from 100 brands to over 1,000 and from a value proposition of $1.7 million to $65 million in revenue. Needless to say, The Clymb grew fast – a pace Ryan knew well. One of Ryan’s favorite brands he managed while at The Clymb was POC, a Swedish company with a clear mission to develop products that “possibly save lives and reduce the consequences of accidents for gravity sports athletes and cyclists.” For Ryan, the “cleanliness of the design” and a product so “different, simple, and with a purpose” was exciting and innovative. When a ski buddy from his days at the UO passed along information about an opportunity with POC, Ryan went for it.
Again, Ryan returned to his deepest passion – skiing, his core strength—brand building, with a new purpose –the protection of gravity sports athletes and cyclists.

As an athlete himself, Ryan knows what it’s like to be the lone man on top of a mountain. He knows the adrenaline of the porch, the thrill of high speed, the freedom of flight, and the realities of an extreme crash. While the sleek design of POC’s products and a new challenge may have drawn him in, it is the mission of the company that he appreciates most; both as a competitor and as the father of a fearless four year old already on the slopes.

Ryan Barnes is the North America Snow Sales Manager for POC. He lives in Ogden, Utah with his wife Kim, son Hudson, and daughter Stella.


If you can’t find these four on the hill, look for them on the nearest lake.