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The Art of Achieving Viral Success before the Age of Social Media

Updated: Mar 31

The Art of Achieving Viral Success before the Age of Social Media





Of all the books and articles I read in college the most important was a very cool story in SKI magazine. This article was about living the life of a true ski bum. I saved the magazine and re-read the story often. Two years later it was time to act and I found myself heading north to the mountains from Los Angeles with a college friend in his tan 1967 El Camino. This adventure would lead to my fifteen minutes of fame and the experience of something going viral before going viral even existed.



After a fun two weeks of travel, we landed in a small town in central Oregon. Bend was the home of a very good ski resort Mt. Bachelor and with a population of about 20,000 it was a real town to live in.


As soon as the snow started falling my life, as a 21-year-old ski bum was better than advertised. The snow was plentiful, my fellow ski bums were entertaining and a mid week season ski pass was only $160.


To support my ski bum life I secured two jobs that were almost as much fun as the skiing itself. I skied Monday through Friday and worked weekends and nights.

On weekends I was part of the elite and highly skilled team that provide a safe place for all the skiers to park their cars. The parking lot crew was dedicated young men and women who were the first and last employees that skiers came in contact with. We made sure that any problems that were generated in the parking lot were taken care of. Accidents, dead batteries, lost keys, fights, lost skiers, lost children, whatever happened, we took care of the situation as far as we could. For serious problems we brought in the State Police. We had radios, but no guns.


On weekday nights I worked at the local newspaper as a staff photographer. The Bend Bulletin was the local town paper that fit my needs perfectly. My assignments consisted of anything happening after sunset. I shot many high school sporting events, city council meetings, fires and car wrecks. It was a fun job and I usually was finished with all my work by 10 pm. This offered plenty of time to meet friends at one of the many cowboy bars that populated the town. It seemed I found more than I expected in my new ski bum world. The skiing was very good as Central Oregon was always being pounded with snowstorms. The newspaper job offered me a chance to hone my skill as a photojournalist as the paper would usually publish any image I would submit. There were many skiing images on the front page of the paper from my day job as a ski bum.


On one special weekend in December all three (skiing, parking lot employee and photographer) would all collide for a very interesting confluence that added an amazing bonus to my ski bum world.


A few days before Christmas as we manned our post in the parking lot, a glorious sight was revealed. From my vantage point I noticed the skies were clearing and bright sun was now shining on the east face of the Cinder Cone. The Cinder Cone was a volcanic pimple nestled towards the bottom of the Mt. Bachelor Resort and it sometime offered the best powder skiing on the mountain.


On this particular Sunday morning, the skies parted just as 15 of Mt. Bachelor’s finest floated down from the top of the Cinder Cone. The ski school had made the climb up the back of the cone to be able to capture first tracks on this perfect day. Every turn we saw was perfect, every ski track a record of such perfection. There was no time to waste. The light, the perfect snow and the perfect skiers would all be gone in a flash. I had to get close enough to record this moment of heaven on earth.


I was working with Brett that day as we monitored the parking lot from a beat up Chevy truck we affectionately called “The Crummy.” I convinced Brett to abandon our post and help me with this photo.


Brett agreed and he slammed the gearshift into first and spun a 180-degree turn. We actually drove very slow and calmly as the lot was littered with skiers all trying desperately to get to the slopes before the other 1000 skiers did. As we drove away, I noticed that the entrance to the parking lot was left unguarded. If Attila and his Huns were to attack today, we were all surely doomed.


After safely passing the hordes of skiers, we raced to the far end of the lot. I climbed on the top of “The Crummy” to obtain the best view. I just happen to have my cameras in the truck. A news photographer isn’t much good without a camera. I shot a roll of black and white and a roll of color as fast as I could. As the last skier dropped below the trees the clouds rolled in and heaven was reclaimed by the gods. We jumped back in the truck and quickly headed to the entrance of the parking lot. We checked for causalities. No one had died. No one even noticed we had left.


That night at the newspaper I printed up a full-page black and white version for the sports page editor and an 8 x 10 version to be transmitted over The United Press International wire photo system. (Remember this was 1979 - no Internet, no email, no you tube, no Facebook, no Instagram) The wire photo system sent a black and white image over the phone line a fraction of the image every few seconds. An 8 x 10 black and white would take about 20 minutes to transmit. I sent images over this system all the time and these photos were delivered to newspapers in California, Oregon and Washington. After transmitting my Cinder Cone photo, there was an immediate phone call from the UPI office in San Francisco. They thought the image was good enough to resend it nation wide. I loaded up the machine again and magically transmitted the photo all across the county. My Cinder Cone photo was about to take on a life of it’s own.


I went home and dreamed of powder snow, which I was able to ski the next day. No sunshine, no blue sky, but the snow was soft and that always makes for a good day. I dropped by the newspaper office at about 6 pm to see what was happening. Apparently, my cinder cone photo was the thing that was happening.

I noticed the sports editor had run the image on the lead sport page and he ran it from top to bottom.A full-page photo! Not much more you can ask for as a news photographer. It looked great and I was very happy that our dash to the other end of the parking lot had paid off. While I was admiring my work, someone threw a copy of The Oregonian on my desk. He said, “Check out page two.” On page two of the biggest paper in the state the cinder cone photo was at the very top.


It wasn’t a full page, but a good size. I then decided to check all the newspaper in the state. To my delight the photo ran in every one.


The next day I discovered more and more newspapers that ran the image. Seems the photo ran up and down the west coast and also on the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser. The photo went viral in the only way it could back then and things were just getting started as I found a note in my mailbox.


Apparently, The Cinder Cone image had made it all the way to New York and New York was calling. Newsweek Magazine had a story about to run on how good the snow was in the West and how bad it was on the east coast. They requested I re-shoot the image in color. Of course this was easy for them to say from a New York skyscraper. The editors at Newsweek had no clue on what had to happen to create that photo in the first place. Of course I had already shot the scene in color. All I had to was drop the film in a messenger’s pouch and wait to see if by chance I had something good enough to publish.


The following week brought more and more newspapers that used the photo. Of course I was waiting to see the new Newsweek. I imagined what it might look like on the cover. Skiing good powder snow had to be more important than wars or politics. While protecting the parking lot on my next day of work, I noticed a group of three men walking towards our position. Among the group was Bill Healy, the owner and founder of Mt. Bachelor. I had met Bill before and we shook hands. We exchanged pleasantries while he pulled a newspaper clipping out of his jacket pocket. He mentioned his good friend in New York City had sent him the photo of the Cinder Cone that ran in The New York Daily News. Mr. Healy was very happy as he mentioned that his friend had thought the photo was taken on the moon. The photo had tuned into an organic PR event that went from coast to coast.


The photo had given Mt. Bachelor a one-day nation wide shot in the arm as far as total free high quality PR was concerned. Bill knew this and thanked me for the effort. He would later add a $500 bonus to my bi-weekly paycheck.






A copy of Newsweek magazine finally landed on my desk at the newspaper. The photo did not make the cover. Something about Russia invading Afghanistan appeared to be more important. I flipped through the book quickly and found the image on the top of page 45. It was also perfect. It presented a beautiful color version of the last two skiers on their way down into the trees. Seeing a published image is always the final rush in the photography making business.





My status at the newspaper was elevated from the night darkroom guy to a real photographer with a nation wide reach. The publisher also acknowledged my existence. The ski resort would also elevate my status as they started hiring me for photo assignments throughout the year. Newsweek paid $200 for the photo and returned the original undamaged. For the next two years I would pedal the image to anyone I could. There was many a hotel room in the area with a copy of that photo hanging on the wall. My last sale was a 4ʼ x 5ʼ frame version that would hang in the bar at Mt. Bachelor.


The three years of ski bumming I spent in Bend Oregon can all be summed up in the Cinder Cone photo. I will always remember my 15 minutes of fame and the last time I checked the photo was still hanging in the bar at the main lodge.

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