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Crazy Real: A Decade of the Line Traveling Circus

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This article has been adapted from the Winter 2018 print issue of Downdays Magazine. Use the mag finder at the bottom of this page to find a copy in a ski shop near you.

Ten years ago, two young American skiers from central New York state came up with a scheme to go skiing for the winter and make some online videos to help pay for it. Little did they know, Will Wesson and Andy Parry had embarked on a journey that would last for a decade and running, one that would take them around the world on a series of bizarre ski adventures, while turning the duo into unlikely heroes for an entire generation of skiers.

 

Their creation, the Line Traveling Circus, has grown into one of skiing’s most popular webisode series, with millions of views and tens of thousands of fans across the globe. The secret to their success? Always keeping it real. With an eclectic blend of technical park skiing, farfetched ideas and the goofy antics of their merry band of collaborators, Will and Andy have worked their way into skiing’s heart, one wacky episode at a time.

 

Here’s to ten years, and hopefully many more, of the Traveling Circus. – Marie Herr

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Sämi Ortlieb soaks up VIP life in the TC van. Photo: Jake Strassman

Humble Beginnings

Andy and Will had been sending me their homemade videos of backyard skiing that we’d post to the Line Skis Youtube channel. After they graduated college, I think they freaked out realizing that they now had two options: get a job or find a way to get paid to ski. It was then that they called me up and told me they wanted to have a serious conversation about how they’d like to help make videos for me to use to promote my skis.

 

I told them to come over to my house and tell me about it. We sat on my front porch for an hour and they explained their predicament of needing to get paid to finance their dream of traveling and skiing, and to stop their parents from bugging them to get a job. I remember telling them if we’re going to do it, it needs to be a consistent thing, like a TV show, so people remember it and look forward to the next episode. For me consistency was a really important part of making it successful.

 

Will and Andy claimed they were serious and would come through, so we brainstormed the name “Traveling Circus,” and I offered to pay them very little, something like $250 per episode. I remember assuming that summer that they’d travel to Mount Hood and I’d never hear from them again, so I honestly kind of forgot about it for a couple of months. Then one random day they sent me the first episode and we released it, and people loved it! To my surprise each month they sent me another episode, continuing with the same formula. Over time it became more consistent and more popular, just like we all had hoped, but it’s 100% because of their hard work! It took a ton of focus to stay with it year after year, but it’s that consistent momentum that made it so strong. – Jason Levinthal (Line Skis & J Skis founder)

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Andy Parry, Shane McFalls and Will Wesson. Photo: Dan Brown

Early Days

We didn’t expect it to last more than a year. We just wanted to go on a big road trip for a year and have the excuse to tell our parents that we’re going to do this for a ski company. Obviously it lasted a lot longer than that, and the message of “keeping shit crazy real,” as Andy might say it, kept going. From the start our idea was to be a bit more relatable to the average skier. We’re from the East Coast and didn’t have the greatest conditions growing up, so we wanted to keep that East Coast pride alive: we’ll ski anywhere in any conditions. It doesn’t matter how big or small, the feature, the resort, whatever. Wherever we are, let’s go skiing. – Will Wesson

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Andy living the ski-bum dream on someone's spare mattress. Photo: Will Wesson

Season One was a big year for us. It was the first time going out West for both of us, living far away from where we grew up. There was a lot of sleeping on other people’s couches in all different states. I remember being in Mammoth and not having enough money to get home, so I was selling my outerwear online, just trying to get any money that I could. I remember vividly sending things out at the Mammoth post office and thinking, “Sweet, now I can get home.” I went back, tried to make as much money as I could, and it started all over again the next season. – Andy Parry

THE RAIL ROBOT

Will used to be a little shy and awkward when we were meeting kids or staying at someone’s house. He’s way more outgoing now—like an actual human being. As a skier, he’s developed at a computer robot-like pace. He gets better every year. We both figured out that we needed to embrace the weirdness of some of the stuff we were doing in Traveling Circus. He started to integrate that into his street skiing; looking at things in a different way, but it still had to be cool. He has a very high standard for what’s cool and what isn’t. He developed a conscious way of doing things that are sustainable, technically hard and visually cool. – Andy

The Wizard Master

I met Andy in ninth grade, and we started doing a lot of backyard rail setups in the summer and winter for those four years of high school. Around his freshman or sophomore year of college he started trying to do some of the stranger grinds that people still can’t really wrap their heads around. Andy found an outlet in inventing ski tricks, and a lot of kids look up to him and follow him just for that. But he also has this sixth sense for ridiculous, on-the-spot improvisation, making up stuff out of nowhere. Because of that, instead of just being the kid doing the strange obscure tricks, he also kind of became the face of Traveling Circus.

 

People like to call them “wizard tricks” these days, and his name will come up if you see someone do one of those tricks. Sometimes someone will just fall in a weird way, like stepping over in a weird way on a rail, and someone will say, “Oh, you’re doing an Andy Parry trick.” He can do a lot of other tricks too, which people overlook sometimes. Everybody has the thing that they’re known for, but it’s almost never the only thing that they’re good at. He’s definitely a victim of that. The wizard tricks, that’s what people remember. – Will

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Ski slide to bindsoul: a classic wizard trick from Season 10.1, "Arizona Ice TC"

Something out of nothing

The style of the videos is really similar to the whole “make something out of nothing” thing that Andy and Will had been doing for a long time already on the East Coast. You work with what you have, right? We weren’t able to afford a crazy camera, but we also didn’t feel like we needed one. And it was more fun that way. I didn’t even have a tripod—I was a “professional filmer” for eight years and I didn’t even own a tripod! Our style came from the skate style of wanting to keep it fast, fun and easy—partly out of necessity, and partly because that’s the look we were going for. – Shane McFalls

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Shane surveys his handiwork. Photo: Will Wesson

Which way to ze Autobahn?

The first time I met the Traveling Circus was filming for Season Four. We were skiing in Austria and Switzerland, and we pretty much skied pow every day. On that trip we had big RVs and got stuck a lot because of all the snow. Roy [Kittler] got pissed at the Americans on a daily basis because they weren’t great at driving and always took wrong turns. The trip ended with Shane driving one of the RVs into a ski bus and smashing the windshield. Line had to pay a ton of money to the rental company. Also on that trip, the driver’s-side window on my car got shattered, and Will and I had to drive from Austria to Switzerland with no window. Shit was cold. – Sämi Ortlieb

 

The RVs got destroyed. There was a lot of plastic and cheap wood inside, and almost every handle and every edge in the interior got broken. The inside of the RVs were like saunas. We wanted to keep it warm enough to survive, but were all soaked after every pow day. So we were basically living in the most humid environment in the Alps, inside these RVs with four dudes in each one. There were wet clothes everywhere. I felt like I was going to get a tropical virus. – Will

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Garrett Russell navigates a typical TC feature: you don't know what will happen until you see it. Photo: Tatsuya Tayagaki

Van Misadventures

We were driving from Salt Lake City to Lake Tahoe and decided to go to the Great Bonneville Salt Flats, a dried-up lakebed where they set the land speed record with a rocket car. We wanted to drive the van out on the salt flats and get some shots, maybe tow behind it on skis. We were having a great time, driving off into the desert, four friends with no responsibility in a giant yellow van, and suddenly we started slowing down. Everybody started yelling, “Turn around, turn around, turn around!” Halfway through the turn we bogged down and lost all traction. We tried pushing, we tried shoveling, we tried using pieces of wood, I think we even tried skis. No matter what we did, we just dug a deeper hole.

 

Finally we called a towing company and they said they would “bring the mud cat out.” We were all like, “What’s a mud cat?” We waited, picked up pieces of salt and karate-chopped them, and waited longer. Finally we saw the mud cat in the distance. It was literally an old snow cat—that’s what they use to tow vehicles that get stuck out in the salt flats. That ended up being a pretty expensive tow. – Will

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No speed records were set on this day. Photo: Will Wesson

Couch Surfing

We did so much couch surfing that it got to be like a science. We knew what to buy to keep people happy. I would always do everybody’s dishes—I’m an amazing houseguest now because of how much couch surfing we did. Like, you want me to stay at your house. People start to get annoyed when there’s four dudes in their living room, all on iMacs, your WiFi is super slow, there are wet clothes everywhere, people are constantly in the kitchen… not to mention there’s a bright-yellow van in your driveway that the whole neighborhood can see. When we’d come in, it would be like a swarm. – Shane

The Last Skiurai

One of my all-time favorite trips was our first time to Japan at the end of Season Five when we found these crazy circle rails in a park. We got kicked out so we went skiing somewhere else, but we knew we had to go back and try the circle rail. On our last day, we woke up early and went there, super paranoid because someone had called the cops on us before. We spent a long time trying to get the rail, and a lot of time hiding behind snowbanks whenever someone walked by. We had a flight that evening and time was getting short. Luckily Rob [Heule], Cole [Drexler] and I all managed to get it, and we hopped in the car and started rushing towards the airport. Our flight turned out to be delayed, otherwise we would have missed it for sure. I got on the plane still in my sweaty ski clothes, smelling just disgusting. I think Rob changed his clothes in the check-in line. That’s how we left Hokkaido the first time. – Will

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Cole Drexler, trying not to miss his flight. Photo: Tatsuya Tayagaki

A night with the Druids

Going indoor skiing in the UK was way different. We would wake up at two or three in the afternoon, go skiing at 9:00pm, stop skiing at midnight, then drive to the next spot. It was definitely a weird trip, driving around the British countryside, going to these indoor resorts, skiing at super weird times on super weird snow. Indoor snow sucks—it’s almost like sand. That was another one that was just like, “What are we doing here?” – Andy

 

We went to Stonehenge one day, and the tickets were pretty expensive just to walk on a boardwalk and not get close to the stones. We started talking to this weirdly dressed guy with some sort of conspiracy-type sign, and he told us to come back next week. On every equinox and every solstice, they let everyone who shows up at 6:30am go up and touch the stones, and you get in for free. So we parked our RV there the night before, and there were all these Druid people there. We heard screaming women in the night, weird chants and dogs barking. None of us slept very well. We woke up in the morning and they all had body paint and swords and chain mail. They were singing and chanting. Like Andy says in the episode, I think that was the weirdest Monday morning of my life. – Will

I got really good at walking up to strangers and asking to film them. That’s an uncomfortable thing to do, and it took a few seasons of prompting me. They’d be like, “Shane, go talk to them,” and I didn’t want to. But by the end, I’d do anything—if you saw someone outside a gas station in a pizza suit, it was like, for sure we’re gonna go talk to them. Otherwise you’d be kicking yourself for the rest of the trip, like, “Damn, we should have gotten out of the car. We really needed that shot.” – Shane

Ross Imburgia: The Stuntman

I hope he doesn’t hate me for saying this, but Ross is my stupidest smart friend. Or smartest stupid friend. He’s a genius with math and engineering, but somehow when he skis, he forgets all the physics he’s learned. Ross has done some crazy backflips in many different ways. One of my favorites is the switch backflip to the tree in “Mayisode” from Season Seven. I remember Andy said something like, “Dear baby Jesus, please don’t let Ross get hurt,” and right afterwards Ross took one of the hardest crashes ever. He went off the side off the jump and just slammed into the tree after doing half of a switch backflip. We knew he could do it, but we told him, “Ross, you’re too tired,” and convinced him to stop hurling his body towards a tree for the day. He got it the next day after a few more tries.

– Will

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Ross's infamous switch backflip to tree in Season 7.2, "Mayisode"

Season Eight: Filmer Change

I watched TC religiously before I had any part in filming it. Like any good video the characters are entertaining, which makes the episodes especially fun to watch. One of the concerns I had joining the crew as the filmer was being able to capture the authentic moments that made it special. Shane had done a great job translating Will and Andy’s personalities into the videos; they all shared a long history together and had developed a close friendship and working relationship. Being comfortable around each other is very important when documenting personalities, and I hoped that a new guy behind the camera wouldn’t change the group dynamics. When it came time to film my first episode, “Swiss Cheese Socks,” I asked Shane for advice on how to make it all happen. Rather than any concrete tips, he offered up some simple but useful wisdom: “Avoid sharing a bed with Andy, and Will snores.”

 

My first episode went smoothly and is probably still one of my favorite TC trips to date – spring skiing in the Alps, après parties, delicious cheese, Sämi Ortlieb’s secret park in the woods, skiing on an Italian fighter jet in Livigno. I don’t recall if Will snored, but I learned the reason to avoid sharing a bed with Andy was that he smells pretty ripe without a shower. I had ended up in the same room as Andy in our farm-country rental apartment, and the manure-scented mountain breeze I used to air out our bedroom was more tolerable than he was.

 

After ten years, it’s gotten harder to come up with different ideas for episodes. It’s not uncommon for Will and Andy to remind me that “we already did that” when we’re brainstorming for the next episode. Keeping the standards high is a priority, which is likely why they’ve kept the series running for so long. To film a good episode sometimes means traveling to an exotic destination, but I still think some of the best episodes come from creative DIY rails and simple backyard-style sessions. It just so happens that hanging out with friends and getting weird on skis are some of the best times you can have. – Jake Strassman

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Will rides a wave in China. Photo: LJ Strenio

Reflections on a decade

There’s definitely a generation of skier kids who were super influenced by these videos, just like my generation was influenced by Propaganda, Happy Dayz and Royalty. The Internet provides that now for a lot of people. Traveling Circus was their Propaganda, their early Poor Boyz Productions movies—which is really weird to me. I’m proud that we made a “ski video career” growing up in a little tiny town in central New York. The fact that Will and Andy are professional skiers, and I got to make a ski graphic for my favorite ski company—the high school version of myself would never have believed that would ever happen.

– Shane

 

The amount of influence that we’ve had on kids is way more important to me than making it to ten years. If we go to any ski area that has a park, kids are going to say, “Look, there’s Will Wesson and Andy Parry,” and they’ll come up and talk to us. I don’t know why people enjoy watching us do what we do, because it’s weird and we’re weird, but people can relate to it.

 

To this day, if anyone asks Will and I what we are doing, the answer is easy—we’re doing this because we like to ski and want to travel for free. That’s literally what it comes down to. Where can we go next? It doesn’t cost us anything to send an email and try to start a conversation. We don’t lose face if they say no, and if they say yes, then we end up somewhere in the UK, Japan or Australia. When we started doing international episodes, we just thought we’d see where we could go next—who would say yes to us—and we’re still doing that today. Should we go to Norway? How are we going to pay for this? Who’s going to help us out? Okay, it looks like it’s going to work. Buy a ticket. – Andy

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Andy Parry, line traveling circus, Will Wesson