In­ter­view

The les­sons of a singer-song­writer-skier

Powder - - TA­BLE OF CON­TENTS - —Me­gan Michel­son

Chi Mc­clean grew up around mu­sic—his dad played the French horn, his mom sang, and he played in his school mu­sic pro­gram in Long Is­land, New York. He started with the recorder, then moved onto the French horn and the pi­ano, and in ninth grade, he got his first gui­tar.

He’s been a skier most of his life, too, learn­ing to ski in Ver­mont and tak­ing the oc­ca­sional trip to Colorado when he was a kid. In his 20s, Mc­clean spent a sea­son teach­ing ski­ing in Bar­iloche, Ar­gentina, and later worked in an out­door shop in San Fran­cisco, tun­ing skis and sell­ing tents. He spent years try­ing out dif­fer­ent ca­reers: He worked for an early in­ter­net mu­sic start-up, sold ra­dio ads for a jazz sta­tion, then got a job in mar­ket­ing at The North Face.

When his po­si­tion there got cut, his boss told him, “Find some­thing you’re pas­sion­ate about and the money will fol­low.” The things he was most pas­sion­ate about? Mu­sic and ski­ing. So, in 2010, he moved into his truck and bounced be­tween Nash­ville and Ta­hoe, play­ing gui­tar to make ends meet. To­day, Mc­clean, 41, makes a liv­ing play­ing acous­tic rock gigs both small and large in ski towns across the coun­try. He lives full time in a cus­tom Sprinter van and skis ev­ery day pos­si­ble. He re­leased his third al­bum, “Let Me In,” in 2016, and he’s got two more EPS on the way.

I was in a band in ninth grade called Feed­back. We got hired by the drum­mer’s dad to play a fundraiser at a Chi­nese restau­rant. We were so ex­cited. We wore tie-dye shirts and played for blue-haired ladies. We knew three songs. They paid us $70 and gave us free Chi­nese food. We were like, ‘This is awe­some.’

Ev­ery kid has a dream of be­com­ing a rock star. Who knows what that means any­more? I get to play mu­sic for a liv­ing. I call my own shots. If the snow looks good in Ta­hoe or Colorado, I book gigs there. I’m not in a gi­ant tour bus, I’m not stay­ing at fancy ho­tels, but in my own way, it’s a huge suc­cess.

Ev­ery­one shows up and they’re ready to have a good time. They just had a great day ski­ing, they’re sip­ping a beer, maybe the shot­ski is out. They’re in a good mood. You’re teed-up to kill it.

Look at ski movies. Ev­ery sin­gle one has a sound­track. Mu­sic def­i­nitely moves the spirit, the heart. Ski­ing and mu­sic go hand in hand, they com­ple­ment each other. When folks are in the moun­tains, they need some­thing to groove along to, they need a sound­track for the mo­ment. I’m stoked to be there to help them find it.

I write my own mu­sic—that’s what brings me joy. But, when needed, I will hap­pily play cover tunes. Walk down the streets of a ski town and you’ll hear com­mon ground: Hen­drix, Grate­ful Dead, Joe Cocker, or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

I’ve done the whole of­fice job thing. It’s nice to have that se­cu­rity and a steady pay­check. But it’s so nice to be in­de­pen­dent. You’ve got to hus­tle, though. No­body’s get­ting you work. You’ve got to do it your­self.

I lived in San Fran­cisco and Ta­hoe. Rent is out of con­trol. There’s not a lot of af­ford­able hous­ing. De­pend­ing on what you do for a liv­ing and how flex­i­ble you are, liv­ing in a van can be a good so­lu­tion. It’s amaz­ing how much you can do with very lit­tle stuff.

On the road, peo­ple look out for each other. If your car breaks down on the side of I-15 on your way to Ve­gas, a trucker will stop to help you out. There’s this un­writ­ten code if you’re liv­ing life on the road—it doesn’t mat­ter who you are—peo­ple look out for each other.

Any­one who’s out there chas­ing what­ever they’re pas­sion­ate about is lead­ing a life well-lived.

Photo: Lauren Bello

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