Ian Macomber digs his ski edges into a steep, bulletproof slope in the Austrian Alps. It's late January 2018. Red gates and blue lines painted on the snow mark blind rollers and abrupt fall-away corners where World Cup ski racers will soon race 3.3 kilometers at 80 miles per hour. But first, Macomber gets to slip the course--a private viewing of Kitzbühel's renowned Hahnenkamm downhill.
How did a 27-year-old former collegiate ski racer and youth coach slip inside the B-netting? Macomber created Slalom Tokyo Drift (STD--yes, really), an Instagram account dedicated to the best of the worst of ski racing. That means crashes, each post paired with captions that guess at a skier's inner thoughts as the tumble unfolds. Like a slalom skier caught midair, her blonde braid flying:
If STD makes you cackle, you're not alone. The handle's 117,000 followers include World Cup and Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin, ski mountaineer Chris Davenport, and freeski pioneer Mike Douglas. But it's not just high-speed crashes and hooked tips. On January 1, Macomber announced that STD would become a nonprofit.
OK, that's not official. Macomber's an MBA student at Harvard Business School, receives up to 35 video submissions daily, and crams in "corporate retreats" to Interior BC and Jackson Hole. A few buddies help manage the social feed, but IRS forms to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit remain incomplete. (He says the paperwork will be submitted by next summer.) So all proceeds from STD merchandise will go directly to government-sanctioned nonprofits working to make ski racing safer. In fact, that's already happening: STD hats sold through partner Flylow have raised $3,000 for the Kelly Brush Foundation, a Vermont-based nonprofit that's given $100,000 to race programs for safety equipment over the last two years.
"Our Instagram pokes fun at people crashing," says Macomber. "This is a great way to undo the negative karma."
To Macomber's credit, he laughed at himself first. In 2008, while racing for Vermont's Burke Mountain Academy, a photographer captured a low-velocity slalom crash. Macomber posted the sequence to Facebook with commentary. Friends liked it, then sent Macomber their wipeouts to post. As the audience grew, he started a blog. The name? A nod to the 2006 film, The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift.
After racing for Dartmouth College, Macomber moved to Boston. At Wayfair, the home goods e-tailer, he worked in data science to build systems that suggest furniture to shoppers, much like Spotify recommends music to its listeners. On weekends, he coached teenage racers at New Hampshire's Wildcat Mountain, a ski area founded by his grandfather in 1958. As STD moved to Instagram, ski racing friends helped with media credentials for World Cup events. That led to selfies with GS king Ted Ligety, a gondola ride with Swiss speedster Lara Gut, and a shout-out from Shiffrin.
Happy birthday to the CEO, and perhaps the most well known face of SlalomTokyoDrift, @ianmacomber ! Ian, as a @harvardhbs student, and now a board member on a non profit, it is fair to say that you have accomplished much at the age of 27. Keep working hard and we all look forward to seeing what will be added to that list in the future 🔥🙌🏼🔥#everybodyeats (oh we hit 110K followers today too hbd I guess lol) #401k #bitcoin #shefislegaltho @laragutofficial @resistiegler @rikke.gb @mikaelashiffrin @megansharrod
When Flylow co-founder Dan Abrams reached out about a product collaboration, Macomber told Abrams to send the check to the Kelly Brush Foundation. "All us brands that put a lot of money into content creation and marketing, we're scratching our heads at this guy," says Abrams. "He didn't even try to make a huge thing. He's just doing what was fun, and that's why it works. He's not in it for the money."
Macomber's close ties to the sport shape content. STD won't share clips of badly concussed athletes, career-ending trauma, or spills that cut seasons short. "It's only funny because kids aren't really getting hurt," says Kelly Brush Foundation Executive Director Zeke Davisson. "They're blowing into B-netting and walking out." When U.S. Ski Teamer Laurenne Ross crashed in a World Cup downhill this February, STD only posted video after she announced the all-clear. Macomber pairs images with one-liners and hashtags that evoke pop culture, memes, and the daily strife of 20-somethings. That unique voice has gained fans at every level--he says U.S. Ski Teamers Breezy Johnson and Alice Mayweather submit clips, as does Kjetil Jansrud, an Olympic gold medalist for Norway.
STD also fundraised for Michael Ankeny, an American slalom specialist who races independently on the World Cup. And posts support the T2 Foundation, which awards grants to young athletes for travel and equipment costs. SYNC Apparel and Ski Town All-Stars also sell STD gear that benefits nonprofit partners.
Ultimately, Macomber simply wants to bring his audience closer to a sport often neglected by U.S. broadcasters and media. "I've seen some gnarly World Cups and it's a death-defying thing. Very few people can push out of a start gate and not be scared, not think about slowing down," says Macomber. "I wanted to go to the Hahnenkamm, drink schnapps at the finish, eat schnitzel, and go to the club after. Then I wanted to convey how cool it really is to be there."