It’s nearly 11 a.m. on Aspen Highlands’ opening day and Jim Ryan stands at the top of Cloud Nine chairlift wearing a smile recognizable from a hundred yards away. He greets me with a huge hug and we push off with our newly formed Aspen ski posse. I watch Jim make a clean, arching turn and then launch into the air, crafting a mute grab at warp speed. It feels like we aren’t in the same zip code until we meet again at the lift line.
His good energy, speed, and style on the mountain all come as no surprise. Jim has been included in the last two Warren Miller films, and during 2019’s “Timeless” film tour, he grew the reputation as “your mom’s favorite skier” amongst emcees on stage and fellow athletes because of his expansive smile and positive attitude.
Born in Rutland, Vt., Jim “Jimmi” Ryan navigated his way around Killington Resort free of adult supervision as a young kid. Like a lot of east coast groms raised in a ski family, Ryan started racing right from the get-go.
“My brother was a high school racing stud, my sister raced D1 for Boston College, my mom still skis five days a week and my dad competed in the 1968 Olympics," he says. "So yeah, we’re into it.”
After college, he made his way out to Jackson Hole after a friend texted him and asked if he wanted to go and try what so many folks only dream about: become a professional skier.
“Jackson is Hollywood for skiers," says Ryan. "And that was that. I won’t ever forget receiving that text, it was like a message from Outer Space. I think it saved my life.”
Today, almost five years later, Jim is able to make a living as a full-time skier. “I have to say ‘yes’ to almost every gig and shoot photos almost every day between my video trips. I say it’s a hustle, but in reality, it’s all I’ve ever wanted. I freakin’ love it.” He’s picked up sponsorships with Marker, Dalbello, Volkl, Helly Hansen, SKIDA, POC Sports, POW Gloves, and SoundBoks.
Jim credits local friends and mentors like Forrest Jillson, Andrew Whiteford, and Chris Moody for teaching him the ropes at both Jackson Hole Mountain Resort as well as Grand Teton National Park. He also gives a big nod to fellow Warren Miller and Helly Hansen athlete—and King of the turn—Marcus Caston.
“He started out as an inspiration, then became a friend and advisor,” he says, while also noting he’s learned a lot about what it takes to progress in skiing from, “trial and error… but a lot of error.”
Since arriving in Jackson, Jim hasn’t just achieved local skier credit, but he’s made major life changes. He found himself on a solo four-day trip in Teton National Park when he had the epiphany that he should stop drinking alcohol and has committed to the dry life since.
“Honestly, I’m way more social now, because I don’t have to decide between socializing and doing something rad tomorrow. I do both now. Turns out I don’t really need to drink to enjoy going out, and I definitely don’t need a beer to be an enthusiastic dancer.”
Other than giving up drinking alcohol and eating meat since arriving in Jackson, Jim was also confronted with the sudden death of his life-long friend, Rob.
“Rob taught me so much. Most importantly, he taught me how to love my friends. He was so good at making you feel loved and welcome,” says Jim. To help process Rob’s death, Jim completed the Jackson Hole Picnic in the summer of 2019. The unofficial triathlon was created by locals and requires a 24-mile bike ride, swimming a mile and a half across an alpine lake, summiting the Grand Teton, and then turning around and doing it all in reverse to get back to town.
“It’s not really his death that drives me to get outside, more like his death reminds me to think about the lessons he taught me more often," says Ryan. "Rob was crazy about life, a total romantic, everything we did was movie-worthy—because he framed it that way.”
Standing at 5 feet 8 inches, Jim also attributes his fashion sense to Rob and wears his clothes every day now. “I’m just lucky he was a little dude with a shopping problem.”
Between his party speaker sponsor, his love of dancing, his artistic fashion sense, and playful skiing style, Jim is known to bring levity to everything he does, on and off the mountain.
“When you talk to Jim he listens intently, and he takes the time to understand who you are as a person,” explains fellow east coast transplant and two-time Queen of Corbet’s Couloir, Caite Zeliff. “He cares about what makes you tick, what inspires you, scares you, and what makes you, you.” And his skiing style, she says, is equally refreshing.
“He blends multiple decades of the sport in a really beautiful way,” says Zeliff. “Picture Scott Schmidt’s skiing style falling in love with Ted Ligety’s skiing style and these two styles have a love child, that love child would be Jim Ryan's skiing style. Jim has an ability to make every turn look effortless, calculated, and fun.”
“His skiing style is versatile which bodes well for him and the photographers he works with,” says fellow Jackson skier Forrest Jillson. “Jim’s hungry and there’s not a moment when he is skiing that he doesn’t want to get a shot; good light or bad light, good snow or bad snow, he’s always got a creative idea to implement.”
Watch: "Future Retro" Athlete Highlight - Jim Ryan
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This year, Jim is featured in his third Warren Miller film, "Future Retro," and has some other big projects he’s excited about, including his own film titled, “In Plain Sight,” which will take place entirely inbounds at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and play off of features seen from chairlifts.
At the Warren Miller premieres Jim attends, he scribbles “ski fast, be nice,” on the posters he signs for fans and this motto is something he carries with him in everything he does.
Don't miss Jim Ryan take on the slopes of Killington, Vt., in Warren Miller Entertainment's 71st feature film, "Future Retro." You can learn about and buy tickets for the virtual premiere here.