In The Zone—Smith’s Prospecting Idaho

You’ve most likely never heard of Smiley Creek, Idaho, but odds are your familiar with its surrounding terrain. Situated between Stanley and Sun Valley, Smiley Creek marks the trail head for a zone that has become better known over the last three years as Prospecting Idaho, Smith Optics‘ private playground for everything from R&D, product testing, team camp, and a fountainhead for endless video and print assets. The zone, which was first made famous in the Robot Food films back in the day, has become ground zero for ground breaking riding and every product and marketing team’s wet dream.

Following the 2012 TransWorld Snow Conference, we had the opportunity to join Smith Senior Promotions Manager Cory Smith and the rest of the crew to sample some of the goods and learn more about how leasing this 900 acre private zone, including a house off the highway and two yurts at the base of the actual valley in the company’s backyard is benefiting its operations.

People want to be a part of the project, we’ve had riders quit their other goggle sponsor so they can go up to the zone and ride, film and hang out. – Cory Smith

Take a virtual Prospecting Idaho tour:

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Follow the jump to hear about the zone from Cory Smith…

What has been the result of this project for Smith?

We have created a community of like minded people who embody the Smith lifestyle.  We are on the third season of the Prospecting Idaho web series and we had over 250k views last year.  Those are people who are watching the video and getting a five minute dose of the Smith brand experience. No other brand has this type of facility at their disposal and the experience we give our team riders really stands out. People want to be a part of the project, we’ve had riders quit their other goggle sponsor so they can go up to the zone and ride, film and hang out. I’ve been going up there to film since the Robot Food days about 10 years ago. It’s such an ideal location and layout for jump building as the old mine tailings make perfect landings.

Smith Senior Promotions Manager Cory Smith in the zone

What has it allowed you to do that you couldn’t otherwise?

It focuses all the Smith visual collateral into one location that is 45 minutes from our office. We’re able to tell a brand story and focus it on one project instead of flying and traveling all over the world. We’ve been able to build something unique and close to home to acquire the assets we need.

How many guys are working there on average throughout the season?

Throughout the season we have six people on logistics who filter through--Pat Lee, Spencer Cordovano, Jeremy Black, Yancy Caldwell, Wyatt Caldwell and Taylor Carlton. Plus we have a group of filmers and photographers who are on staff all three months--Tal Roberts, Mark Oliver, Lane Power, and Mark Welsh.  There are also two cat drivers--Chase Goulet and Corey Mc Donlad.

How many groups do you bring in?

We bring in all of our top snowboard and ski athletes, probably about 50-60 throughout the three months.  We also did four employee cat trips this year to show the in-house support team what goes on up there.  It was an eyeopening experience for a lot of them, they had no idea how involved the project is. Plus they got to ride some great powder at the same time as Scotty Lago was filming on a jump.  Allowing them to see the entire process was a great experience for them.  We also hosted four trips for the TWS Conference and managed to get great snow and showed the crew a good time..

You can’t charge and run a full on cat operation since it’s Forest Service land, correct?

Correct, it’s a private operation so you can’t book a cat trip with your friends, it all needs to go through Smith. The property is private, but you need to cross Forest Service land to get there.  In order to make it a commercial operation there needs to be an environmental impact study as well as permit applications. Leasing it from the owners as a private facility bypasses these requirements allowing us to run a private cat opp. It’s totally up to the land owners whether or not they want to pursue a commercial operation, we have set up all the infrastructure and have proven that it’s feasible to run a cat opp there. Taking paying clients is a tempting proposition but there is a lot of BS you’d need to deal with, plus it would be hard to turn a profit with so much overhead.

What have been some of the highlights of the project over the last three years?

I think the highlights are the way the team rallies together to get the job done. The logistics crew is the spirit of the operation, I’m very proud of the crew we’ve assembled and the demeanor they have with guests is great. Watching it all come together has been a very rewarding highlight.

Got some funny stories?

Too many, every day is a new story really. Whether its sleds breaking down, cats getting stuck, running out of food, fuel etc... there is a lot that goes into the project and it’s been a learning process all the way.

What’s the gnarliest thing you’ve seen go down back there as far as progression, jumps, etc?

Trying to get the triple jump line to work has always been the hardest challenge in regards to the jumps and progression. Back in the day, Dirksen landed all three jumps in a row and it has been a goal to get the same line on film again.  It finally happened last year and it was a reward to see it go down.

How would you define the ROI for Smith?

It’s hard to define but it can be measured in the amount of views the videos get.  With this project we can see how many views we get and what kind of return we have on that investment. It’s a relatively small investment to run the whole operation. It’s close to home, so there is not a lot of travel costs, we get help from Prenoth with the cat and we keep the budget lean. It more than pays for itself in the videos but there is also the word of mouth hype that seems to go even further.

Will you bring it back next year?

Not sure, our original goal was to do it for three years. All good things need to come to an end, but I feel like it’s just getting started. We’ll see how it plays out but I think it could continue.

If you do, what will you change to keep it fresh and tell a new story?

Bringing in new people and building unique features. Building more stash type features is a big opportunity, the terrain is perfect for a Supernatural type event too, there are lots of options.

What lessons have you learned from doing this?

Lots, basically I’ve have learned how to run a major production 10 miles in the middle of the backcountry. Dealing with a small community is always a lesson in politics too, trying to make everyone happy is a challenge.  Overall I’ve learned that you can lead a project like this, but ultimately it’s best to let it build organically and try to steer it in a way you see best for everyone involved.