Though it may seem increasingly inconceivable to recall such a time, the ancient days of social media — think all the way back to 2008 — were an ambiguous period highlighted more by potential than interaction. Smartphones, still in their infancy, managed to produce only still photos, the term, “Snapchat” might only refer to a quick conversation by the water cooler, and perhaps the worst that could be said about Facebook’s invasion of privacy was an overabundance of pet photos.
It’s also when Halley O’Brien took the first steps to arguably becoming the queen of skiing and riding social media.
Odds are you’ve run across O’Brien’s infectious presence in some video form online, whether it was in her early days as a snow reporter for Mount Snow Resort or during her Emmy-nominated run as the host of the “SnoCountry Snapshot,” a weekly breakdown of the happenings and conditions from various destinations coast to coast for SnoCountry, the Lebanon, N.H.-based snow reporting network.
It is in these short clips that O’Brien’s notable on-camera presence is discernible, as she plays the role of spokesperson with what comes across as an authentic passion for the skiing scene.
“Halley is everything you would want to represent both SnoCountry and skiing and riding,” SnoCountry president Michael Colbourn said. “She’s naturally funny, loves being on the hill, and conveys our message in a very engaging manner . . . . One of skiing and riding’s rock stars.”
But it is on “The Snow Report,” a weekly Web series presented by Ski Magazine, where O’Brien has found room to truly display her witty energy and a place to carve her niche in a role that might compare to a late-night talk show host dedicated to all things skiing.
“She’s super bubbly and energetic, which comes across great in terms of getting people excited to go skiing or snowboarding, and then at the same time she’s super knowledgeable about the sport,” Jon Jay, a Ski Magazine editor, said. “She has an insider’s perspective, but it’s all presented in a way that is approachable and very inclusive for anyone who watches her shows.”
Now in its fourth season of production, “The Snow Report” thrives on O’Brien’s engaging personality, giving viewers a national look at what’s happening and trending in the world of winter, action sports, and weather. O’Brien writes, hosts, and produces each episode with an offbeat approach that has defined her decade-long stint as an on- (and off)-camera personality, earning a pair of regional Emmy nominations along the way in 2017.
“I wanted something that would be fun and engaging and very relatable to a broader scope, a broader audience,” O’Brien, 32, said. “And that’s kind of the tone and style that we’ve kept since season one. It’s been super fun to see it materialize into the show it is today.”
Apart from the studio setting and what has become the signature beanie atop her blond hair, it’s really not all that far off from the concept that O’Brien began her online portfolio with at Mount Snow. There, she hosted the “Mount Snow Minute,” a 60-second update video of conditions at the Vermont resort that O’Brien compares to “a more-produced version of an Instagram story.” The Minute debuted three years after YouTube in 2005, and became an invaluable way for the resort to check in with its skiers, an information update meshed with an entertainment layer.
“They [Mount Snow] were pioneers for what they were doing as far as video coverage for ski resorts,” O’Brien said. “Any sort of video coverage like that was still in its infancy, so it was really fun to be on the first wave of it all.
“That’s kind of how I fell in love with how to entertain people and spread a fun message and get the feedback.”
After a year in Vermont, O’Brien moved back to her native New Jersey to become the public relations manager at Mountain Creek Resort and the following year landed in Boulder, Colo., where she began her own production company, pitching marketing spots that engaged viewer participation. The Weather Channel reached out to her after seeing videos she had produced for Mountain Creek, and hired her to produce a series dedicated to outdoor sports. She soon also began her partnership with SnoCountry, now heading into its seventh season.
“It’s helpful to be on the early end of something so you, internally, can learn who you are and find your voice and find your style, and have that much more time to really perfect it,” O’Brien said “The thing that I liked the best about it was, because it was so new to a lot of people, especially to a lot of industries — YouTubers were crushing it in YouTube land — but for a business or an industry like skiing or snowboarding, or any sort of genre of business, might not have been there yet. They might not have been looking at those avenues.
“So it was kind of fun for me to get in on the ground floor and also to be able to learn and experiment while working out some of the kinks early on so that when everyone else started to catch up. . . . It’s fun to have that experience, build up that resume — not quietly — but you get a chance to practice your craft.”
O’Brien pitched the idea of “The Snow Report” to Ski Magazine in 2015. What has resulted is a witty and unpretentious marriage of offbeat content loosely tied into the magazine’s monthly coverage.
For instance, each year O’Brien pairs the magazine’s annual gear guide issue, a detailed and deeply researched layout of the latest crop of skis, boots, helmets, and everything else, with the “Gear and Beer” episode, during which she sips craft beer while trying to figure out the features on random items of ski gear. It’s what she calls an “unhelpful and arbitrary” gear review.
Clearly, the show doesn’t take itself, or its audience, too seriously.
“We’ve had a great relationship with her and it’s really opened our audience to the idea of social media personalities and also has created a good outlet for her, as well, to broaden her reach,” Jay said.
Only seems natural that O’Brien is trending upward then.
“At the end of the day, we’re really just trying to spread the love of skiing and snowboarding and winter fun from coast to coast, and be relatable and approachable in our humor and our content,” she said. “That’s my main job, to try and get people out and have fun during the winter months.”
Eric Wilbur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.