Flipping out: Kirkwood local Josh Daiek thunders into the professional freeskiing scene
Special to the Tribune
Professional skier Josh Daiek’s Instagram account is a virtual handbook to hucking the biggest backflips known to man.
From bridges to antenna BASE jumps, cliffs and huge booters, the 33-year-old South Lake Tahoe local loves to be upside down.
Heading into his 15th Tahoe winter, Daiek — originally from the outskirts of Detroit — remembers back to where he first learned to launch himself.
“Our jumps were just manmade blocks of ice because we didn’t get a ton of snowfall,” Daiek said in an interview for Tahoe Magazine. “The snow machines would just sit there and blow this ice hill. Then we’d shape it. It was literally blue ice. We’d just huck ourselves and get so hurt.”
Not long after Daiek moved to Lake Tahoe, he started to show up in big mountain competitions at area resorts. He’s continued to progress, eventually winning the overall Freeskiing World Tour and landing some major sponsors.
Though he doesn’t compete as much anymore, Daiek’s yearly video parts highlight his latest lines and upside-down antics. His new film titled “Canvas” premiered this fall. This winter, he’ll spend the cold months chasing deep powder, huge cliffs and wild adventures.
“I really want to spend more time in the Eastern Sierra and some places in British Columbia,” Daiek said. “If all goes well, I’ll get a couple calls throughout the season.”
Daiek’s breakout moment came during the 2010-11 winter. He was skiing around Tahoe regularly with locals like Craig Garbiel and Joe Marcus, but also competing on the Freeskiing World Tour. He had done well in previous competitions, earning enough points to be among the top rankings.
At the Kirkwood stop, Daiek was ready. He’d spent the years before dialing his knowledge of the resort. He dropped into his run and stomped three huge cliff drops. And the judges rewarded him.
“I get goosebumps just thinking about that competition,” Daiek said. “For years, I’d been wanting to win at my home mountain. My style is kind of all-or-nothing. That doesn’t always work out in competition.”
After the Tour, Daiek was approached by ski company Salomon and invited to join the team. It was his first major sponsor. Since signing with Salomon, his skiing has progressed. As a professional, there’s a lot of pressure to produce photos and video that align with the brand’s aesthetic. For Daiek, that meant skiing new terrain, finding really good snow and not competing as much.
“Josh is a really gifted athlete. But he works harder than anyone I know to use his gifts and talents physically,” said friend Abe Greenspan, who owns Tahoe Lab Snowboards in South Lake Tahoe. “Being a professional skier is not just being a good skier. There’s so much more involved with communication between sponsors, lining stuff up and being a good ski partner. He works so hard at being that person.”
One of the signature projects Daiek has been involved in is Salomon’s web series, Freeski TV. The online show follows him and a group of skiers to far-off corners as they rip huge peaks, explore new terrain and struggle through travel. Last year, producers called Daiek and asked him to go to Chamonix, France, with just 24 hours notice. The Kirkwood local happily jumped on board and scored perfect conditions at the destination.
He also put together a more local project. Along with Greenspan, a well-known Tahoe snowboarder, Daiek ski toured from his home in Meyers to Emerald Bay, climbing Flagpole Peak, Echo Peak, Mount Tallac and Maggie’s Peaks in a row, approximately 10,000 vertical feet. With fresh snow and bluebird skies, conditions were pristine.
“Tahoe 10,000,” a short film documenting the trip, went viral. It garnered thousands of views on YouTube and features by Outside Magazine and Powder Magazine.
“It was a really special day,” Greenspan said. “It almost ruined the rest of my season because I couldn’t replicate a day that amazing.”
The mountains around Lake Tahoe are far from the most difficult Daiek has taken on. He spends spring in Alaska, riding the huge vertical descents. Still, he loves exploring his backyard.
“Especially years like last year when we have snow down to lake level, there’s just so much good ski touring,” he said. “To me, what keeps skiing fresh, what keeps skiing fun is exploring and skiing new stuff. If you ski Kirkwood every single day or ski Alyeska every day, you’re going to get bored with it.
“Variety is the spice of life.”
Daiek likes to mix it up with activities, too. In the summer, he’s on his mountain bike almost every day. He makes it out to cliff jump at Angora Lake at least once a year, launching enormous gainers from the highest cliffs (see his Instagram). He also likes to BASE jump, but he’s mellowed out on that after recent deaths of several well-known jumpers.
“I’m not trying to push BASE jumping,” Daiek says. “It’s just a fun hobby.”
This winter, Daiek has a few trips in mind. He’s looking forward to filming more for Salomon and producing another movie for next year. He hopes to explore more of North America’s mountains and, of course, huck some huge backflips around good old Kirkwood.
“I love to ski pow at the resort,” Daiek said. “There’s no better way to train.”
This article is adapted from the upcoming winter edition of Tahoe Magazine, which will hit area newsstands Nov. 23. Be sure to pick up a copy!