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Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Updated: September 23, 12:31 PM ET
North Face signs first park and pipe skiers


(From left) Mike Riddle, Tom Wallisch and Nick Martini: New North Face team members.

Last week, The North Face announced that, for the first time in the company's 42-year history, it signed to its prestigious Global Team the first park and pipe skiers: self-made slopestyle wizard Tom Wallisch, Canadian halfpipe ace Mike Riddle and touted teenage film star Nick Martini.

The names made headlines, but the sport of freeskiing may have been the biggest beneficiary.

Up until now, The North Face had primarily supported big-mountain skiing (sponsoring athletes like Ingrid Backstrom, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, Dana Flahr, Ian McIntosh and the legendary Scot Schmidt) as well as the sport's exploration side, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for elite ski mountaineers and climbers from a range of nations to pursue expeditions around the world.

The decision to enter a much younger, edgier segment of the sport had been mulled for years, TNF senior sports marketing manager Katie Ramage said. But it finally came to a head last year.

"As we started to look at all sides of the mountain, we realized we really just own the top half of it," Ramage said in a phone interview with ESPN. "We're with the guides on Everest, we're with the Sages, the Dana Flahrs, but where we hadn't officially gone yet is the frontside of the mountain. We didn't force it. It was almost like we needed time to be invited into that space."

By signing Wallisch, Riddle and Martini, along with halfpipe snowboarding champ Kaitlyn Farrington, TNF gives itself an influential presence in the new-school market and a "breadth of talent" it had not previously enjoyed, Ramage said.

Their athlete selections were confirmed after a lengthy selection process, one which allowed a window into the sponsorship meat grinder. For starters, this was not a "taking-applications process," Ramage said.

They began with a list of about 20 skiers and pared it down to a final 10 or so using 18 criteria, including how well each athlete speaks in person. The company flew in Cattabriga-Alosa to help select the trio, Ramage said; TNF's other big-mountain skiers were involved as well, evaluating candidates' ambassador qualities as well as their talent.

"They all weighed in and gave their seal of approval and respect, and allowed us to move forward with this," she said.

Regarding the absence of a female freeskier, Ramage said, "There was and there still is" consideration given to women. She added: "In skiing, we've just set the bar so high with our team. Look at Ingrid. We'd like to clone Ingrid."

The North Face -- which saw its revenue rise by 12 percent in the second quarter of this year, part of its parent company VF's $1.59 billion intake over the same three months -- views the new-school market as being critical to increasing those numbers. In conjunction with the athlete signings, the skiers will help develop new products for the park and pipe crowd.

Said Wallisch: "I'm really excited to have The North Face involved in our aspect of the sport."