Freeskier Ahmet Dadali on the importance of optimism and being a ski bum

At 28 years old, Ahmet Dadali has emerged as one of the top freeskiers in the world by defying expectations.

Coming from a family of non-skiers and growing up in the fickle winters of Western New York, Dadali wasn’t blessed with the same pristine conditions or immaculate mountains skiers who hail from the Rockies or the West Coast are.

The closest mountain to his childhood home — Bristol Mountain — averages a paltry 60 inches of snowfall, just cracks 1,000 feet of vertical and didn’t even include a terrain park for most of his youth. Yet despite all of that, to hear Dadali talk about it, his upbringing in the Empire State couldn’t have been more fortunate.

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“I actually think I was pretty lucky with where I grew up,” Dadali told GrindTV. “I lived just two miles away from the hill, and my mother took a job at the mountain so my brother and I could get free passes and ski every day and every night after school.”

“It doesn’t make sense because there’s nothing at that mountain to breed world-class skiers, but we had some f***ing shredders there that I looked up to,” Dadali continued. “Guys that were hitting like 60-foot gaps way before their time. I have nothing but love for that place.”

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Dadali also notes that one reason he has become one of the top street skiers in the world is a product of those conditions: Without huge snow totals or well-designed park setups, Dadali and his friends would frequently travel to Rochester or Syracuse to try to hit the craziest rails they could find on their boards.

For Dadali, the enthusiasm with which he talks about his New York upbringing seems to permeate into everything he does. It’s what persuaded him at age 18 to pack up his truck and head out to Utah to chase his ski bum dream of working at a resort and getting a free season’s pass.

“When I first moved to Utah, if you were a skier living on the East Coast you had to accept the fact that you weren’t going to get the same amount of exposure as someone out west,” said Dadali. “It was just a well-accepted fact that it was nearly impossible to reach a pro level on the East Coast.”

“But that’s the thing: For me it was never the idea of becoming a pro,” he continued. “For me it was just, ‘I need to move because they have insane terrain and awesome snow.’ Obviously every kid has the aspiration of being a pro skier one day, but really, I just wanted to ski every day.”

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And so Dadali took menial jobs to support his skiing addiction and, before long, began gaining a ton of exposure.

“I worked all summer and was broke all winter eating mac and cheese and hotdogs every day,” said Dadali. “And then my first season out here I had a big feature article in a skiing magazine and a couple photos published, and it was kind of that ‘Oh s**t I can make this happen’ moment.”

A photo posted by Ahmet Dadali (@ahmetdadali) on

From that first season in Utah, Dadali’s stock has only continued to rise.

He won the “Best Male Performance” award at the 2010 IF3 Freeski Film Festival and the “Breakthrough Performer” and “Best Jib” awards at the 2011 POWDER Awards. He’s gained huge sponsors in Spy Optic and Volkl Skis and has kept his focus squarely on staying positive and maintaining the ski bum spirit.

“Growing up in New York you don’t get to meet a lot of pros,” Daddali said. “And I remember one time Dynastar brought Dave Crichton, who was my idol, to town to judge a contest or something and he ended up coming over and skiing this rail setup with me and all my friends. And he wasn’t jaded or egotistical, he was just super cool to all of us.”

“Now I meet skiers who are kinda jerks, or who aren’t welcoming to kids,” Dadali continued. “But it’s like, we’re living a dream come true. I always had this image of skiers being really cool to one another, so why not just do that?”

To show that same level of support that Crichton offered him, Dadali began a small company called LaFa (short for La Familia) which he uses to reach out to up-and-coming skiers in the snow-starved regions of the Midwest and East Coast to hook them up with free gear as well as filming tips.

And, as he’s working to help LaFa grow, Dadali is doubling down on his ski bum lifestyle: He and his girlfriend, amateur snowboarder Melissa Riitano, are living full-time out of an RV this winter to chase powder for part of a three-part web series titled “The Driving Dedication” that Dadali will be releasing.

“Dude, it’s awesome man,” Daddali said of his new van life. “To be able to get up and be able to go wherever you want to go to ski? That’s what it’s all about.”

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