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Two weeks ago, The North Face announced the launch of its Athlete Development Program, an initiative to diversify the trail and mountain running community, and outdoor sports more broadly.
The program will provide two-year contracts with The North Face to 15-20 climbers, alpinists, skiers, snowboarders, and trail runners, providing expedition funding, apparel, equipment, education about the roles of a professional athlete (i.e. pitching expedition ideas for funding and engaging with one’s community), and one-on-one mentorship with established athletes for the duration of the contract.
The program will begin with a three-month onboarding phase, followed by nine months of mentorship with a current North Face athlete, educational sessions, and the potential for additional collaboration opportunities.
“Today’s athlete recruitment process relies heavily on referrals, historically favoring those who are already well-connected and enjoy the privileges that allow them the time and resources to accelerate in their sport,” one North Face spokesperson said.
Mike Foote, a long-time professional ultrarunning athlete for The North Face, responded directly to the historical challenges of access within the sport.
“I joined the team because I had good results, but also because Mike Wolfe, who was on the team at the time, lobbied hard for me to get picked up,” said Foote. “I’m not sure it would have happened without that relationship.”
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Foote has known about plans for the Athletic Development Program for months now and is excited to see it formally launched. “The whole point of it is to democratize the process of getting access,” Foote said. “The Athlete Development Program removes the hurdle of social networking and gives folks a direct path to the brand.”
The Athlete Development Program strives to remove these social barriers by introducing an online application portal—eliminating the need for existing networks. The North Face says it will prioritize athletes from “historically excluded or marginalized” groups to create a more inclusive outdoor community.
Applicants must be 16 years of age or older and based in the United States to apply. The application period will remain open until May 19, 2022, and the athletes will be selected in September 2022.