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I had the honor a couple of weeks ago to sit down with Bill Briggs- arguably the father of ski mountaineering in the US. I interviewed him for Powder over a cup of coffee at the Virginian. I must say, what an amazing character. Check out the full interview here.
It has been an all-time winter at Jackson Hole. So good, in fact, it’s been hard to leave. It’s not that we’ve had a ton of big storms, just a lot of eight or ten inch days. This has been ideal both from a sanity stand point (not waiting long between storms) and a stability standpoint (not a lot of heavy dumps stressing the snowpack).
We’ve been taking full advantage, to say the least. We’ve run through a solid hit list of Jackson classics as well as getting some firsts that have been pretty rowdy.
Nick Martini checking out the sea of dreams
At this point, filming has kind of taking priority over competing. After all, the whole reason I got into competing was to have an opportunity like this. That said, since focusing on filming I haven’t been able to bring the same A-game to the contests. It’s just hard for me to rationalize putting my ass/season on the line throwing down in a contest when it’s less than ideal conditions. The contest scene has gotten so good that if you’re not there with your a-game, your probably not ending up on the podium.
A lil’ chucking
Shooting so far this year has been awesome. It’s a different game when you’re trying to do something unique/special every day you go out. I just feel like you bring your level of skiing up a notch. What I didn’t expect is the level of frustration I have sometimes. Messing up or not stomping a film line has been as frustrating as messing up or not stomping a comp line. A lot of lines- because of how long they take to get to or the fact that there’s significantly less snow after you go through- you only get one crack at, and when you don’t ski it perfectly you can rarely go up and try it again. But, at the same time, you always have the chance to redeem yourself somewhere else- which you can’t always say for competing.
Now for the good part: getting detained (not arrested!)
So, there I was, sitting on a couch in a city, state, and country that will remain nameless. I hear someone talking on the front porch and then a knock on the door. Figuring it was UPS or FedEx, I mosey to the door and open it, and nobody’s there. Then, I hear from the side of the house a very authoritative voice say, “Sir, step out of the house.”
Pretty confused I say, “what?”
Then I hear again, this time a little more firm, “Sir, we need you to step out of the house.”
Dumbfounded I step out, and on the porch and around the house are three cops, all toting Assault Rifles. I’m thinking to myself, holy S#%t, this is not good. They ask me to put my hands on my head (which obviously I do). One of the cop starts talking, telling me there’s been a shooting in the area.
“Sir, there’s been a shooting in the neighborhood and we have reason to believe the shooter is in your house, do we have permission to enter the residence,” he says, not a hint of jest in his voice.
“Of course, I say,” totally shocked.
The cop continues, “Sir, we need you to put your hands behind your back.” I do, and they cuff me and start leading me away from the house as several cops storm the house, ARs drawn. At this point I’m totally blown away at what’s happening. Now that I’m cuffed, the cop continues telling me what’s going on, “The suspect was also was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt.”
Standing there, in my black hoody, completely matching the description of the “suspect,” I’m just thankful they didn’t open fire when I opened the door. The cops search my house for five minutes or so and are on the radio, referring to me as the “suspect,” when it appeared that they started getting information that they might be at the wrong house.
They question me a bit longer, and finally conclude that they are indeed at the wrong house. They un-cuff me and apologize for the inconvenience. I laugh it off and head back inside, blown away that the most intense moment of my season may have just come on a leisurely weekday afternoon.
With the “Extremes” kicking off tomorrow I thought I’d post last year’s winning runs. It was deep then, and with two days of snow in the forecast, it should be deep again tomorrow. Since they already used the weather day, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we get at least one day off. If you’re around, come check it out!
Well, I’m about two months behind on editing my POV, so here’s a quick edit from the Euro travels earlier this winter with my extremely insightful commentary (talks are in the works with Morgan Freeman to narrate, but nothing has been finalized at this point). As a note, I didn’t end up with a bunch of banger shots, so there’s a lot of time lapse. Not super gnarly, mostly pow; I’ll get the gnar this week…promise.
Start at point A, finish in Kotzebue in the lower left (sorry for the super gheto screen shot). I can’t really get a map that will do this trip justice, so for an interactive map click here.
The problem with adventure travel is that it’s a lot like a drug: it’s expensive, addictive and, if you’re not careful, it’ll take over your life. That said, shortly after finishing our skiing trip through the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, I started cooking up a new scheme (obviously one that had to be bigger and better.) After talking with some friends, we came to the conclusion that follow a snowflake from its starting point high atop a peak, down thousands of meters of rugged terrain, across most of a country, all of the way to the ocean would be quite the experience. Source to Sea, as it’s dubbed. Well, since we just traveled and skied through the largest wilderness area in the lower 48, there was really only one place to head: Alaska.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, Alaska is massive, and just figuring out where to go took months of research. Wanting to plan a similar raft/ski trip, we examined the major ranges of Alaska, finally settling on the Brooks Range. For those unfamiliar with the Brooks Range, it’s remote- even by Alaska standards. The northern most range in Alaska, the Brooks roughly runs along the Artic Circle. With the range narrowed down, it was just a matter of finding a river and zone that would offer decent skiing and a route out to the ocean. Enter the Noatak River. From its headwaters high in Gates of the Arctic National Park, through Noatak National Wildlife Refuge, and almost all of the way to its delta in Kotzebue, the watershed is protected. That’s right, not just the river, but every drop of water that is in the Noatak is protected (either National Park or Refuge)- from when it falls from the sky or emerges from the earth. The Noatak may be the ideal setting for a Source to Sea trip.
We’ll fly into the headwaters by bush-plane in late May while the snow still reaches to river level and pick off peaks as we descend—a 20-30 day journey in all. Paddling and skiing in 24-hour sunlight, we’ll eventually reach the Chuki Sea, well north of Nome, and from there fly back to Anchorage. Our hazards: ice shelves on the river, avalanches, and hungry grizzly just out of hibernation. Our rewards: huge, corned up mountain faces, thousands-strong caribou herds, and total solitude in some of the remotest country in the world. As far as undisturbed adventure goes, there may be no other trip like it in the world.
We’re planning on giving updates from the field, via Satellite, and obviously documenting it in other ways for later release. Safe to say, it should be an epic, so stay tuned.
Well, what can one say about Kirkwood? The venue is unreal- it’s the only stop on the tour that we’re guaranteed permanently closed terrain. It’s big, the snow’s good, and the vibe is great. Unfortunately, I ended up a less-than-impressive 10th at Kirkwood after a monster back-slap second run. Dylan Crossman and came away with the “W,” which I couldn’t be more stoked about. Janina Kuzma crushed it on the ladies side of things, and took home the sickbird to boot! Of the runs I saw both days, Crossman and Kuzma were the standouts- they crushed it.
Furthermore, Dylan was really skiing big mountain lines- not just hitting a bunch of small features really fluidly- but dropping-in over exposure, being controlled, and airing big out the bottom. Guys like Dylan, Lars Chickering-Ayers, Julien Lopez, and Josh Diek go out there and ski the film line- the lines that aren’t necessarily the highest scoring, but the lines that leave spectator’s jaws dropped. These lines don’t score as high, sometimes, because they’re difficult to execute smoothly, harder to put down that four-point landing, and any mistakes are magnified due to the exposure one’s on. Maybe it is harder to ski a bunch of smaller, well-traveled airs fast and fluidly, but I don’t think that’s really big mountain skiing. I’d rather go ski these exposed, difficult, and rarely skied lines and lose- going home knowing I pushed the sport- than win skiing a run-of-the-mill line quickly that’s still going to leave spectators wondering what big mountain skiing is and why I won.
Way to do both Dylan, cheers to you!
Pretty belated, but I was just going through some pics and it reminded me of how cool this line is- despite skiing it in less than all-time conditions.
The Sickle from the Fish Hook drainage
Approximate date: May 26, 2009
There are a lot of epics in the Sawtooths, but for whatever reason the Sickle has always stuck out in my mind a bit. Maybe it’s because you can see it from Stanley, or maybe because it’s such an awesome sliver- either way, it’s a good one for the Idaho hit list.
Drew and I set out one day in late May to see if we couldn’t find some descent snow still remaining in the upper reaches of the ‘tooths.
Referred to as the most aesthetic peak in the Sawtooths, Horstman Peak rises to 10,470’ and is defined by the Sickle Couloir. Usually conquered in two days in the winter, the couloir provides a rather lengthy day in the spring due to the approach. Highlights of the five-mile walk into the basin included me collapsing a snow bridge and falling into a creek up to my waist, countless post-holes in isothermic snow, and Drew loosing his balance and testing his self-arresting skills.
Base of the couloir. Things look good, right?
At the base of the couloir things looked promising: it seemed that the snow in the shade was still frozen and there was what looked like a previous boot pack. Once we got inside the couloir, however, things were not so reassuring. What we perceived to be an old boot pack was nothing more than a debris trails from a large rocks that had rolled down the couloir- this was both frustrating and unnerving. To make matters worse, snow had frozen, but only the top couple of inches. Thus, while you could kick-in with your boot, the moment you transferred weight you’d immediately post-hole.
Half way up the couloir, when things start getting really harry
We pushed on despite the marginal conditions. Midway up the couloir things went from bad to worse. The snow had frozen much deeper and, while it would now support weight, it was virtually impenetrable- even with an ice axe.. Scrambling up the 45 plus-degree top section, the light was just beginning to heat up the snow on the top twenty feet of the couloir- we’d at least have one good turn.
The final steps where we started getting purchase again.
The Sickle Couloir is walled in for about 1,000’, varying between 45 and 55 degrees. Given that sections of it were so frozen they were impermeable with an ice axe, I’ll admit that we were a bit puckered as we dropped in.
The first, and only good turn.
Dropping in, I admit I was pretty puckered. The majority of the couloir was steep, narrow, had few safety zones, and was made up of coral. Needless to say, if you fell, you were going for a ride, probably pin-balling to the apron. We made the call to ski with ice axes in hand for self-arresting reasons.
The first turn, which had been baking in the sun for about an hour, was buttery. The next twenty turns, however, were nothing short of terrifying. The combination of steep, runneled, and boilerplate snow through a walled-in couloir tested our survival skiing skills. We eventually made it to the apron that had been heating up in the sun for quite some time now, and made some more natural turns to the base of the snowfield.
As I said, the Sickle is one of many epics in the Sawtooths, particularly if the conditions are right…or so I hear, as I’ve never come close to hitting it right.
Like virtually all other Europeans I’ve met, Daniel thinks he’s god’s gift to driving. Racing up to Solden in a KTM X-Bow (a watered down Formula 1 racecar that’s only available in Europe), I’m so puckered I’m on the verge of tears. There are no lines on the road (nor guardrails), but if there were I’m sure they’d be double yellow. With only Daniel’s reflexes preventing us from a several thousand foot vehicular tomahawk to the valley, at times I just close my eyes.
We’re headed up to watch the kick off of the 2009/2010 World Cup season at Solden. If you’re looking for a recap of the races, you won’t find it here. Although I’m a racing fan, the matter’s been covered ad nauseam. Instead, I’ll focus on the second (debatably) most important aspect of this Austrian mainstay: the party.
We arrive at the glacier and it’s nothing short of pandemonium. Fueled by beer and schnapps, the crowd of thousands is approaching mob mentality, particularly when Austrians are on course. The flag waving, smoke bomb bearing, air horn blasting fans make every other skiing event I’ve witnessed seem like a Michele Bolton concert. It’s refreshing to see people with such unbridled passion for skiing.
After another heart-pounding ride back from the glacier, I was eager to see how the relatively small town of Solden was going to handle the tens of thousands of fans that were about to descend on it. Apparently this wasn’t Solden’s first rodeo. Between the live concerts, beer gardens, clubs, bars, and strip clubs (yes, plural) there was no shortage of entertainment options. The Europeans were combatively drinking- attacking their beer, schnapps, and red bull vodkas with the same enthusiasm that they spectated with. Needless to say I was a bit out gunned, although I like to think I held my own.
Surprisingly, throughout the evening I rarely met anyone that was only there for the party. Like an annoying Red Sox fan, the more they partied, the more they wanted to talk about their team. Who knew skiing could have such fans?
My advice: regardless of how big a fan of ski racing you are, should you ever have the opportunity to watch World Cup in a country that treats their ski racers like national heroes, I suggest you take it- if for no other reason than to be around a group of people that truly love skiing.
I poached the above pic off the Lech-Zurs website, it’s from this afternoon. So, maybe it’s not epic, mid winter conditions, but I’m sure some of the other areas with glaciers should have the goods. I’m over here testing some new skis and working with the guys at Kastle, the brand sewn into the fabric of the Arlberg. For those of you who don’t know the about the Arlberg, it’s one of the places that modern skiing was born. I’m not talking about the fat ski revolution either. I’m talking born as in when people started using skis for recreational purposes, not just transportation, at the turn of the 20th century. If you want to go to a place where people truly breathe skiing, go to the Arlberg, it’s amazing.
For once, it appears, I have brought the snow somewhere. I’m the guy that usually shows up to, “oh, man, you should have been here this morning/yesterday/last week, it was really good then.” But alas, the day I touched down in Austria winter struck and dumped over a meter of snow in parts of the country. And guess who’s here to shred it? As much as I’ll miss shredding the ribbon of death at A-Basin and Loveland, I think I’ll stick with the real stuff.
…Or maybe not, I think to myself as we shot the first takes. What seems like a blanketing of fresh powder is nothing more than a wind drift, with the rest of the terrain all but stripped of decent snow. Nonetheless, we work the surrounding terrain that is defined by cartoonish cornices, glaciers, and ramps that, given the right snow conditions, would be right up there with anything in Alaska. After some not-so-impressive attempts at some more ambitious lines I concede to the conditions and tone it down a bit, enjoying the scenery as much as anything. After all, in a place as beautiful as Patagonia, even for me, the skiing is just a bonus.
To paraphrase Thoreau, many men spend their entire lives searching for good snow, when, in the end, it’s not the snow they’re really after