Japan: the land of the rising sun. Although… I didn’t find it to be those exact words; I saw the red sun a mere two-times in my three-week stent. Japan, to me was a living snow-globe. Everyday a changing environment and with it, came hidden stashes, reminding me of the reasons I continue to chase snow for a living. Not only was I expecting a “Nuclear-Winter” (due to previous travel four-years prior), but it’s what my soul needed for the historically low snow-pack and most definitely, the lack of deep snow in my life. I need it. It feeds me and keeps me in a balanced-momentum. Pushing me forward to the next destination in search of the best snow on earth. The state of Utah claims such a statement, but based off my personal experiences, I would have to disagree. The best snow on earth is NOT located in Utah…no, the best snow I’ve ever indulged, is located on the tiny island of Hokkaido.
Light…fluffy… POW engulfing my 5’7-self, that I had the pleasure of parting… with my neck. Not the most difficult task at 5’7 and 145 lbs., but none-the-less, waist-to-chest deep powder is what we’re after. Surrendering under California’s snow-pack standard, this much snow is a rarity, however, for the locals of Japan’s northern island…it’s a way of life. Removing it, embracing it, riding it, and creating the right tools to embrace such tasks.
I met my friends at SASS Global Travel under the bright-lights in the bustling city of Sapporo. We had a casual night of reminiscing before checking out the iconic snow-festival. Consisting of international snow-sculpting, this festival is held annually since it’s beginning in 1974. An amazing way to be immediately submerged in culture with food and tradition. The next day we began our trek north to Kiroro Resort where I was immediately blessed with some of the deepest turns I’ve had, that I can consciously remember. The snow continued to come down at a rapid pace, yet ever-so-gently. Falling straight down in-between the magical trees that were as much part of the riding experience as the snow stacking up, blanketing my feet. We continued to seek out terrain both in the resort and the connected-side as well as the backcountry. We wanted to find some zones for the days ahead when our videographer was to show up to film the fourth and final WEBisode of, The Garrett Russell Experience, produced by, The House Board Shop, in conjunction with, Teton Gravity Research. Needless to say we found what we were after. Short hikes to sustained powder fields, pillow zones, waist deep snow producing plenty of face shots with the occasional, Mt. Yotei or Sea of Japan shots, peeking-through on the rare occasion of stillness and a let up of snowfall. A perfect way to define both mine and Garrett’s style of skiing and the way we approach the mountain. This type of snow turns us into kids, just playing and having the best time ever, skiin’ smooth, undulating terrain complimenting the turn ahead with quirky pillow drops on edge.
Each day seemed to end very similar for me; a few beers with high-fives, laughs and smiles upon our powder-worn faces. Après ski is a bit different in Japan then other parts of the world. It usually consisted of going directly to the Onsen for stretching, a bit of rest, relaxation, and soaking in natural hot spring water pouring out of the earth. This place is alive and you can feel it. After leaving the Japanese bath-house restored, fresh, loose; I felt good, and this usually led to a traditional Japanese meal consisting of plenty of fish, ramen noodles and veggies that would boost the battery up to 100%.
Each day gets sweeter and sweeter. Not only was the snow getting continually deeper and the area more familiar as we started naming zones and lines, but we had our crew assembled to start producing both still and moving pictures with the likes of Ethan Stone and Jeffrey Lowe. To me, we had the perfect conditions for filming, all while capturing the essence of skiing, here in Japan. I will forever remember- those classic super-slow, neck-deep, powder shots that will make just about anybody jealous. There’s no better feeling then powder billowing off your chest into your face. Each and every run, could possibly be, the BEST run of our entire lives.
The one, and only day the snow stopped falling from the sky, we decided to head down to Ottaru for a light festival and a cultural experience, I will never forget. The greatest part of this so called, “down-day” was that there was no “down-day” at all. We were able to ski powder from the high alpine to the Sea of Japan. With a little help from David Burge and Lucas Moore at SASS; behind the wheel of our diesel vans, we were able to get picked up and dropped off with minimal hiking between the three-pitches off the side of the highway that lead straight to the ocean. This experience was my first time ever skiing light fluffy snow at sea level. And the final cherry topping this sugar-coated day, was the embracing, cultural rich fishing community that welcomed us with open arms upon our arrival. We walked the streets for hours admiring the creative works of the people and their snow sculptures, lighting our path, reflecting off the snow beautifully. We found our way to a hole-in-the-wall gyoza/noodle shop that produced amazing food and conversation. Six- Americans occupied the entire eating space and the traditional Japanese woman provided us, hands-down, the best gyoza dumplings of the trip. A bit later, we wandered back to our personal- hotels accompanying one-skier in each room. The smallest, most efficient space, allowing for limited movement; but for our crew served its purpose beautifully.
We made our way back up to Kiroro the following morning. Our goal for the day was to hike a few lines near a familiar zone we had our eyes on to ski in the days ahead. This particular line required a bit of planning, route finding, and logistics to ensure safety and efficiency. Starting early, we split into two different groups, navigating two different ridge lines. Both groups checking the stability of the snowpack on different aspects and elevations. We had Jeff on the barbie-angle. He had eyes on both groups, and could coach us through certain sections on our approach through a forest of frozen trees up into the alpine. Both groups arrived within minutes. We sat there for an hour or more waiting for light to shoot. We sat waiting for the perfect shooting opportunity, one that could capture the, “moment” for all of us…on a 6K-camera on the barbie. It never came. Itching to get this line we could not sit still any longer. We all had our lines picked out, and we sent it one-at-a-time, watching one another ski to the bottom before the next one would drop. I went last. Gabe Ciafre and I had a similar line choice, which we ended up calling “The Womb”. We all agreed that this 15-hundred-vertical-foot-shot of snorkeling-through-powder, was one of those legendary runs that explains and defines our lives. The perfect pitch, bowled out, and wide-open ending with shouts of exhilaration and pure joy. By far the longest, most sustained pitch of the trip. It was one of those lines I look back at and see only the signatures we left behind. For me, this is why backcountry skiing is so very appealing. I love the approach. I love checking out the snow, and I absolutely cherish the moments I’m in the mountains with my good friends doing what I love to do the most. SKI!
A perfect day to end our skiing adventure in Kiroro, and head back to the SASS house in Niseko. A day at Moiwa before packing our gear and heading to Sapporo for a night of partying at the Sapporo Brewery. The kind of experience you need to have at least once in your life. With an all-you-can-drink, all-you-can-eat atmosphere, great beer, and a hot-pot with an open flame burning below that housed all sorts of veggies and thin strips of meat. Tending to it deliberately between cheers-and-laughs while reminiscing about the best skiing on earth. Japan for me is a place I will return to year-after-year. I love the culture, I love the people, the language and communication is hilarious, and the skiing is all-time.
Arigato Gozimas to everyone at SASS Global Travel (Travis and Lucas Moore, Pete Connolly, David Burge, Garrett Russell, Gabe Ciafre), BCA, Lib Tech NAS, Leki USA, Dalbello, Smith Optics, Sierra at Tahoe, Strafe Outerwear, The House Board shop, I appreciate the support!
Terminal cancer is a disease that cannot be cured, a progressive illness that usually indicates the most surreal event to occur in life: death. Terminal, in most cases is defined as the end; a limited amount of time left in the present. An individual diagnosed with something ‘terminal’ can undergo many states of life in a single moment. States of emotion, extreme depression, and in some cases states of euphoria. In my case, Terminal Cancer represents change, euphoria, wild emotions, and plenty of outlandish imagery. It represents letting go of fear; and living in the moment. Terminal Cancer represents my addiction to big mountain skiing and my passion for sharing the mountains with those I am forever grateful to call my friends.
As with most proactive investments these days, it started with a text….
I received a group text message involving five individuals. All five, friends of mine whom I have fond memories in the mountains with and each have become reliable, trustworthy aids while traveling and skiing backcountry. The text read: “Ruby’s—1st-4th,” to which I responded without even a slight hint of hesitation, “I’m in”. Going on our fourth season with less than 50% snowpack in the Sierra made traveling to the Ruby’s a no-brainer. By the time all five of us shared our inputs, I no longer wanted anything to do with my phone, or in any-case, technology in general, all I wanted was to escape to the Ruby’s with my fleet and our snowmobiles.
The Ruby Mountains are located in the the North Eastern part of Nevada right outside of Elko on the I-80 before you reach the Utah border. It’s known as, The Great Basin and has little correlation to Salt Lake or Sierra snowpacks. I have been itching at the opportunity to go explore these mountains since a friend showed me photos in 2009. Every time I drove the I-80 either going to Utah or Wyoming I frothed knowing there’s a couloir that’s 10-12 feet wide and sustained for 2,000 vertical feet. The type of line skiers and snowboarders dream of shredding, and has been on my repertoire, interrupting my conscious on-the-daily. Terminal Cancer is aesthetically pleasing with beautiful red sheer walls shooting up on either side of you 50-100 feet with transparent blue ice pouring out of fissures that will make even the tallest man feel small. Mother Natures’ version of a beautiful, well-kept…
Will Bromelsiek and myself loaded our sleds into Devin Ebright’s trailer seconding as our home for the next four days. We met up with Justin Befu(Alaska Ski and Snowboard guide) and Josh Daiek who were towing their own version of a sanctuary, ultimately triggering emotions of extreme euphoria, and starting 2015 off right. Passing Nevada towns, and gazing forward , we came upon Battle Mountain and pulled off I-80 en-route for an immediate and completely necessary stop to purchase a firework show making up for our early departure and miss of New Year’s celebrations.
As I approached the store, a gentleman in a coon-skin hat (whom I remember buying from on previous firework excursions) bumbles out on the walk and leads me inside to firework paradise. I let him know the rounds-of my needs, and he points to a black box with the words, ‘excalibur’ written in bold on it’s face. Smiling and showing off his Copenhagen grin he grumbles, “24-mortar rounds made in the U.S.A. that will not disappoint”. I wandered around relaying fireworks and bottle-rockets to the counter top when Josh entered the building smelling of black powder and sulfur, “ We probably should get some Roman Candles to shoot an one another,” he jokingly stuttered. Concurrently, the gentleman in the coon hat looked Josh in the eyes and replied, “You better watch what you say or I will not sell to you. You gotta be a fuc*in’ idiot to shoot a firework at another human being…” he rambled on about kids severely burning themselves along with losing finger and eyes until Josh chimed in that everting would be okay; adding a snarky, “We will wear our goggles,” comment that rattled out giggles from us- and a very straight face by the man behind the register, resting his beer-belly on the counter top.
I assured him upon checkout that everything would be okay, and if it wasn’t we wouldn’t mention any names. “fair well my friend, i’m sure I will see you again”.
We arrived in the Ruby’s with nearly a full moon overhead. Right away, we unloaded the snow machines and began setting up camp; everyone with their own duties to ensure comfort for the night and days ahead. I immediately began building a fire to gather warmth and light for camp. Due to the single digit temperatures, our beers quickly turned to a slushy-like consistency—a quiet reminder to fire up our hesitant sleds, rip up the road, and glimpse Terminal Cancer before dawns’ early adventure.
It was quite ominous when we first laid eyes on it. The moon was bright and full but light didn’t penetrate the couloir. We both looked at one another while consuming another beer and our silent conversation said it all- what in the hell, is in that black crack? – With beautiful moonlight ribbons on both sides jutting up from the mountainous topography, we both admired our fate.
We woke up on the not -so- early side of things to make our way to the bottom of Terminal Cancers’ approach. We noticed a skin track working its way through the willows, and were a bit disappointed realizing we weren’t the first ascent in 2015. We gathered our gear, put our skins on, crossed a small river where Devin was relaying our skis to us on the other side, and said our ‘goodbyes”.
We quickly noticed the skin tracks from earlier turning around near the apron of the couloir. We slapped high-fives, dug a pit to check snow conditions and confidently determined it was safe enough to boot-up. I strapped my Lib-Tech NAS on my BCA Float bag feeling comfortable with the tools I had and slo-w-ly started gaining altitude up the 40 degree pitch. Every step was backed up by my conscious, telling my legs to take it slow-and-steady and to pace myself to not only save energy but to relax my anxiety more-so. With a big sigh, I sank up to my knees in sugary, faceted snow. Pulling each leg and climbing closer to the summit, I finally gave in to the reality of the climb and ended up putting a dangerous smile on both Josh and I’s face. With Josh in my view, I gave a good whack of my pole to a large blue icicle hanging from an ice-fall. Without so-much as a sense for what I was doing, I immediately regretted such an ignorant act and exclaimed, “I probably shouldn’t do that again,” as I thought of the consequences of a piece of ice crushing us both and barreling us down to the valley below. Josh agreed with a sarcastic, “do you mind, NEVER fuc*ing doing that again!” Chuckling we proceeded with our climb and finally, yes finally, made it to the summit.
We had a quick snack and radioed to Justin on the barbie angle across the canyon that we would be ready to drop in five minutes. Will would be doing the honors, with me trailing second, and Josh taking the caboose. Justin confirmed with a quirky, “10-4, you guys are going to love the angle I am set up at,” and with that we were on our way.
After watching Will drop and flash the entire couloir with ease, we got confirmation from Justin that he was at the bottom and out of harms way. I dropped in and instantly wind crusted snow caught my edges; exhaling energy for every turn and feeling my tails scrape against the narrow sides of the red sheer walls surrounding me. By the time I had finished carving my last turn, I was exhausted and honestly, quite bewildered by the line I had been looking forward to skiing, in my mind, planning my descent for days. Josh had arrived at the bottom with a similar look- and display of exhaustion. After watching him clip a rock, losing a shoe and going ass over tea kettle, I was relieved to see him safe and sound. The three of us gave a hoot of exhilaration and stared up at our accomplished mission, congratulating one another with a round of high fives.
We made our way down through the willows which seemed to have grown thicker and more challenging in our four- hour -round -trip. The last twenty steps uphill to my snowmobile felt like I was walking through wet concrete and I could almost taste the Coors Light that was stowed in the tunnel- bag of my machine. I could feel the water seeping through my boot liners due to a misstep in the river crossing. I quickly enjoyed a beverage that literally was ‘as cold as the rockies’ while my boots began to ice over. We started up our steady heads and as I looked over my shoulder back at the dark, mysterious crack– my mind raced back to the comforts of heat and home, leaving Terminal Cancer to the mountains surrounding.
Later that evening we all settled into the toy hauler, watched ski movies, chopped fresh peppers with cajun chicken which finally over powered the stench of our drying boots. We had ourselves a hard-earned fajita meal over laughs and memories of the days work. Soon, we started planning our next adventure; quickly deciding interest in exploring the wilderness boundary and surrounding areas offering sustained, steep pitches in a 360-degree perspective.
The next morning offered an earlier start that gave way to a much longer approach on the access road. With similar conditions to yesterday’s skiing (wind crusted snow), I took one run on the cirque of the bowl, took a small air and ended up tomahawking multiple times down the face. Having to hike back up to find my borrowed camera, I imagined Paddy O, The House Board Shop Marketing Magician, kicking my ass and pummeling my face into the snow. Loosing the camera I was given for a shop contest and having someone verbally assault me, gave me plenty of encouragement for the hike back up :). I knew it had stuck in the snow during my first head plant of my rotation. Two swipes into my search I felt pure relief. Much to my dismay, the SD card had reached capacity seconds before the wreck. I was really looking forward to seeing what the Garmin had captured. Left to the imagery of my imagination, I let out a ‘bummer’ as I skied through the frozen lake bed to the rest of the group patiently waiting to heckle me as I dug the remaining snow out of my Smith Optic IO/7 lens. I shuttled a few laps on my sled, and after watching Will have a similar series of events to mine, on top of clutching problems with his sled, we decided to head back to camp and count our blessings.
Back at camp I started anticipating the nights events. Bon Fire, 24- mortar round fireworks with 4 cannons, AR-15 bullets, Tahoe Moonshine and plenty of beers under a full moon began to shape up our last night in the Ruby’s. I cleared the surrounding area of dead limbs and piled our existing firewood into the established pit. Then I strategically set up the 4 cannons shooting out over the canyon in front of our campsite- an exhilaratingly proper means to break in the new year that we had missed a few days prior. As dusk gave way to night, I dumped 91 Octane on the pit, ‘flicked my bic’, nearly illuminating my eyebrows: stepped back to give my mighty fellow shredders a ‘cheers’ recounting an incredible few days of riding/exploring new terrain. Devin approached me and was eager as I to start lighting up the canyon with colors and sounds that define the great country we live in… America! Due to light winds we were never able to get all 4 mortars light in sync but none-the-less we had one hell of a firework show, for being amateur pyro-technicians. We ended our night by whizzing AR-15 rounds across the canyon to get one last shot of adrenaline before our last sleep in the Ruby Mountains.
We woke up and decided it would be best to take a ski tour before separating into our own rigs to make our way home to the Jewel of the Sierra’s (Lake Tahoe). We toured up a gully with a cirque in sight, but I didn’t see any change in the existing snow conditions; therefore decided to slow down and practice my ‘snow-study’ on a pitch with similar elements as the one we were seeking. I stabbed my probe in 130 cm and started conducting an isolated column test at my curiosity. I found a layer that propagated ct 23 around 25 cm down due to depth hoar, and another ice layer around 100 cm down that would be extremely detrimental if it were to fail while weighting a slope; yet relatively safe in the grand scheme of things.
We saw reminisce of the layer failing the day before – when Volkswagen size chunks of ice came spilling out of the lake from a prior avalanche that let loose a week-or- so before. It was really fun checking out the different layers of snow that had fallen in a somewhat scarce year of snowfall to date. After burning off some of our energy; we made our way back to the truck, loaded up our sleds along with remaining items and made sure we left no trace of our existence before driving away into the colorful sunset with sherbert accents. For me, I consider this trip to be one of the most memorable trips with the best group of humans. We now have new lines we wish to conquer in the back of our minds- so to say the least– we will be back Ruby, to share another adventure in your mountainous atmosphere. Terminal Cancer brought forth new admirations, awakening my conscious for more big mountain lines, more euphoric situations, more emotions tossed in a turmoil of events….and maybe next time I will avoid the tomahawk Cheers to 2015!
Thank you for reading and big thanks to Lib-Tech NAS, Backcountry Access, The House Board Shop, Dalbello, Smith Optics and Helmets, Leki USA, Strafe Outerwear, Sierra At Tahoe, and my friends, family, Devin Ebright for Providing the means, my girlfriend Austyn Harrington and loved ones for my forward movement and exploration of big mountains.
Best regards and a very happy 2015,
At moments notice… I received a phone call from my friend Josh Daiek aka. Baby J. We had been talking about meeting up for an adventurous ski mission for some time now. Due to both of our hectic travel schedules and Josh’s recent injury, it was looking like we were going to have to delay our plans once again. Although, I could tell in the tone of Josh’s voice that his calcaneus injury had some-what healed; it was time to put the pain aside and go for it. He then asked me to load up our sleds, bikes, skis, and parachute (josh’s); we could turbo diesel our way up to Oregon for an open ended shred mission. It bobbled in my head for a quick minute as I quickly thought to myself and let out a “what the hell,” the soonest obligation I have scheduled is going to Hawaii the latter end of the month. Lets do it.
It would be my third time to Bend, Oregon this season. We stayed with Josh’s good buddy, Eligh in his glorified man cave stretching out over ten beautiful acres. Typical Oregon style, we started drinking IPA, talking about what was in store the next couple of days, and met up with Powder Magazine’s Matt Hansen and Grant Gunderson, for a few beers over dinner. Matt and Grant quickly gave us the run down, and what they were trying to achieve and capture for the article in next year’s magazine about the town of Bend and the activities that surround it to make it the place it is.
After a day of decompression, skiing Mt. Bachelor, and getting to know the crew I would be hiking, skiing, and shooting with in the days to come, I knew we had a great group assembled to get clean, fun, work done. After another night of IPA and good laughs at Crows Feet Commons – Ride-Drink-laugh (the local ski shop) owned and operated by Dave Marchi, we set out to the Tam McArthur Rim in the Three Sisters wilderness for a backcountry hut trip. Thanks to our guides at Three Sisters Backcountry, we were able to access a few ramps and lines I had been looking at year’s previous. It was classic spring corn skiing, long days that ended in a comfortable yurt with everyone gathered around the fire sharing stories of shred. Some more exaggerated than others due to mandatory IPA and these little boogers we were eating that made us all a little bit weird.
Due to long hours and excessive hiking in my ski boots, I developed a blister on the back of my heel. The following days were consumed by mountain biking and of course, more IPA. The trail networks in-and-around Bend to Mt. Hood are radical. Dark brown, moist, tacky dirt that reminded me of gliding on my skis down smooth corduroy. Bikes these days are basically motorcycles without an engine; reminding me so much of skiing in the way you have to look ahead to pick your line to send. After parting ways from Matt and Grant, Bubba and I no longer had obligations and were free and eager to explore untracked zones.
Eligh knew what we were after and he delivered the goods. We were able to access lines directly from our snowmobiles, dropping 1,500 vertical feet descending into the arena of a pristine Alpine lake below. This spot was ridiculous. Frequent glassy basalt flows in a landscape that looked out of this world.
Hungry for more and weighing our options, we decided to take advice from Eligh and head into a remote mountain range in Central Oregon. This “secret” location, must be kept hidden, but its mythical legend should at least get a shout out. A stunning 50 mile mountain range, similar to the terrain of Jackson Hole shot out emotions backed by adrenaline and got my blood pumping through my dehydrated veins. Super jagged, steep, exposed terrain littered with couloir, spines, chutes, steeps, and some of the most massive cornices my eyes have witnessed. The most impressive aspect about this hidden wonderland is that it is run by the Bureau of Land Management. The only way in, is granted through one of two gate keys. Josh and I were the only ones in sight. Equipped with our sleds, skis, and overnight gear we established our territory and ended our trip with a bang. Sleeping under the stars next to our campfire and snow/wind shelter I reminisced about our great skiing, my new friends, and how blessed of a life I truly live.
…I’m driving away from Jackson Hole, WY, my mind running a million miles per hour wondering what is in store this next week. I am thinking to myself, “ man, this drive is a real doozy”. Driving over 12 hours across the Western part of the United States and we still have to cross the most mountainous state of Nevada.” In a race against time, I look up and finally above the dashboard, I see the familiar blue essence of Lake Tahoe.
The next six hours I am in a state of confusion, mixed with delusion and a bag of ski clothes that really need an extra rinse in the washing machine. I dump everything into the washing machine, repack my bag, and load it onto the shuttle bus at 3:45 a.m. leaving So. Lake and headed to Reno for my flight to Denver. The last thing on my mind before drifting into a nice shuttle- snooze dream was…
“…a place where the beer flows like wine and where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano……
I’m talking about a little place called Aspen.” Booyah! For the Freeskier Magazine, Freeskier Fest 2015 Buyers Guide Test.
I’ve already seemed to misplace my boarding pass, I look up and quickly notice, “Wachstafari” formally known as, Lucas, completely infatuated with his iPhone sending “shred ready” vibes and waiting at our baggage carrousel. Despite my stomach eating itself, I was stoked to catch up with my friend that I hadn’t seen in a few months ( I hadn’t eaten a decent meal since WY and forgot about my complimentary bag of peanuts). Thankfully, Lucas and I were on the same level, stoked and ready for Freeskier Fest.
Rolling out of DIA both of us with our own 100 lbs. worth of baggage, and our sights set on Aspen, we headed straight to Island Four, Rental Cars of DIA, Denver, Co. I quickly start reminiscing about my favorite islands, like Japan and Hawaii, and just as quickly-slapped with…Rental car island, where everyone is in a hurry, and a little bit pissed off.
After one ridiculous rental quote, I proceeded to the next option, “I found a killer deal Lucas, half the price of the first quote.” As we board the shuttle to the rental car service, we are well on our way to winning already. High fives a plenty! We arrive, only to find out that the gal on the other end had misunderstood in our brief phone conversation regarding my rental car requests. She thought I said Nissan Altima, which simply wasn’t going to get Dumb and Dumber to Aspen by 5:00 p.m., let alone meet our deadline for ski drop offs. Our half price quote just turned into a full price quote real quick. “We’ll take it. A Subaru! I can get 70 miles to the gallon on this hog.”
We hit the I-70 for Aspen after nourishing ourselves at Einstein Bagel. Smooth little ride got us to Aspen in nothing short of a, “fashionably late appearance”. The moment Lucas and I walked up, each of us holding a two piece cutlery set with serrated steak knife edges in each hand, I felt a change in the air and in that moment in time, knew I was exactly where I needed to be for the next few days. Pit Viper sunglasses, one of each model peeked over to examine a ski handmade near Canada in the USA, by ski bums with jobs.
We found a sweet little spot to stay in Basalt, CO. Just about 15 to 20 minutes away from the town of Aspen. With everything a ski bum could wish for, I became anxious for the days ahead and soon fell into a deep, deep sleep full of pow lines and cowboy hats.
7:30 a.m. we roll into Aspen, Snowmass. Lucas and I had previous knowledge of meeting at the Gondola at 8:15 a.m. After driving through a maze of large structures, shopping malls, gondolas passing over gondolas, and no recognition of anyone involved with the test, we came to the conclusion we went the wrong direction. Following iPhone directions to the Gondola at Aspen”, isn’t necessarily the best of directions in Aspen- the Head Honcho of Mountains. This little place called Aspen, isn’t so little after all. We eventually made it up to Ajax, explored, found several natural jump lines and NASed deep POW, DROPPED NASty lines, and made shred friends at Freeskier Magazine.
The following day was much better for us. We acclimated, we knew where to go and what lines to ski, and felt “right at home” for Freeskier Test. Our job was to go shred with ski testers, editors, representatives, anyone involved with Freeskier Magazine on behalf of Lib Tech NAS. We skied with a lot of great shredders, everyone involved was dedicated in some fashion. Freeskier Magazine was holding a daily Instagram contest under the hash tag #freeskierfest and today, the first day of whole Test, was all @libtechNAS day. The daily prize was a bottle of champagne and just like that, Lucas and I scored buttery combinations and finished the day with a bottle of bubbly. Rumor had it, two kids were out ripping lines, riding hard and fast on two unconventional Narrow Ass Snowboards, part of a two piece cutlery set, @bennyschmitt and @wachstafari shredding the Hollywood Line.
Our final day in Aspen really capped it off. We ripped some laps early, shot some great photos on the mini golf lines from the previous day, and had an all time wind lip session with the Freeskier crew. The results?? Six jumpers and three men wearing lab coats accessorized with clip boards, one photographer, and a bunch of killer shots. After the session came to an end, we said our goodbyes, downloaded with our gear and test skis and took off in route for Denver, CO.
As we were driving away, I felt an overriding waterfall of satisfaction with Lucas and I’s doings. The car ride to Denver was long but enjoyable with stories and memories stoking us up for the upcoming overall reviews. With one last adventure, the beats were turned up and the Subi was schmabbin.
With thoughts of cutting costs for our last night in Colorado, we decided on a luxury suite located a convenient ten minutes away form DIA. We quickly learned the difference between Aspen luxury and ten- minute- DIA-drive luxury. Before laying our sweet heads down to rest, Lucas rolled back the covers and flipped his pillow over to find a nice little stain resembling the aftermath of a drooling sleep with a snuss. Closing our eyes we tried to ignore the “luxury” and instead focus on the great memories we had made in the past few days. Our night ended with great laughs, and some weather channel special on Avalanches. A perfect end to a one-of-a-kind special week.
-Benny Schmitt 3/14/14
Colby Albino and I took a trip to Mt. Bachelor to visit friend and Lib Tech NAS teammate Lucas Wachs. With no snow in Tahoe, we found this to be quite amusing. Thanks to all the boys for the great turns and good laughs.
It is amazing to see what this young man has already done, and I am anxious to see to what extent he takes it. Thanks for inspiring me, thank you for getting me my first sponsor, thanks for encouraging me to move to Tahoe and pursue the mountains, thanks for the trips to foreign countries, thanks for the laughs, and thank you for being such a great friend.
Stoked on your accomplishments.
September 13th, 2013 by Henrik Lampert
Luke Van Valin is a go-getter. Whether he’s shredding endless backflips on skis, bowfishing for massive carp or shaving intricate patterns into his chest hair—it’s never a dull day. While Luke enjoyed a handful of years on the pro tour, skiing for 4FRNT and trotting the globe from event to event, and filming with the likes of Level 1, he’s better known today as “the voice of freeskiing.”
Luke now spends his time calling competitions both live and for television. He’s covered events from the X Games, to Dew Tour, to JOI. His knack for words combined with his love and knowledge of action sports has even earned him summertime gigs at contests including the Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Tour and summer Dew, to name a few.
We caught up with Luke this week, as he’s in the midst of riding the wild wave that is the iF3 world tour—having been in Santiago, Chile in August, and heading next to Montreal.
I got my first ski sponsor while riding on a chairlift with Matt Sterbenz. I had snuck into Superpark, and he was starting a new ski company called 4FRNT Skis. To this day, I’m still not sure if he liked my nerve (for poaching the biggest photoshoot in the sport) or my tricks more, but he proposed sponsorship and I gave him a hell yeah. I had some small regional deals with Rossi before that, but nothing like the deal I got with 4FRNT.
4FRNT Skis is a family of people who work hard and play hard.
My fondest memories of the pro skiing days are numerous. It was a combination of witnessing and experiencing a new and amazing sport unfolding before my eyes. Risk, exhilaration, travel, mind-bending celebration, and sharing it all with like-minded people. A good example is probably a trip I took to the Candide Invitational four or five years ago… I showed up without a place to stay, and Laurent Favre offered me a bed at his parents’ place. It had already snowed a couple feet in La Clusaz that day, and wouldn’t end up stopping for about a week. For anyone who hasn’t skied there, I would describe it as mini-golf paradise. Anywhere you look there’s a wind lip, or cliff, tree bonk, or a perfect gully to jump off the chairlift into. We ended up doing it all. So many backflips. On the last day, most of the top pros headed to Sweden for Jon’s event but Sammy, Simon, Laurent and Candide stayed behind for a final on-hill event. Right before I had to head down and catch a cab to Geneva, I slung a double back over this thing that looked like a field goal post and stomped lightly in deep pow. The next day I stepped off a helicopter onto a red carpet in Sweden. Jon greeted me with a glass of champagne right as my phone was ringing—it was Laurent telling me that my double backy was voted best trick and I won a suped up four-wheeler. Not a bad memory.
Although we had some outrageous times while skiing, some of the best times were spent off of the hill. I remember one time I met up with Tanner Hall in NYC. He was there with Jon Olsson, Simon, and Travis Rice shooting for some photo feature in Maxim. Travis took us out to a speakeasy in the city called Death and Co. for some drinks and food—I definitely recommend it. When we wrapped up there, we bounced around the East Side for a while until Tanner decided to split off and hit this underground reggae show. He asked me if I wanted to go, so without really thinking I just said, ‘Yeah!’ Keep in mind I’m wearing jeans, and a nice button down shirt. An outfit, I would soon realize, that stands out like a zit between the eyes at a reggae show. So we hop in a cab and roll up to this club that is literally ‘underground.’ Walking into this place is like stepping into a mineral cave. Everything around you is like a stalagmite, or a weird jungle-looking waterfall, or catacombs, all spun together surrounded by the scariest looking big, black, dreadlocked Jamaicans. I was uncomfortable, but Tanner? It was like he was home. Every time I turned around he had some new pal. He was broing down hard with, what was in most cases, a fully frightening looking person. He was one of them for sure, and constantly getting introduced to this crew and that. Meanwhile, I couldn’t start a conversation with anybody in sight. If I made eye contact with someone and said hello, they would look at me like I had a penis growing off my chin and carry on. I finally just stopped acting like a poser, and let T do his thing. It’s so funny to think about that night in hindsight, I was so out of place, but Mr. Tanner Hall was exactly the person he portrays in the world of skiing—a white reggae enthusiast with style all his own. And in this dark underground cavern-style club, somewhere in New York City, he was treated like family. It was cool.
I think the best moment I experienced at a major competition was either Laurent Favre’s switch 720 at the US Open, or when Candide Thovex and CR Johnson took pipe skiing to new heights.
My favorite people to ski with back then were Austin Ramaley, Chad Warren [snowboarder], Tanner Rainville, Candide Thovex, and TJ Schiller. All of these kids have two things that I love: natural style and fearlessness.
It’s weird to think that this sport was started by Canadians.
I lived with The Dumont for a while and that kid is ridiculously talented at anything he tries. For this, he blames his competitive mother who used to serve him some rather ruthless beatings in games of a various sort. But I personally think he is just a member of the first wave of a terrestrial Native American reckoning. It’s hilarious, and most of the time I just want to give him big warm bear hugs, but it can be tough to get in there.
Photo: Nate Abbott
The transition from pro skier to announcing was a smooth little ride. It happened, basically, in one season.
When I first started some of my friends seemed to feel like I was giving up on freeskiing. But in reality I was making a conscious business decision to transition to an opportunity that presented increased monetary compensation as well as longevity potential.
I got my first big break when Uncle E brought me up to the booth to announce the US Open big air. It was the night that TJ Schiller did a switch 1440 and [shouts] damn near stomped ‘er in the parkin’ lot! Needless to say, being in the right place at the right time to inform onlookers of the madness they had just beheld was a distinct pleasure. Not to mention, having that microphone thing… which allows me to talk to a multitude at once. I like that, too.
By doing what I’m doing doors have opened all over the map.
The biggest challenge I face is penetrating a saturated market as I peer onward in the world of announcing. There will come a day when I, too, must pass the torch as a freeskiing announcer down to a worthy soul. The question is: whether or not it will be worth it for me to continue on the ‘hosting’ front, or transition into some entrepreneurial opportunities I’ve been investigating.
My favorite aspect of the gig is being able to genuinely promote the sport I love most. Announcing, for me, is also ‘all shot through’ with that deep satisfaction that comes from ‘blooming where your planted.’ I think everyone has a talent, and the engine within me shifts into a high gear when I am speaking to a large group of people.
The hardest thing about working with big networks is the deep pool of talent that they draw from. Vertical television brands have massive reach, and an entirely unseen network of connectedness to various levels of talent. It is my opinion that there is a perfect person in existence for every television job imaginable, and for most of them I would not be a logical choice. In hopes of letting the reader ‘in here’ a bit, my struggle seems to be having the balance to not take occupational rejection personally.
But the rewards are outstanding. Aside from the obvious upsides of traveling, free hotels, fluted destinations, and making a living by watching freeskiing, there are constant communication lessons to be learned, endless networking opportunities, and endorsements on the side.
As for the Olympics I’d love the honor, but will accept the directive of the deciding parties. [Ed’s note: Skier Jen Hudak started a petition in hopes of securing a job for Luke in Sochi. To date, 878 people have signed the petition in support of Luke. Learn more, and/or sign the petition here.]
Beyond Sochi lies the future. A wide open canvas of untouched potential, and a life with the most smashing babe alive.
Married life is the best decision I’ve ever made. It was so much more than a stroll down the aisle. For me there was an internal, spiritual connectedness that began that day. I have a lot to learn, but I can’t imagine life any other way. Plus, Caitlyn and I have Henry the French Bulldog, and he’s a staple.
I can’t give enough thanks to my wife who always supports what I do, and gives me the will to pursue a goal. My parents, who told me I could move to Tahoe straight out of high school, and just pursue college later. Uncle E who got me into announcing and taught me a shit load about it. Shawn Poser who gave me an eye for the ‘bigger picture’ in action sports events, Rachel Taylor who gave a broke-ass skier punk an affordable home in Mammoth, Bob Legasa who took me from a skier doing crappy 360s to a kid with skills in spinning.
Photo: David De Pas
Thanks to the Almighty, Caitlyn, my family, Nate and Racheal, Tim and Annie, my Mom and Dad, Carrie and Mike, Dan Bell, Danny and Heather, Ian and Rebecca, Kathleen and Jacob, Uncle E, Dan McClung, Shawn Poser, TJ Walker, DC Robbins, the whole gang at Echo, Riley Poor, Rob Sheets, Debbie Spander, Billy Matthews, Todd Harris, Micheal Spencer, Troy Micheals, Matt Sterbenz, Austin Ramaley, Randy Bruce, Jon Shares, Steve Lindecki, Billy Berger, Brian Lewis, Bob McKnight, Simon Dumont, Colby West, Jersey Mike, Benny Schmitt, Omar Otte, CR Johnson, Chad Warren, Joel Cline, Tony Facciano, Ski Shack in Hayden, Mary Quinn, Bob Legasa, Josh Loubek, Steele Spence, Camp of Champions, John Smart, Bibby and Teej, Dorey, Margetts, Chug, Jon Olsson, Tanner Hall, Orage, Jake Largess, Nate Abbott, Henrik Lampert, Mike Nick, Candide Thovex, Monster, Shay Williams, Cody Dresser, Davey Smidt, Willis, JP, JF, Felix Rioux, the whole iF3 posse, Doug and Dave Bishop, Benchetler, Rainville, Nolan, the Seans, Jared McCrum, Ryan Price, and Matt Gillis, Johnny Decesare, Liam Downey, Josh Berman, Freedle Coty, Tim Russell, Craig Coker, Rachel Taylor, Tyler Joerz… damn it, I know I’m forgetting someone. Much love to all.
Here is a quick edit from 3 day of filming in the backcountry. The footage is from Smith Optics Prospecting Idaho right outside of Sun Valley, and two days in the Sierra Nevada. Filmed and edited by Martin Rubio @ Painted Visuals. Thank you for the unquestioned support. Big ups to Lib Tech NAS, Smith Optics and Helmets, Dalbello, Dakine, Sierra At Tahoe, and BCA. You guys rock! Thanks for watching. Enjoy!
This last saturday my friend Ty hosted the Lake Tahoe Backcountry Festival. He asked me if I would present a slide show and share my experiences of skiing in the BC around the world. It was a bit nerve racking with 60+ spectators looking and listening on, all the lights off and a spot light on me. Quite fun as well. The turnout was great, and I want to thank everyone who came and supported the event. The whole purpose was to raise awareness on traveling safe in the backcountry, raise money for Sierra Avalanche Center, and raise hell and party. Over 100 people showed up to listen to a weather discussion, an avalanche forecaster at SAC speak, and a pro spotlight(me). Spotlight it was for sure. We also had some great door and raffle prizes, I think everyone in the room went home with something. Some more than others. One lucky sole went home with a new Voile split board set up. He was stoked, and we were thrilled that we could raise over $ 1,600.00 dollars for our local avalanche center. Make sure your checking the report, practicing with your beacon, and making good decisions. Live to ski another day. Best!
Below is what I presented, the writing is a little sketchy because it’s all ideas to go off.
It’s nice to see so many familiar faces out here tonight. Thank you everyone for coming out and supporting the event. Thank you Ty Dayberry for coordinating this event, and thank you Sierra Avalanche Center for your commitment to providing us with up to date snowpack conditions. Much appreciated, Thank you!
I grew up ski racing in Washington State, and I continued to do so until I was a freshman in High school. It was a successful run, and I appreciate every minute of it looking back. Eventually, I got bored with it and found myself sneaking off to free ski whenever I could. There might have been another activity associated with that as well. But we won’t go into that. I knew early on that skiing is what I wanted to do. I focused on skiing the whole mountain with my own creative outlook, and it’s led me to the point I am at. It’s my life, its self-reflection; it’s an open canvas to express me. Moved to Tahoe when I was seventeen….
Throughout my whole career in skiing I have always had a mentor. Weather it was my dad dragging me up the bunny hill for me to straight line to the bottom and wait for another pull, My race coach teaching me the fundamentals of skiing, Or ski guides showing me how they conduct a compression test in some of the biggest mountains in the world. I have learned a lot through my own personal experiences, but most of my knowledge and skill has been passed down. There is always someone that knows more than me, and I have learned to keep an open mind, and ears at all times.
I wouldn’t know a fraction of what I do without these mentors in my life, and I want to thank them as well. I do what I can to pass what knowledge I have on to others. It’s always nice to teach, or relieve troubles with a simple fix that can turn someone’s day around. Never pass an opportunity to go out with your friends, just make sure everyone is on the same page. You can learn a lot from each other, and about each other. You know someone so much better after a day of touring.
I am not up here to act like I know more than anyone else out there, because I don’t, I am simply here to share some of my experiences and what I have learned to this point. I am still learning, and every day I am in the mountains, no matter where it is around the world, I learn something new every time. There are a lot of elements that go into exploring, and playing in the mountains, and at of the end of the day, everyone’s goal is to have fun and come home to their loved ones. It’s powerful out there, and that’s why we all share so much love for it, but the moment you stop respecting the mountain is when you find yourself in trouble. It’s important to keep a level head, and avoid impulsive decisions. Take your time and think about a little bit. Let it flow! Breath!
In bigger lines, I have learned to really examine what I’m skiing If I have the option to. Sometimes that can be hard in a heli, but when I have the chance, I like to go through a checklist. Is there a safe zone, what about the run out, is there a bergstrun? Yes there is. Okay! That’s where I need to exit. How am I going to manage my slough, try to stay ahead of it up top and hop over that skiers left spine. It’s intense! But I love it! Quick story! I like to go with my gut feeling all the time but especially on bigger lines. I was at the World Heli Challenge in Wanaka, New Zealand. A helicopter accessed big mountain contest in Mt. Aspiring National Park. Lord of the rings type stuff. Beautiful!
Anyway, during my run, I got on top of this really pitched out double, it looked like death if you didn’t stick it, I opted out of it which killed my fluidity, but none the less I was down safe to ski another run. Sure enough, a few riders later, Ted Davenport ends up on top of this same line, you could tell that he was debating whether to go or not, but he went ahead and sent it, caught a shark on the first stage of the double, tommied down a few hundred feet and broke both his legs. Bless his little heart. I mean crazy. It was this huge ordeal rescuing him off the side of this mountain; the heli had a hard time landing due to how steep the pitch was where Ted was lying. It was scary. You can lose your shit out there quick. Go with your gut! If your not felling it, you’re just not felling it. Live to ski another day.
I have been blessed to travel the world and ski places I have been dreaming of since I was a little kid. Through different filming and contest opportunities, I have experienced a number of different ranges and have learned a lot about how the Snow pack can vary from one place to the next. You have the Maritime snowpack up and down the west coast to Japan, parts of Canada and Alaska which is usually a deeper, denser, more consistent, stable snowpack. A Continental snowpack in the Colorado Rockies, and along the continental divide in Wyoming and Montana which is usually more shallow, less dense, layered, typically less stable snowpack, and you have the Intermountain snowpack in the Sawtooths, really all of Idaho, Nevada, western Utah, which is a transition Snowpack between the two.
I have skied them all, but I would have to say, my favorite is The maritime, I grew up in it, I live in it now, Japan and Alaska are my favorite place to ski, so it’s what is most familiar to me. I love it! I feel confident in my abilities to ski in it. No matter where you are skiing, with proper planning and decision-making it can be another successful day.
There are all these great websites to check for up to date avalanche forecasting and weather conditions. These guys are not slacking; they are out there everyday, and they are well educated and experienced. Locally we have Sierra Avalanche center, but you can usually find something similar to this anywhere you happen to be skiing. There is also links for education opportunities, Avy 1, 2, 3 where you can learn a lot, more than I. It’s a great way to learn about the backcountry, and recognize what the snow is going to do.
Then you can decide if you’re comfortable to rip that line or not. Experience with education can really improve your chances out there. I encourage every one to Check the report, practice with your beacon, and make conscious decisions.
Who said the French are …
Just recently I flew over the pond to Chamonix, France. It’s a one of a kind place, and if you’ve ever been, you most likely can relate. The moment you enter that valley, it feels as if you enter a different realm. The mountains best described, would be similar to those you draw as a kid. Sharp. Scary Steep! It’s powerful there. A lot of energy circulates in and around it.
The locals are as much a part of the mountains, as the mountains are a part of them. They take pride in the activities and tasks it requires to live in this environment. Weather it is cave spelunking 1000 meters up on shear cliff to hunt crystals, or skiing lines that require 5-6 repels to reach the bottom. Knowledge of these mountains is crucial for navigating and exploring them. Tragic consequences can linger around every corner if you stop respecting them. There are options to keep it mellow, or in this case, mellower, and there’s always the option to go as big you want. You grow as a person, as well as an athlete. I have always known the mountains teach you if your willing to learn, and these mountains taught me a lot, in a little amount of time.
The skiing was absolutely incredible; it was a constant 15-30 cm wherever we went. Traveling on glaciers, meandering around crevasse, and staring at serac. Paradise if you’re into this kind of thing. In one run you can easily bag 5000 vert. Since the start to my trip, I had my eyes on a famous run called Vallee Blanche off the Aiguille Du Midi, a world-renowned cable car that takes you to 3,842 meters. You’re basically dropped off on the side of a cliff to approach your descent, but fairly straight forward from there. Crampons and various bits of climbing apparatuses are advised. Unfortunately, the weather rolled in fast with white out conditions and gusty winds stopped our journey in its tracks. We had no guide, and decided it wouldn’t be smart to navigate into unfamiliar mountains. It was not a complete loss; we received a brief history lesson while moving throughout a mined tunnel, and were in complete shock at the architectural elements and efforts that it took to complete such a task. I would have to say one of the highlights to my trip. Crazy French…
Another thing that I absolutely loved was visiting the crystal museum. The crystals were all found locally, and it was one of the most extensive collections I had ever seen or could have imagined. This really intrigues me because I enjoy hunting crystals at home. These would really ad to the collection.
The food wasn’t too shabby as well. I mean, whenever your eating fine cheeses with fresh bread and a glass of wine, you’re not doing to bad. You can always appreciate a bowl of chips, olives and peanuts when you order a beer as well. “It really adds to the conversation”. I felt so blessed to finally make it to Italy to experience some authentic Italian living. Something I have wanted to do for sometime. The highlight of Italy was not only the food, but also this Day Spa we went to. The Disneyworld of rest and relaxation! Hot springs, saunas, footbaths, slats of granite you lay on while mineral water showers your body, underwater speakers, and a backdrop of the Italian Alps. This place was something else; waterbeds, fresh juices, moist toilettes, waterfalls, bubble baths. I felt like I was in Ancient Rome. I don’t have many pictures, it seemed really weird taking photos.
I had an awesome time. The skiing was great, the people were great, the food was great, and the experience was exceptional. I can’t wait to go back and experience it again. I now know the potential it has, and a better understanding of what this place entitles. You could explore those mountains for a lifetime, and never grasp it all. I want to thank my lovely girlfriend Iris for getting me there. Without here competing in the FWT, I wouldn’t have gotten to experience such a wonderful place so early in life. I feel blessed to travel the world with such a great friend and companion. It was also super nice to see friends I had previously meet all over the world in such a breath taking place. Thanks for the smiles!
Once again I want to apologize for not having any recent blog posts. Last season was one for the books, and I believe the entire ski industry can relate with me on that. Snowfall was meager to none in the lower 48, and in turn, it had a drastic effect on sales, budgets, and the approach to the season ahead. Nonetheless, I was still able to travel to find snow, and managed to get some really nice footage and still photos, as well as meet new connections and friends that will last a lifetime. Anyway, I have finally figured out my tentative schedule depending on snow conditions elsewhere, and in Tahoe.
My season is starting to kick off, and up to this point it has been fairly epic. Tahoe has had a killer season thus far, already exceeding our total snowpack from last year; it feels like the 2012-2013 season is going to treat me well. Not only did I bag my first shot in Powder Magazines photo annual (January Issue), I have some killer travel plans scheduled. Here is what it’s looking like:
January 5-14 Revelstoke British Columbia for the Freeride World Tour to cheer my lady Iris Lazzareschi on to victory, as well as shoot some photos to bag another spread. Fingers crossed eh!
Head home for a week to film with Well Rounded Media Concepts until I head out for…
Chamonix, France to meet up with fellow Dalbello Team Ambassador, the man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Glen Plake. January 20- 31
Fly back to the states for SIA- Denver, Colorado February 1-5
Run around to capture as many stills as possible in February (locations dependent on weather), and try to be at home as much as possible for Miracle March in Tahoe. Ski with my boys!
April 1-28 is looking like it’s going to be Alaska again, trying to figure out if it’s Tailgate Alaska Freeride Festival, or some kind of Plane drop on a glacier, or maybe a combination of them both. Still figuring out the logistics of it all.
Small spring/summer break before I leave for South America for my first time. Fly fishing and skiing the Andes. Can’t wait!
Please follow my blog as you won’t be disappointed. Ski fast and take chances!