How did you get into ski mountaineering?
Ski mountaineering was something that was always inside me. I grew up skiing Tuckerman Ravine, NH when I was really young with my Dad and went up there every spring, so I got exposed to it pretty early. Plus I was a climber as a teenager and did a couple of NOLS mountaineering courses as a kid. When I moved to Colorado when I was 18 it was game on.
What have you been up to this summer?
I hung up the skis the first week of June and spent the next seven weeks on my bikes, just enjoying summer and riding as much as possible. For the 14th year in a row I made my pilgrimage to the Andes of Chile for the month of August to host my ski camp and guide and enjoy a week on snow with my family. Summer is pretty quick for me, but that’s fine because I’d be on snow all year if I could.
What are your plans for this winter?
I’ve got a full schedule of guiding, event announcing, sponsor obligations, and filming this winter. I’m starting it all off with a guiding trip to the Antarctic Peninsula with Ice Axe Expeditions. Come spring I’ll be trying to finish up a ski mountaineering project in Colorado where me and two friends, Ted and Christy Mahon are trying to finish skiing the Centennial Peaks- the 100 highest in Colorado. They’re all over 13,810′ and I’ve done 84 so far. So it will be really rewarding to finish this amazing list.
What are some of the goals you are looking to accomplish in the near future?
I also have just two 14,000′ peaks left in the USA (Lower 48 states) to finish all 69 of the 14ers so I’m going to try and finish those also. I’ve got a trip to China in February and at least one trip to the Alps. I am working with CMH Heli Skiing in Canada and hosting some ski weeks with them, which I’m looking forward to. As much as I love the human powered mountaineering aspect of skiing it’s always nice to bang out some big vertical with clients in a helicopter as well.
What do you consider some of your biggest skiing achievements?
On the competition side I’m proud of my two World Championship titles in Freeskiing and of my X-Games medal in SkierX. I won the 24 House of Aspen one year, almost breaking the world record- we skied 240,000′ vertical in 24 hours on Aspen Mountain. I’m proud of the 30+ film segments I’ve been able to be a part of, and of course it was pretty cool to ski all the Colorado 14ers in less than a year. I’ve been stoked to ski some iconic peaks in the Alps like the Eiger (West Face), the Matterhorn (East Face), Mont Blanc (North Face) the Monte Rosa (Marinelli Couloir- 7000′ line) and several first descents on Denali in Alaska. There have been lots of awards and accolades over the years but more than anything I’m proud to be a part of an amazing industry and ski culture.
What are some of your favorite places you’ve skied?
I love the Antarctic Peninsula- it’s incredible ski mountaineering at sea level and you get to live on a boat! I made a documentary film about this little know place called Australis: An Antarctic Ski Odyssey. It’s available on iTunes, and is a first of its kind look at skiing these amazing mountains. I also love the Chugach Range in Alaska for pure steep and deep skiing. And of course there is Chamonix, a place where I have spent many months over the years honing my craft and being pushed by great skiers and climbers. There are lots of other incredible places in the world where I have been so fortunate to spend time and get to know the locals and the mountains. It’s impossible to pick just one, but I definitely love my backyard- the Elk Mountains between Aspen and Crested Butte.
What are some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve overcome in your explorations?
I’ve been pretty fortunate to have some good partners and great planning on most of my trips so haven’t had to many epics. I got altitude sickness on Makalu (the world’s 5th highest peak) back in 1999 but that was actually a great learning experience. And we had some issues with an insane tour operator on Annapurna in 2005 that left a bad taste in my mouth. But aside from stuff like that my trips are generally pretty smooth.
How do you prepare mentally and physically for skiing super steep stuff?
I love the steeps and seek them out as much as possible. The thing with this type of skiing is that it’s only good or safe every so often, depending where you are. So I try and put myself in position to take advantage of great conditions by always being fit and ready. Mentally I’m ready for anything… let’s go!
How much skiing have you done in Utah?
I’ve been skiing in Utah since I was a teen and my Dad brought me to Little Cottonwood. I get out there every season at least once but usually more than that. The Wasatch is an amazing range, but honestly I hate crowds so sometimes I find myself there at the wrong times, like during OR, and wonder if I should be somewhere else instead. I really want to ski a bunch of Wasatch classics that I haven’t hit yet like the Hyperdermic Needle and Cold Fusion.
What do you do in the ‘off’ season?
I don’t have much of an off season but I grew up bike racing at the elite level so I’m addicted to riding as much as I can, both road and mountain. In the fall I try and do as much gym time as I can and have a long standing plyo routine that I do with a trainer- i’ll call it “cross-fit” type training but we’ve been doing it for 20 years.
How do you juggle family time with skiing, camps, travel, etc?
Work is work- I try and keep the gas pedal down and do as much as I can in skiing to support my family. My wife Jesse is a 23-year ski patroller who lives to ski also so she gets it and is very supportive of my business. The kids love having me around, especially since my older two are having some success in ski racing, so I try and be there for their races as much as I can. And it’s important that I’m around to help them with their school work as well. It’s just a balance that I pay close attention to.
You’ve been getting more into product development?
I’m a total gear geek- I love tweaking and improving equipment and have had some great opportunities to develop product over the years. I was closely involved in the launching of Salomon’s clothing back in the late 90’s and worked on the AK Rocket and Pocket Rocket skis for them. More recently I am involved in the product planning and decisions at Kastle Skis, the Austrian ski brand that I own part of. And you mentioned Scarpa… working with their design team has been a real treat. We shared a very similar vision for the new Freedom boot collection and to see it come to market and sell in so strongly has been awesome. I tested early prototypes and provided lots of direct feedback to the team. But honestly they were so right on from the get go that we didn’t have to change much. I also have my own clothing collection with Spyder, the White Spyder Collection (named after Heinrich Harrer’s famous book about the first ascent of the Eiger North Face) and stay very involved in the product development and testing of all of those products. I’m consulting on the development of a new avalanche technology that does snowpack and snow layer assessment which is totally groundbreaking and has been really fun to be involved with (no it’s not an iPhone app) You’ll hear more about this later this winter.
What’s it like to ski Everest?
Skiing the Lhotse Face of Everest was amazing. I’m not going to lie- it’s huge and exposed and there are lots of eyeballs on you. My partner Neal Beidleman and I had incredible powder conditions for our descent from Camp 3 and it definitely ranks up there in my top 5 favorite descents of all time. The face is rarely in great shape; it’s usually black ice and wind pressed, so we were super lucky. I have a plan to go back there and guide again but it looks like 2015 at the earliest.
What has been the ‘hairiest’ situation in the mountains for you?
Well I’ve been around a couple of avalanche fatalities and a helicopter crash, none of which were groups that I was with or in, but we were close so we had to help out. Being a first responder in those situations is hard and intense but also puts to the test all the skills that we train for. I hate having these conversations with my wife but the reality of our life in the mountains and our jobs as guides and professionals is that sometimes things happen and you should always be prepared.
How do you celebrate a major skiing accomplishment?
Oh I’m not into celebrating too much. A beer with friends in the parking lot or a toast of Scotch in the tent is fine with me. There’s always another trip on the horizon to think about anyway. I guess when it’s a big thing like a two-month expedition or a yearlong ski project I like to pack the family up and go off the radar and head to the beach.
Chris will present a slideshow on his Everest experiences on January 23rd at the Wildflower Lounge at Snowbird as part of the Utah Adventure Journal Speaker Series. Admission is free.