What’s it like to ski 60 degree steep ice? For most of us, getting an edge to bite on the occasional patch of boiler at the resort is at least an eye opener — and possibly a ride on one hip. And that’s on ice where a fall is just an inconvenience. Change that patch of ice to a thousand-foot runway clinging to the side of a huge Canadian behemoth such as Mount Andromeda, and you’ve got a classic example of extreme skiing.
When we study history here at WildSnow.com, it’s obvious that extreme skiing in the past two decades has split into two distinct camps. Hear the over-used E word, and most people picture the Glen Plake media wildman doing what’s now, thankfully, called “free skiing” (2015 update, also “freeride”). In reality extreme skiing began with remote high-mountain descents, far from movie cameras, often involving a dangerous technical climb just to access the ski route. This is still the pure essence of the sport. The limits are being pushed by a small cadre, often relatively unknown, who explore the limits of angle, snow surface, and physical ability. One such man is Doug Ward.
Doug grew up as a ski racer and free-style competitor. After an apprenticeship in Chamonix during the late 1970s, he returned home to Canada, sharpened his edges, turned his eyes to the couloirs and vast faces of the Canadian Rockies, and he never looked back. Ward’s accomplishments include several early attempts at Mount Robson’s great north face, numerous Canadian first descents including the Aemmer and Dolphin Couloirs on Mount Temple and Skyladder on Mount Andromeda, as well as 13 descents of the 3,4 Couloir at Moraine Lake as “training.” What’s more, he makes most of his descents on the icy snow of late spring and summer.
It’s tough to impart the magnitude of Ward’s routes in print, but glance at the guidebook, Selected Alpine Climbs, and what Ward is doing on skis will blow you away, or at least scare you half to death. His descents are HUGE.
Even when he’s not mountaineering, Ward’s life has always been avalanched with adrenaline. A former coal miner and professional ski racer, he is presently a professional fire fighter for the city of Calgary. If that’s not enough, he’s always got the challenge of marriage and child rearing. Presently, at 40 years old he feels the call to give back, and is doing so by organizing some of the largest, most well run and respected free-skiing competitions ever held. In all, the man is as well rounded a mountaineer as you’ll find, and has a lot of insight into all aspects of the mountain life.
I (author Louis Dawson) phone interviewed Doug in summer of 1999, as he sat waiting for his next fire callout, dreaming of building a house, and planning his next descent. Knowing where to end an interesting interview is sometimes the hardest part. Doug made that detail easy. The last sounds on my tape are a klaxon blaring, and Doug saying “OOPS, got a call out, gotta go buddy!”
LD: How did you get started as a skier?
DW:My parents emigrated from England to Mount Tremblant Quebec. My father was the accountant for the hill. Being somewhat the traditionalist, when I was 5 he said ‘here’s your skis, you just herringbone up to the lift and you can go with Ernie McCulloch (famous national team racer.) But Ernie wasn’t around by the time my little legs got me up there [laughter]. Really, I was just as happy to skate around the lake, so I never hankered my parents for skiing. Then we moved to Calgary when I was 9, and I got into skiing with the school programs. I wanted to be in the Nancy Greene ski league race program, but my parents really couldn’t afford it and didn’t comprehend what I was after, so they put me in a program that exposed me to free style skiing. So I went that direction, and the timing was perfect. Free style was being covered on television, sponsored by Chevy and Midas, with guys like Scott Brooksbank and Wayne Wong. So those were the skiers we watched, and we started innovating on our own. While they doing the pro thing, we were growing in the amateur thing and getting some solid ski training. This was about 1974 to 1978.
After graduating from high school in 1976, instead of going to university I moved to Banff to get my doctorate of skiing. I skied year-around for 7 years, including free style competition. We had an intense group of guys, everybody was going for it year around, trying to figure out the best training and technique.
I got tired of waiting for free style to become a National Team and Olympic Sport, and I was disillusioned by the capricious judging. So in 1978 I quit , went to Chamonix, France, and found total freedom. I supported myself by free-lance racing on the European circuit of open races. So I was now mentoring behind guys like Ken Reed and Tod Podborsky. I didn’t have the same training as those guys, but the attitude was the same.
LD: You mean the ‘wild Canuks?’ attack the downhill like there is no tomorrow?
DW:That, and that there was more to skiing than hammering moguls — that skiing had a technical side, and mileage was key. We skied 130 days a year, and we did it on the Grand Montet, where you can do 50 to 60 thousand vertical a day — every day. You can ski a lifetime of skiing in one year. One of my buddies skied 650,000 vertical feet in one 9-day period. A lot of stuff came out of this. In 1995, a guy I’d gotten to know over there, Mark Jones, skied 52 Grand Montet in 12 hours — with no lights, no track, just riding the lift over and over. That’s about 230,000 vertical feet, and was the record until a few years ago.
LD. That’s quite a crew you were hanging out with.
DW: Yeah, that’s what made me the skier I am. That’s what makes the difference. When you ski at that level and you’re pushing your self, and you’re around guys as good or better than you. Another thing I did over there was get into speed skiing. I hunted down guys like Steve McKinny and Tom Simmons, and skied with McKinny a bit. It was really a time of intense mentoring, something you need to excel in any sport.
LD. And sort of an extreme ski bum lifestyle?
DW: Yes, when I left Canada I was what you’d call a ski bum. Not the most respected career over here, but much more respected and accepted in Europe. More, when I spoke with the European mountaineers about the savage stuff I’d been doing in Canada, far from ski lifts, lodges, huts and the like, they really related and got excited. It was an environment where everyone focused on our main passion, and I fit in and was accepted as a peer.
LD. Did you expect such a strong mountain culture would exist in Europe?
DW: No. I knew is was going to be huge, but it was much more than I’d envisioned. It was intimidating, but at the same time liberating. The European outlook allowed me to express myself, provided I was willing to accept the consequences. While the prevailing attitude in North America is they protect you from your self, either by making our activities socially unacceptable, or actually restricting you by law.
Chamonix is the most intense place you can go to for adventure sport. The terrain is second to none in terms of access and topography. And there is this psyche, this drive and motivation. And when you’re thrust into a social group like that, where everybody is on the cutting edge of whatever their field is, the bar just gets raised higher. Sometimes it becomes a frenzy. You really have to know your abilities and strengths, and focus on that. It’s tempting to try everything, but if do so at the high level you’ve become accustomed to, you probably won’t be good enough in some of the things, and thereby your career gets cut short — sometimes permanently.
L. Okay, that explains the technical side of your skiing. But how did you get into the extreme ski mountaineering?
DW:Before I went to Chamonix, I’d been working as a seasonal for three years, building trails in Kananaskis Park . During my time off I was climbing and skiing the glaciers, at high elevation, with tough hikes and climbs. Another thing that happened back then was I got to know the Hann brothers, who were involved in various parts of skiing at a world-class level. Greg Hann was on the National Team, and whenever he was in the country I’d become his shadow. At the same time he was imparting to me his technical skills (he was a brilliant technician), I was sharing with him my love for ski mountaineering. So in the years around 1978 1979 we did a number of first descents, mostly in the upper Kananaskis. During one trip, we set up camp for two weeks and skied everything in sight, mostly first descents including the North Face of Joffre.
LD: You probably did more first descents than you even know.
DW: Yes, I’m certain that nobody had been in there doing that type of ski mountaineering. Back then, who was going to carry 90 pound packs and 210 cm racing skis on an epic multi-day approach, and rip those lines. I was also into the aesthetics of it, the beauty of the mountains, and how snow would stick to these lines most people wouldn’t dream of skiing. But I’d see the lines, and think “yeah, you could come down that.” And I’d think about how you’d get to those lines, all the details of mountaineering.
LD: So when you got to Chamonix, you were primed?
DW: Yes, when I arrived in Europe in 1978 I was in serious condition, ready to tap the valve wide open. So while I was involved in racing, I was also getting into some serious ski descents. And getting mentored in that area as well. I came into contact with so many characters who operated in another dimension. Patrick Vallencant, Sylvain Saudan, Pierre Poncet, these were the contemporaries. I was watching them, reading them. And I was reading the mountaineering literature. Chris Bonnigton, Doug Scott, Dougal Haston. My interest in mountaineering had sparked back in 1972, when I’d done some serious solo hikes in the Rockies.
LD: That’s a start, but there must be something more than hiking that made you commit becoming an alpinist.
DW: My competitive drive had a lot to do with it — you know how appealing mountain climbing is if you’re goal oriented. And as my skiing skills improved my love for the outdoors increased, I got farther and farther out there. So in 1976 I started taking routes that were really climbs on the Continental Divide, and I’d take my skis. Most trips like that in the Rockies are epic, endless approaches, no trails…So I was learning about tenacity and getting really strong. For that time in Canada, there were not many people doing that stuff, and the unique nature of the activity motivated me.
Of course, once I was in Chamonix I realized I had a somewhat overblown view of my mountaineering skills. These guys who were out there doing really serious ski descents were also world-class mountaineers, while I was just a hiker scrambler. So I went after it with a passion.
LD: Can you remember any event that defined your transition from a hiker to a climber?
DW: During my job in the park, we’d climb something in the evening, sleep on top, and ski down in the morning and go back to work. One of the trail crew with us was somewhat inept. We’re climbing up this 45 degree north face, we don’t have an ax between us, a rope, or anything. And this guy can’t keep his feet in the steps. We’re 1,200 feet up this wall, and I realize that if we slipped we could die, and that with only a good pair of hiking boots, I’d walked over the line from hiking to climbing.
I had to change some things, so I got in touch with an expert who taught me rope handling, crevasse rescue, and the like.
LD: How about an epiphany that marked your transition to a world-class ski alpinist?
DW: I’m carrying my hand made team skis down a rocky section of the Grand Montet, and Vallencant comes over from under the tram, walking down the rocks on his skis, because he could go home and get another box of them from his sponsor. We recognized each other, exchanged a cordial greeting, and he watched me drop down over the face. It was an experience of acceptance. We could have an espresso later and talk man-to-man, and that felt pretty good. And knowing these guys who were at the top of the game, it was so eye opening. When I’d heard the things he’d done, and sit there and look at them, I realized there was another realm. The direction Vallencant took his skiing and mountaineering was so radical people still don’t understand it. And to be partway there myself, and see someone stretching the boundary, it was a life changing experience.
LD: Compared to you, a lot of us have only dabbled in extreme skiing. If we’ve done some committing stuff, do you think we have any sense of what this stuff is like for someone doing it at your level?
DW: Absolutely. The sense of solitude. The sense of fitting in. The measure of confidence you need, especially for a first descent. You chose the route, you knew what you could get away with knowing your skills and equipment, so it’s the same sort of thing. And when you recognize that it’s ‘no miss,’ you’ve reached another level. You realize a rescue is a long time coming if you’re hurt, and a fall will likely kill you. I accepted that very early in my career, so I knew I had to be competent. Imagine that you’re out skiing, it’s 5:00 PM, and most of the man-made things you depend on disappear. The lodges are gone, the ski lifts don’t exist, your car is 20 miles away. Do you have the right to be there — do you have the goods to still be there in the morning? Then there is the head; the strength in your mind. To recognize the objective hazards, then minimize them and overcome them, and still have some measure of comfort. I’m not into being out there in terror, nor in the folly of saying ‘I’m in control,’ but rather having a reason and a right to be there, justified by your ambition and skill. If you don’t have that, you’ll be sorted out. And this is the level of mountaineering skier doesn’t know exists when they’re “extreme” free skiing of the ski area near a ski area doesn’t know exists.
LD: When did you feel like you’d become a creative force in ski alpinism?
DW:That would have been in the 1980s. We were on a trip near the Columbia Icefields. I’d been carrying all the rope and stuff for a few years, but was still fairly green. This was after I’d tried to make the first descent on the North Face of Robson in 1979 and 1981, trips which turned out badly.
LD: Tell me more about Robson.
DW:It was myself and Gregg Hann on the ’79 attempt, along with some climbers. We had some success, but got hit by a big storm and had to come off without the summit. Between us and our second attempt, Peter Chrzanowski tried to pull of a ‘That’s Incredible” type television production about the descent. Their attempt was a disaster. The next year we went up with a legitimate team of professionals, and again we got hit by a bad storm, and had a helicopter accident.
The Robson attempts were where I broke into the professional ‘promotional’ aspect of extreme skiing. I’d skied for a Dick Barrymore movie a year previous, and managed to put together sponsorships and the like for the Robson attempt. But because it’s such a risky business (not only on the mountain side but in the business part as well), I didn’t do that well.
Getting back to when I made the transition to being a bonafide alpinist. By then we’d done a lot of extreme skiing in the Rockies, but there were few people doing it. It was basically Greg Hann and his brother Kevin and a few others. During one trip to the Icefield area, Greg looked at all the climbing gear we’d been carrying and said something like ‘why don’t we leave that stuff in the car, we just carry that junk up and it’s just heavy and slows us down.’ I said ‘we’ve learned how to use this stuff, and we should take it.’ So we did. We climbed the North Face of Silverhorn. It was June, and it was raining on about two inches of slush on top of blue glacier ice. The angle was about 62 degrees at the top, the steepest thing I’d ever been on. I was having doubts about skiing…but after lunch on top Greg put his skis on. I thought ‘whoa, he plans to ski down this thing!’ I said ‘well, leave your harness on.’ So we roped up and he sidestepped down for 50 meters in 4 inch increments ‘check check, check check.’ Well, he was my mentor, so I put my skis on and started down: ‘check check, check check.’ I got to the crux, which was 40 degrees rolling over to 60 degrees — the next step I’m going over the edge. I look down and Greg doesn’t have an anchor in, and he’s beating his ax at the ice like he’s framing a house. It’s 50 meters from me to him, and if I fall I’ll scream past him, yank him off, and we’ll both go 1,500 vertical feet into the icefall. For the first time doing this stuff, I was terrified. I did a kick turn, skied over to the rocks, put on my crampons, climbed about 20 meters down past Greg, and set up an anchor. Then Greg starts down again, sidestepping down the face. It was surreal, as he was on the 60-degree stuff now, and he’s got one ski up around his chest. He decided to change position and slide forward a bit, and as soon as he did that, his edges broke loose. He held this beautiful perfect position, a perfect turn, but just went straight down with no edge hold. As he’s sliding past me I’m shouting ‘GOT YOU GREG!’ and yarding in the rope slack. And the system works perfectly. Doink, the rope catches him, and he slides to the side and parks himself. I downclimb to him. He’s all white, and doesn’t speak for 15 minutes. He snapped out of it, and skied brilliantly to the bottom (it was a first descent), but he never came out again. So that day was when I made the transition to alpinism.
LD: Most extreme skiers prefer a firm powder surface that grips their edges and is less likely to result in a deadly slide/fall. But you enjoy skiing couloirs full of ice. How did that come about?
DW:I kept skiing with Greg’s brother Kevin, and during one descent I made a big deal of how we needed to avoid the patches of hard glacier ice. Kevin said “we can turn on that stuff.” I was skeptical, but we did it. We’d refined our technique and equipment to the point of handling ice steeper than 50 degrees. And I liked the consistency of it. It became a normal thing for me to have clenched teeth and my legs sprung like a tensioned steel, and I sought out routes with the type of icy conditions I knew I could ski. I’d boasted when I was 19 years old ‘if snow can stick to it, then so can I,’ I’d gotten to that point. And reaching that level freed my creativity, gave me incredible mental confidence, and I went to the next level.
LD: Before you skied such terrain, did you know it was possible?
DW:It was a question. But when in Chamonix I saw a photo of Jean-Marc Boivin (before he was famous). He was skiing a 60 degree pitch on the Aiguille du Midi — you could see the shards of ice shattering under his skis. So I knew guys were doing it. But most were going after the stuff in more wintry conditions. My preference on a serious descent is a beautiful corn surface, but ice is my second choice because I prefer the reliability as opposed to the uncertainty of avalanches. I’m terrified of layers coming loose on these steep routes where there is no way to get out to the side. Even a small slide weighs a lot and moves fast, and can be deadly.
LD: Which one of your steep ice descents was your first at you new level of skiing?
DW:I was feeling pretty confident in the 1980s, but the one you’re asking about was probably the North Face of Mount Fay in 1995. It was summer, and just a sheet of ice. That was a second descent — a couple of guys did the first in winter conditions a few months before me. The face drops a thousand feet, with the shallowest angle at 52 degrees, and the steepest at about 62 degrees. To get on the face I had to drop few feet of the cornice on to hard 60 degree stuff. That was scary. When I skied it the snow was so hard I barely left a mark.
LD: Then there must have been something after that, a first descent down some huge hairy thing on bullet proof snow.
DW:Well, I thought that was Mount Quadra, but I found out that had been done before me. The next one that was a major first was the Dolphin Couloir on Mount Temple, in 1996. I’d done a partial descent with Trevor Peterson in 1989, so my goal was to ski from the top, which was a 54 degree ice face, above an overhanging cliff. It went well.
LD: Was Skyladder on Mount Andromeda your next major endeavor?
DW:Yes, Skyladder is an aesthetic line I’d been looking at for 15 years. I’d been up there three times to do it. Each time it was too late in the season. Then in 1996 I found it in condition. It’s still one of the best ice climbs in the Rockies because it follows an interesting topography, it takes your breath away when you see it. You would think after all my experience I wouldn’t have much trepidation, but I hardly slept the night before. We camped close to it, and you could feel the cold air falling off the glacier. As I tried to sleep, I had to tell myself, look, we do this the same as ever: go up one step at a time, go down one turn at a time. Unlike a lot of extreme descents, you start the exact summit. And the top of Andromeda is phenomenal. You look around at the highest peaks of the Rockies, and you’re at the water epicenter of North America, where the glaciers and rivers flow to all points of the compass. When you ski it, you start on the shoulder, then you’re continuously swinging to the right, and every turn is steeper than the last. It starts at about 40 degrees and goes to 53 degrees, with about 2/3 of the route over 45 degrees. And as you’re coming down that steepest part, you’re looking straight down a thousand feet to the icefall, which then turns and drops another thousand. The huge tour buses on the icefield look like ants. The lower angled ramp at the bottom is the coolest part. It’s only about 38 degrees, but you have to keep veering right or you’ll take a straight launch for 2,000 feet. The conditions were great and I nailed it — what a feeling to do that in spite of all the fears I’d had.
LD: Do you do most of this stuff with partners, or solo?
DW:Kevin Hann got busy with business and family, and I’m reluctant to break in new partners. You gain your confidence with shared experience — there is no substitute for the time you spend out there. Also, I don’t have a lot of time to do the trips at the top of my list, so I’m reluctant to do the warm-ups it takes to get going with new partners. So I end up solo, or with a Ian Tomlinson so he can shoot photos. He’s a great climber and a good skier, and downclimbs the scary stuff while he’s shooting.
LD: At 40 years old you’re still going strong. What’s your secret?
DW:It comes down to how you approach it. Too often it’s flippant. Not that I haven’t been bold and arrogant, because there’s an element of bravado when you’re out there facing this stuff. But when you continue a long time, your motivation becomes more the aesthetics and the fitting in. You forget the folly of ‘I’m going to conquer this.’ You get the grace for a day. It’s still there when you leave, and on any day more powerful than you. so you never conquer it. You coexist. You survive.
LD: What does it take for a descent to make your short-list?
DW:Aesthetics, size, possibility of a first descent, and access. These days I like big faces. Couloirs used to really attract me, but now I’m not as in to being pinched in among the rocks, picking my way along. It’s really aesthetic to be on some huge face, where you’ve got the entire mountain dropping before you. The runs I’m seeking on the big peaks are often a linear mile — just stupendous — and there is a lot of that sort of stuff in the Canadian Rockies.
LD: The word “extreme” is so over-used these days, a lot of us have been asking what we should call this sort of skiing?
DW:I’m in quandary. I understand what’s called “free skiing” is a hybrid, it’s not extreme skiing, and we don’t want to have extreme skiing contests. I guess the term I like best these days is “extreme ski mountaineering.” I have to admit I was a little offended and angry when I came back from Chamonix, and saw what the Americans were calling extreme skiing. They were in dreamland if they thought dropping a few hundred feet off the Palisades Squaw Valley, then heading out into a bowl, is extreme. But on the other hand, credit to those guys for being the first Americans to make it a viable profession.
LD: How about some advice. Speak to the aspiring extreme skier who has to practice at a ski area with nothing steeper than 40 degrees.
DW:Your strength is in your transfer from edge to edge, from ski to ski. Work on making that as smooth and effortless as you can. Gregg Hann could pick up an edge on the high side of an arc, on 50 degree ice, and swing it all the way through to where he was skiing up hill. That was phenomenal, and is the nth degree I aspire to. If you can, have a friend video you so you can analyze your technique. Find short pieces of steep terrain at the area, with safe runouts, and work them over and over again. Experiment…. Solid technical skiing is the key, but you also need mental training, aerobic training, and anything else that helps balance, such as mountain biking.
And remember the acrobatic aspect. Even though you don’t want to be hucking yourself off big stuff when you’re way out there, sometimes you have to navigate drops and such. I like going off the Olympic nordic jumps, because it emphasizes mental focus and the feeling of nailing something, and then the adrenaline rush of flying a few hundred feet through the air on your alpine skis.
LD: So the ideal is to make a carved turn, not a jump turn?
DW:The jump turn is just another tool, and you need a full bag. But it’s not the ideal turn. Snow conditions sometimes make jump turns necessary, but if you think getting down steep stuff is just ‘hack hack hack’ you are not seeing the whole picture. The more time your skis are in contact with the snow, the less you ski airborne, the more control you’ll have.
LD: What about ski gear?
DW:Because of my aggressive style I use competition bindings with heavy springs. They have the strength and elasticity to deal with the shocks, and can easily be set high enough to never come off, as loosing a ski during these descents is not an option. I like a ski with a straighter sidecut. Parabolic skis can get hung up tip-and-tail without enough pressure underfoot. Also, when you land air on heavily sidecut skis, you can’t land in a hard turn, and sometimes you don’t have room to wait. I’m a fanatic about ski tuning. I like them clean, with a nice glide and feel, and really sharp. I don’t like to abuse my equipment. It doesn’t feel good to make a turn where your feet are getting tortured because you’re hitting stuff, and you can get hurt. I broke an ankle that way.
LD: What about pole length for the steeps?
DW:I like a slightly longer pole. When it’s steep, I still plant my pole about 12 inches off my shovel as a reminder to help me keep up front, so the longer pole keeps me from pitching forward. With the longer poles I can reach and touch way down there, without having to break at the waist. A lot of people break at the waist too much when they ski the steeps. They pitch forward, rock back, pitch forward. You need to avoid that, especially with a backpack.
LD: What do you do with all that pole during the turn?
DW:Remember, you’re trying to keep your shoulders and hips oriented down the hill. So if it’s only your feet, skis, and knees that are coming across, then the pole is not a problem. Where you get into trouble is when you’re moving everything — when your shoulders swing into the hill. I learned a lesson about this back in 1979, when I did the first descent of Aemmer Couloir on Mount Temple. We made a movie, and I remember looking at it and being so embarrassed with my technique. I had all this extra movement with my pack, and my shoulders were swinging back and forth. They can’t take it away from you when you’re skiing 60 degrees, but I knew there were things to clean up and I’m now a more solid skier.
LD: How steep is it possible to ski hard snow?
DW:Maybe 65 degrees. And that’s pushing it.
LD: Are there more people doing the extreme ski mountaineering now?
DW:Ten years ago it was just a handful. A lot of interest comes from the free-ski crowd, and guys come from the hard-core professional ski patrols. At areas like Whistler, with access to extreme terrain, there are amazing numbers of high-end skiers. But very few of them go to the remote areas.
LD: How do you balance family and adventure?
DW:I met my wife at the peak of my mountaineering, during my time in Chamonix. So she knew what I was up to. I left and came back, and the relationship was still strong. She didn’t try to change me, and gained confidence in my judgment and skilLD: that I wouldn’t bite of more than I could chew. My attitude has changed a bit, with the kids and all. I’m still looking for aesthetics and challenge and such, but I sometimes make different decisions about risk than I did a decade ago.
There was one incident that caused me to make some changes. My wife Janet and I had a free meal arranged at a nice restaurant. I’d made the reservations for the day I’d return from a trip to the Mount Quadra area. What I thought was a straightforward descent turned horrific. I knew I wouldn’t get down in time. Meanwhile, Janet shows up at the restaurant, and sits for 3 1/2 hours with the kids creating disruption and our daughter saying ‘daddy dead,’ over and over. Then she left before I made it to a phone. When I finally got in touch, she was beside herself. She hadn’t been shook up before when I’d been late, but this time she’d decided something must have happened. After that, she told me I needed to think about things a little bit more.
LD: I assume that last sentence is an understatement [laughter]?
DW:Yeah. So we’ve tried to have more communication. Sometimes cell phones help, and we got some radios. Janet has been so understanding for 20 years, I don’t want to turn her into a basket case from worry.
LD: Talk about the future.
DW:I’m a strong advocate for unrestricted access to Crown [public] land. With ever more people getting in trouble, there are tendencies to restrict access; to try and protect people from themselves. So responsible mountaineering helps with the access issue. Also, if you’re hurt someone will risk their life to come get you. People take that for Granted, but it’s worth paying attention to and being careful about.
LD: What about the next generation coming up?
DW:The motivation is there for routes with easy access via helicopter or lift, but I don’t think many in the next generation understand the commitment it takes to consistently do the big remote stuff, and I’m not sure they have the desire. I’m sure these guys will be great in their own way, but it might not be the same thing. It’s all in the level of passion and commitment. I notice that a lot of younger guys have a desire to be mentored. They tell me how much they appreciate the competitions I organize, or how I inspired them while coaching. So us ‘older’ guys can be an influence. But we have to stick with it.
LD: How about routes, are there any big un-skied ones out there you care to share?
DW:Ummm, de dum de dum de dum. No.
(A shorter version of this article first appeared in Couloir Magazine, Volume 12, Number 1)
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.