Ski mountaineer talks about scaling 14ers
December 23, 2007
Chris Davenport is an Aspen-based professional Alpine skier and a 36-year-old father of two, expecting a third child in a couple of weeks. In just under one year, from Jan. 22, 2006, to Jan. 19, 2007, Davenport skied from the summit of all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. He tacked on ski descents of the Grand and Middle Teton, Mount Rainer, Mount Adams and Mount McKinley. Before Davenport heads to the Alps, he recently passed through Steamboat Springs to present a slideshow on the project and to sign the book he authored, titled “Ski the 14ers,” which chronicles the journey. The coffee table book retails for $49.95 and is available at Epilogue Book Co., Off the Beaten Path and online at http://www.wolverinepublishing.com. The filmed version (produced by Oceanic Productions’ Ben Galland) is tied up in legislation with the U.S. Forest Service, who had originally denied Davenport a commercial filming permit in designated wilderness areas – where roughly 2/3 of the peaks, and the some of steepest lines, are located.
Before heading to the Epilogue book signing, Davenport sat down with Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter Dave Shively to discuss the project and the future.
For more information, visit http://www.skithe14ers.com.
DS: What was the first “fourteener” you ever climbed?
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CD: I grew up in New Hampshire, so the first fourteener I ever climbed, was – I think Grays Peak maybe – when I was a kid with my parents coming out here. I don’t even really remember. The first I ever skied was Torreys, which was in 1990 when I was in college in Boulder, and I immediately feel in love with the whole concept.
DS: What role did Lou Dawson (the only other person to ski every Colorado fourteener, from 1978 to 1991, and who wrote the forward to “Ski the 14ers”) play in all this?
CD: We’re very close : he’s definitely a mentor of mine because he was a pioneer of Colorado-fourteener skiing and one of the pioneers of ski mountaineering in this country in the ’70s. The first guidebook I ever bought when I moved to Colorado was “Dawson’s Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners.” Lou’s guides were really inspiring because of the way they were written and the detail, and it wasn’t just a hiking guide; it had technical routes and ski descent possibilities also.
DS: So is your book a guidebook?
CD: It can be inspirational, it’s definitely not a guidebook. I call it a “visual tribute.” Here are these gorgeous mountains and this book is paying tribute to them when they’re covered in snow. To speak specifically about the book, there are all these other fourteener books out there, dozens, and they’re all nature porn. All wildflowers and meadows and critters and lakes and sunsets and clouds; it’s all the same (stuff). Anybody can walk up into the mountains and take pictures in the summertime. You’ve got to have skills to go up there in the middle of the winter and in the spring and look at these mountains from the skier’s perspective, and that’s what makes this book unique in that no one’s ever done this before.
DS: What’s the story with the footage you shot?
CD: The Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits any commercial use of the wilderness and one of things could be considered filming for sale. It’s an old law, and it’s been sort of beaten around for a long time. I can’t tell you how many car commercials I’ve seen with the Maroon Bells in the background and aerial shots of the wilderness on TV, it’s just not that well controlled. The other thing is that this law was made before digital media – same reason the scriptwriters are on strike, they’re not getting their fair share of what’s going out on the Internet. The Forest Service has to decide what’s going to be put out on the Internet. How much do you protect the wilderness? : You’re talking about 800,000 people going on a fourteener in the summer, this season alone. Think about that impact. And then they’re thinking about me increasing the skier user group – which is probably in the hundreds – actually going out in the snow to ski fourteeners : This film is a precedent-setting thing because if they allow it to go out there, they’re saying it’s OK for documentaries or whatever to do this. So where do you draw the line? It’s been months and months, so I could expect a decision any day, your guess is as good as mine.
DS: Are all the mountains together, or do certain ones pop out in your memory?
CD: There’s certain moments that jump out at me. People ask, “What are your favorite peaks,” and there are ones that are more memorable than others, but, frankly, all 54 I have perfect memory of. I can tell you what trailhead I parked out, who I was with, where we skinned up, where we skied. I remember looking out visually in my mind’s eye every day, and the experiences were so vivid and so real and we were so in the moment that they were ingrained in my memory much more forcefully than the last 10 years of my skiing career, which is a lot more of a blur.
DS: Any close calls?
CD: Not a single avalanche on 54 fourteeners, many of them in the winter and spring. I didn’t fall once. Never got sick; never got a blister. I never had a single gear failure up there or anything I forgot. A lot of pretty good planning and execution of the plan.
DS: Does that make you feel like your luck’s going to turn now?
CD: No, because I don’t really think it’s luck. When it comes to the mountains, I think you create your own luck by being humble and respectful out there. Every morning that I would start skinning up the mountain, I’d say, “All right, this looks like it’ll be a good day. We’ll just take it one step at a time and see what happens.” I never was like, “Let’s go to the summit, we’re pushing at all costs.’ : If you keep your expectations low and are very humble in your approach, and you have really good planning and a good team, that’s when you make your own luck and good things happen.
DS: So what’s the next big thing?
CD: The (15) California fourteeners. Then I’ll have been the only person to have ever skied every fourteener in the U.S. I’ve got a big film project in the Alps. Trying to ski some of the classic faces of the Alps, the West Face of the Eiger, the East Face of the Matterhorn, the Italian side of Mont Blanc and the Marinelli Couloir on Monte Rosa (the longest couloir in the Alps), the biggest peaks in Europe, with Matchstick Productions, a film company from Crested Butte. We’re doing a film/TV show project with them to ski these classic faces in the Alps, and filming from helicopter with really progressive setup, all HD, skiing things hard and fast – these were peaks that were skied in the ’60s and ’70s but we’re trying to bring modern ski Alpinism to them.
DS: An enviable lifestyle – that created itself, how?
CD: Created by hard work, a dozen years of busting my (butt) as a skier to make ends meet and raise a family, just trying to get after it in all facets of life, not just skiing but having a great family and inspiring my kids to do great things in life whatever they may be, and all that stuff kind of ties together. The “14ers” project is symbolic of that American spirit that you can do anything. And people I think lose that and get confined in a box in their life maybe not realizing they can do anything they want. Like I said, I came up with the idea, “I’m going to ski all the fourteeners, I’m going to set that as my challenge,” and I pulled it off. I think that says a lot about human spirit and will – you can go for it and try stuff.