November 23, 2017

In the game of backcountry skiing, how big you can go is sometimes limited only by your body’s physical limits. More often, the people you adventure with are the difference between going huge and going around. They can be the difference between a long and painful Life Flight extraction or having celebratory beers in the parking lot. Whether they call you out on your less-than-smart ideas, or play a supporting role just in case something happens, the crew that you take out is one of the biggest deciding factors for how willing you should be to send it big in the BC.

On a particular day this past season, the hucking stars alligned for me. A backcountry pow mission with a group of friends that made it possible for me to push my limits and to do things that I would never,  not in a million years, do by myself. I found myself jumping the biggest cliff of my life and thanks to the friends that I took with me, it ended with celebratory beers in the parking lot.

It was a typical PNW March snowpack; warm and lots of precipitation. We had been skiing the last few days together; Rex the local hero, Kyle Grant the sicko snowboarder and sledneck extraordinaire, and Tyler Roemer the master photographer. We had three sleds between the four of us, myself being the lone rider. There was 10 inches of fresh the night before, nice and jumpy pow, pretty dense but not clumpy. We started out by skiing my favorite pillow line in the area. I’ve named it TMNT because its like huge turtle shells that you bounce down. Cowabunga dude! Kyle and Rex both found creative lines in the area and Tyler got great shots.

With all of our snomobility, we decided to explore further down the highway,to a cliff band past a zone we had skied a few days earlier. When we got a good look at it from afar, it looked huge. I guessed that the shortest cliff in the zone was 80′, but I saw a smaller cliff to the right that looked like it had a steep landing. It took us a good thirty minutes of skinning to get to the bottom of the cliffs. I was wrong about the cliffs, they were all well over a hundred feet. It wasn’t bottomless pow. I was discouraged but we continued on to where I had seen the smaller cliff. The cliff ridge gave way to a steep meadow, at the top of which was a very steep landing, below a solid 70′ cliff face. All four of us instantly knew that it was in the realm of possibility. The landing was a huge, steep triangle of blown-in snow, leaning on the cliff. The takeoff looked to be at a merely downhill pitch and there was a definate windlip fin on the very top. The closer we got to the cliff, the better it looked. All three of us agreed that it was definately jumpable, even though the snow under the fresh was unconsolidated and slushy.

At that point, I got scared, pretty sure I was going to jump. I took some shit out of my backpack and left it with Tyler at the bottom. I put my skins in my backpack just right, just to have one more layer between my back and impact. I decided to bootpack up the steep drainage next to the cliff, so I could feel the snow with my boots. I could hardly climb. The snow was like sand under me and it made me even more confident that it was soft enough to catch me. Kyle had skinned around and from the top tells me that if don’t jump, he will. Even more confidence. I could tell the windlip takeoff lined up just as I had seen from the bottom. Thin clouds were blowing in and out, Tyler says the shot from the bottom is sick, more stoke and confidence.

Once I was at the top, tired and wet, I sat on my skis for a sec and went into a strange mood. I felt saturated with all the external information that I needed. It was a different feeling than I’m used to in skiing. I knew that I was about to do something new, but it was different than focusing on a technique of a trick, or an dicey area in your line. A cliff like that is technically easy, and you are left with having to be confident in the uncontrollable. It is not trying to have precise control, it is letting go of all control, and playing your part. The cliff was set. The snow provided was good enough. The crew had my back and they knew what they were doing. I was nervious more of fulfilling my duty as a teammate than falling though the air. My role was that of Astronaught. I was honored to be the lucky one elected to steer the rocket into the void. I proceeded with a grateful heart, and let the gravity that holds our atoms together pull me to earth.

Back on land, I felt appreciative of my friends for letting me be the one to put the enormous crater in the virgin landing of our discovered gem. I checked the photo on the back of Tyler’s camera, and sat down for a PB&J. Grinning.

Ari is a professional athlete, author and filmmaker living in Bend Oregon. He and his wife organize adventure travel trips around the globe.

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