By Robert Frohlich
“You cannot be a good mountaineer, however great your ability, unless you are cheerful and have the spirit of comradeship. Friends are as important as achievement. Another is that teamwork is the one key to success and that selfishness only makes a man small. Still another is that no man, on a mountain or elsewhere, gets more out of anything than he puts into it.”
[South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula] The day smells clean and sharp, snow dusts your face and massages the senses with cold sensual fingers. Plummeting down fresh slopes of Antarctica’s Snow Island you carve back and forth through lightly tufted snow that curls mid-calf. All your attention is focused on sustaining the pulse, sustaining the rhythm; the motion and flow until the waltz down carpeted slopes become all a blur.
Overnight the South Shetlands had received 4 to 6 inches of dreamy dry snow, the type that blows off the windshield and floats in the air like Michael Jordan.
Even with clear skies and rocketing sunlight, new fallen stayed windswept and clean. Slopes looked like football fields of sparkling diamonds. Ice Axe guided groups of skiers and snowboarders ripped over ego boosting conditions with smiles as fixed and large you have thought them on acid.
I didn’t really blame them. It was pretty good, okay; it actually was really good. Who couldn’t go for an endless buffet of untracked where there is no hurry, nobody else to poach tracks – just you and endless fields of fluff?
On a great powder day you fall almost perfectly in sync with the snow and the world around. It’s as if nature lets you in through some secret seam as you slip through wind drift, between padded trees, over rocks and drops, and through a mix of air and snow and timber that is all a part of you. And the better it gets the more you simply cease to exist, until finally there is only the mountain and the snow and a soul and spirit. Such is life when skiing in Antarctica.
The night before the Clipper Adventurer had dropped anchor past Hannah Point in the Livingston Island sound. The second largest of the South Shetland Islands, the land is dominated by an icy interior with peaks over 6,000 feet.
The next morning film teams and 16 guide ski groups departed for shore early in the morning. They each would return in the afternoon, faces fresh and alighted. With light lasting until midnight, several groups returned later in the evening, just in time to catch the remnants of the barbecue be hosted by ship’s company on the back deck. Some groups such as John Griber’s and Glen Poulsen’s groups scaled wind stricken couloirs and jumped into tight rock infested seracs arcing high above serene and calm water setting of peppered coastline and penguin infested landings. Other groups, such as Kevin Quinns, skinned tracks to lower angle-mounded snowfields as wide and longer than football field. The Warren Miller film crew, made up of Keoki Flagg, Andrew McClean, Kip Garr, Tom Day and Doug Stoup hiked and ice climbed treacherous shark peaks and ice falls with 50% gradients.
“From the top you could spot other Ice Axe groups topping out on adjacent peaks or skiing huge snowfields,’ explained staff photographer Keoko Flagg
Powder days, whether in your backyard resort or at the end of the earth, are a swooping signature of skiers and boarders presence and egos. Most of us like to see our tracks in virgin snow. But, as purists would agree, the best powder run are the ones that never leave a mark – where your line seeks abstraction, fills in and marries with the mountain. It may be that sense of purity, as much as anything, that brings us, called and crazy, to a powder day at one of most remote ski areas on the planet.
THE ICE AXE S.A.T: Q. How did the French resort Chamonix get its name? A. No other of the Worlds Mountains has a name of such beauty, clarity, and rigorous precision as Mont Blanc above Chamonix. From 1940 to 1945 this small valley in eastern France was held by Germany, not France, and in 1944 its glaciers were a bloody battleground between the Germans and the French resistance. It then lived up to its original Roman name, Campus Munitus, an armed camp, which became Camp Munit in French and Chamonix in Savoyard.
The Mighty Quinn
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH ICE AXE HEAD GUIDE KEVIN QUINN
Alaska is known for its wealth of minerals, oil, fisheries, and hunting. For Squaw Valley’s Kevin Quinn, its wealth lies in helicopter skiing. The 40-year-old former professional hockey player and professional extreme skier along with his wife Jessica are the owner and operator of Points North Heli-Adventures Inc. In its 12th year the heli-ski outfit has become so popular Quinn sells out a year ahead of scheduled flights.” We’re situated in Cordova, 65 miles southeast of Valdez in the southeast corner of Prince William Sound,” says Quinn, whose family has lived in Alaska since the 1940s. Historical Cordova, site of the world’s largest salmon run, lies on the Copper River Delta, a flyway for wind that blows bad weather out and spectacular weather in. Cordova averages 600 inches of snowfall annually. Quinn employs four helicopters, several fixed wing aircraft, snowcats, and expert guides to fly and land onto the pristine slopes for five thousand foot first descents and breathtaking vistas of the Chugach and Wrangell mountains. The season runs from March 1 to May 15. “Heli-skiing is like a religious experience. You’ll never look at the mountains in the same way ever again,” says Quinn, who caters to skiers and boarders of all abilities and affluence. “Our goal is to provide each guest not only a great experience, but an Alaskan experience which is like no other in the world.”
ON SKIING POWDER
You have to relax. So many people get spooked in new snow. Instead, they should get comfortable. Skiing powder is like working a Pogo stick; pick up both feet and place them in the direction you’re going.
ON ICE AXE VERSUS POINTS NORTH
We need to start the chocolate mint on the pillow while turning down the bed at night thingy at Points North if we’re going to compete.
ON HIS FAVORITE LINE
I have five favorites that are called the Five Gems of The Chugach. Their names are Sphinx, Pontoon, Meteorite, Detention Center and Ocean View. They are each really big, incredibly beautiful and just pleasing.
ON HIS FAVORITE BEATLES SONG
That’s easy – “Live and Let Die.”
ON HIS GUIDING PHILOSOPHY
I want each guest to exceed his or her limits and take on a new challenge while still smiling. It’s all about their day and experience. The better time they have the more I get excited.
NEW SCHOOL DICTIONARY
To help with this Ice Axe Expedition Ski Cruise 2009 glossary we recruited Dr. Robb Gaffney, author of “Squally wood,” a guide to Squaw Valley’s most exposed ski runs.
-Pin wheeling: Doing a 360 in the air
-Freakhucker: A person who goes big, as in way big, off cliffs.
– Goggle Tanning: A distinct mousy-eyed appearance created by sunburning or tanning the area not covered by goggles. Often seen on the Spring Break vacationer when buying beer at the grocery store after a hot sunny day on the slopes.
– Launching: Attempting to achieve the maximum airtime possible by skiing off a cliff, rollover, or upturned terrain feature.
-Burly: So scary that it could remind you of a big hairy beast. Ominous and capable of instilling a deep sense of fear.
-Rowdy: Similar to Burly but on a lighter note. This could be the “sport” version of ——-Burly. Scary, but energizing and exciting.
-Sick: Umbrella term. Skiing that is exceptionally pleasurable, burly, or rowdy. A beautiful powder field could be “sick” as well as a very steep dangerous rocky run.
-Hip-check: Landing with the hip stuck out, with the intent that upon landing it will hit the snow and slow the skier down.
-Cratering: Landing in soft, deep snow on a relatively flat slope and creating a bathtub sized pit.
-Altoid: Going Altoid is when one makes the moves on a babe, as in need to chew on some Altoid mints for the breath.
-Rope air: An act of deviance characterized by knowingly jumping a boundary rope set up by ski patrol.
-Gap Jump: A jump where between the take-off and landing there is a large drop in the terrain.
-Gnarr Gnarr: The sickest, rowdiest, burliest terrain available to ski.
-Core: A bit of a traditionalist local term for one who dedicates himself to skiing no matter what the circumstances – only working at night, inadequate clothing, bad weather, wife is angry that he is gone so much, etc.
-Phat: Another umbrella term that is synonymous with “sick”. It may simply be a newer version of “sick”. Its connotation may be a bit more in the realm of “large”, or “deep”.
-New Schoolers: Any skier or boarder who gives you a true perspective on your age. They are now those who ride rails, hit the pipe, and go upside down more times than you can count in one run.