Navigating New Terrain

Today, I am pleased to announce my partnership with WNDR Alpine.  After 17 years skiing on K2 Skis, I decided to move on, to partner with a startup brand spearheaded by a good friend and the notorious dis-emvoweler, Matt Sterbenz.  

I am grateful for the partnership I have had with K2 skis.  I am honored to have been a part of K2 Skis history and legacy.  K2 has arguably ushered in the most notable and iconic skiers of any brand, from Wayne Wong, Glenn Plake, Hattrup, Morrison, McConkey to Benchetler, Moseley, Abma, Pettit and now Karl Fostvet, Colby Stevenson, Sean Jordan and others.  But this post is not about that past- it’s about the future, my future, and dare I say, our future.

The Design Lab. Come check it out!

The Design Lab. Come check it out!

This is a bit of a rhetorical question posed to myself to provide some framework. Why would you drop K2 skis, a powerful brand in the industry, that has great skis, marketing power, branding power and of course, kids skis (I have 2 growing daughters)???  And what would motivate you to leave K2 to move on to WNDR Alpine, who recently launched its first ski model in June, 2019?

The Answer:  Purpose, Imagination, Intention and Alignment (philosophically and materially).

When Matt told me he was starting a new brand, I thought, oh great, just what the industry needs, another ski brand.  But I knew Matt was working for Checkerspot, a materials innovation company who derived their material components from microalgae.  My mind envisioned a company who grew ocean algae, dredged it from the ocean and then squeezed out the oils. Furthermore, how is that eco-conscious?  Luckily, that couldn’t be farther from the truth, as Matt enlightened my primitive brain to the process of growing and fermenting algae. The concept immediately grabbed my environmentalist side, sparking my imagination to what was possible. I caught myself saying, there are so many other industries that could use this technology, why skis?  Think plastics, toys, molds, coatings, paints, tires, shoes… the list goes on. On a few backcountry outings with Matt, I picked his brain about the company, what they were doing and how they were doing it.  The short answer is, micro-algae produces unique molecular structures that have the capability to outperform traditional oil based compounds. Wait, what? I had been conditioned to think that petroleum products work best, perform better and last longer.  Turns out, that’s not the case. It’s just what our current industrial complex has been working with and therefore has figured out the many ways in which to transform petroleum into a myriad of uses. When I went to Checkerspot and spoke with their scientists, who broke down the fundamental principle structures, I was hooked.  If you’re interested, you can learn for yourself by going to Checkerspot or WNDR Alpine or listen to the Blister Gear:30 Podcast or if you have an hour and need inspiration check out, Biotech Hits The Backcountry featuring Matt Sterbenz and CEO of Checkerspot, Charles Dimmler.  

Matt was testing prototypes in this photo. I can recall a long conversation on microbes, polyols, polyurethanes, triglycerides all while sweating profusely and enjoying the solitude, mere steps from civilization.

Matt was testing prototypes in this photo. I can recall a long conversation on microbes, polyols, polyurethanes, triglycerides all while sweating profusely and enjoying the solitude, mere steps from civilization.

In short, Checkerspot gives WNDR the ability to innovate material components of a ski to have better performance characteristics while simultaneously deriving those materials from a bio based material that is not a byproduct of the oil and gas industry.  HOLY S*%T! Really? This is the purpose and intention I mentioned. 

If you have followed my career as a skier, you know that I do not sacrifice downhill performance for uphill ease.  I skied Marker Duke’s mounted to both Hellbents’ and Powabungas’ for years, since retired. The point is, we have reached an age in skiing where both uphill ease can be combined with downhill performance. WNDR Alpine has the ability to outperform the competition through the design of new materials that have better strength to weight ratio’s and performative charactaristics.  So how does that affect me? For one, I get to ski on the best skis available, knowing that I’m playing a part in boosting the performance in the equipment I use while simultaneously increasing their bio-based content as we innovate and improve the manufacturing process.

When I visited Checkerspot, headquartered in Berkeley, Ca, I was blown away by the company’s long term goals to partner with others and share its technology.  The team knows that they do not have the capacity to solve the pollution and waste epidemic faced by our world alone, and invite others who are willing to collaborate with them and learn about the possibilities.  This is how companies of the future should work, for the betterment of the whole, not the few. 

By joining WNDR Alpine, I get to quickly iterate new ski designs, test those skis, help implement techniques to waste less in the production process, reuse or upcycle the scraps and build better products that I get to share with the ski community. I also get to work with incredibly passionate people who don’t believe in what they do, they rely on science and data to make informed decision.  The better question is, how could I turn down such an opportunity?

My childhood dream was to own a ski shop. This endeavor may not be a retail shop like I had intended, but is something I am even more passionate about and whole heartedly committed to. If I can bring more smiles, laughs, banter and empower people’s lives through WNDR Alpine, I will have succeed in my mission. This is a communal endeavor and I hope you come along for the ride. See you on the Slopes!



Just another satisfying turn

Experience WNDR Alpine

The Pemberton Ice Cap

2002 - Possibly the Biggest Year of my Career - I had parts in all of the big film company movies including; MSP, Poorboyz and TGR.

That summer I got a call from MSP, thanks to K2, to go jump some crevasses with Mike Douglas out on the Pemberton Ice Cap. How could I refuse? I was ambitious and naive. It was a perfect combination. Matchstick heli dropped a sled, fuel, a few tents, some food and a rail. Here’s what happened:

This was the second Gap we sessioned, warming up on a smaller one to get our feet wet earlier in the day. Copyright @ Damian Cromwell

Day 2: We set out to find a span that would allow for the rail sit on. Guinea Pigging this was arguably more scary than jumping the big gap since the rail was not secured and we didn’t know how much give it would have. Copyright @ Damian Cromwell

Day 2: We set out to find a span that would allow for the rail sit on. Guinea Pigging this was arguably more scary than jumping the big gap since the rail was not secured and we didn’t know how much give it would have. Copyright @ Damian Cromwell

The Big Gap from another perspective. Copyright @ Damian Cromwell

The Big Gap from another perspective. Copyright @ Damian Cromwell

Oakley decided it was worthy of a poster. Copyright @ Damian Cromwell

Oakley decided it was worthy of a poster. Copyright @ Damian Cromwell

As you can see, I was on black based, white top-sheet prototypes of the Public Enemy. I recall this was an intentional move meant to build conversation… what does K2 have brewing?

Thank You K2

For nearly two decades, I’ve been afforded the incredible opportunity to represent K2 Skis.  The past 17 years with K2 have been some of the happiest and best years of my life.  I am grateful for the integral role that the company has played in my professional and personal life, and admire the unparalleled influence the company continues to have in the ski industry.  

K2 has been a loyal partner to me so it has been a real challenge to say farewell to a company that has been like family and whose employees and athletes have become longterm friends.  The goodbye is certainly bittersweet, but I am forever grateful for the wonderful relationships that I have developed over the years.  

I am very excited for the next chapter of my career and look forward to sharing more in the coming weeks. Thanks for the wild ride K2!  In the meantime, I’d like to pay tribute to a brand that has given me so much. Here is a flashback to 2002 when I first signed with the brand…

Copyright @ Damian Cromwell for MSP

Copyright @ Damian Cromwell for MSP

When I signed with K2 in 2002, I had just moved to Mammoth, CA. I was in pursuit of big, perfectly sculpted park jumps, big mountain lines and deep powder. The Mammoth Unbound Park was unrivaled at that time and everyone who was part of the freeski scene, both domestic and international, wanted to be a part of it. It was exactly where I needed to be.

At the time, K2 was stacked with a roster of American Idols including, Seth Morrison, Shane Szocs, Mike Hattrup, Johnny Moseley, Rory Silva and Peter Mehrhoff (spelling?). The team represented a true American Renegade Brand, persistently devoted to the rebellious side of skiing. During the fall, as I was settling into my new environment, I received a cold call (thanks to Rory Silva) from Mike Gutt. For $8K, unlimited skis, travel budget, and contest incentives, I signed up. I couldn’t believe my luck, my foot was in the door and skis started showing up. After de-laminating a number of the old red and black Enemies, the team pushed for something new, something indestructible, and K2 jumped at the opportunity. The result: The Public Enemy. Outfitted with a controversial top sheet, rivets in the tip and tail, full ABS sidewalls and reinforced thick edges, this ski made waves.

Screen Shot 2019-08-10 at 10.53.47 AM.png

In Poorboyz Production Happy Dayz, you can see the progression from the Enemy (The red and black ski with winged bases) to the prototype Public Enemies (white top-sheets) when I’m skiing on the Horstman Glacier at High North summer ski camp.

Happy Dayz was my first big time video segment afforded to me from my relationship with K2…

Along with the Seth Pistol, the Public Enemy paved the way to my success. Here’s a photo from 2004, putting them to the test in Chamonix, France.

Copyright @ Chris O’Connell - Circa 2004

For more nostalgia, check back in a few days…

A Taste of Steep Ski Camp with Kim and I at Alta

This year will mark my 14th season skiing the slopes of Alta.  An immediate distinction you must understand about Alta, is that it is not a ski resort, but a ski area. While it graces the pages of, You-Name-It –Magazine, multiple times a year, unlike most grandiose ski resorts on the other pages, it is not recognized for flaunting a zillon high-speed chairs, gondolas or trams that allow you to access the most radical terrain as soon as you click into your skis.  In fact, some of the most fun and challenging terrain at Alta isn’t off the high-speed quad, it’s off a double and triple chair, Wildcat and Supreme respectively. On top of that, Alta makes you work for it. 

If you haven't traversed to reach any runs, you haven't skied Alta.  If you haven't side-stepped, you haven't skied Alta. If you haven't hiked, you haven't skied the infamous Baldy Chutes or Perlas. 

What many other ski resorts may criticize about Alta, is what I believe make it a great ski area. The hikes, traverses, stashes and side-steps is all what has kept me coming back for almost a decade and a half. On Feb. 13-16 I’m excited to team up with Kim Reichhelm’s Steep Skiing Camp at Alta and hit up all my favorite spots. To get you warmed up, I put together a brief overview of the variety of skiing that Alta provides and some unique skills it has afforded me.  All of the following photos were captured on the most typical day: sunny, no powder, no ice, just enjoyable skiing.

From the Top - Main Chute - Dec. 29th, 2016

One of the prized lines, along with little and dog leg, to ski off the top is Main Chute.  Standing there poised to drop in will always put a huge smile on my face.  The run is the longest at Alta and requires a spectacular hike that takes me about 20-30 minutes.  After a quick respite to take in the 360 panorama, you slide over the wind buff and look in to see what kind of reward awaits. The entrance is the steepest part, consistently sub 40 degrees for it's sub 1,000 ft duration.  One of the reasons I'm always smiling at the top, is the chute only opens a handful of times throughout the year when the stability is bomber and visibility 100%.  If you are lucky enough to be one of the first, it's easy breezy glory skiing.  If you get to main chute hours after it opens or even the day after (pictured above), it's wonderfully challenging with decent sized moguls, chalk, crud and ice.  Navigating these variables is part of the fun.  If you don't get sucked into the bump field and look around, there are always a few soft spots.

Once you've descended near the exit where rock walls jut up to the sky, a sense of accomplishment, and sometimes relief washes over you.  I usually come to a stop for a moment to assess my new environment as onlookers traversing to the side of ballroom remark, "I've always wanted to do that", or something to that effect.  From there I either traverse over towards Bad News and Baldy shoulder or just drop into one of the gullies and pin it another 1,500ft to the bottom.

Last Turns before the exit...

Before I show you a few more of my favorite spots I have to forewarn you that lots of traversing is needed to get to these spots.  Many of you think, oh man... another traverse... where you think, time to get defensive and survive, I think, time to get proactive, pump some trannies and pass some tourists.  Not only that, but I've come to embrace traverses and it's taught me a lot about gaining speed/scrubbing speed using a variety of techniques, quick decision making and turning perceived obstacles into transitions, wall-rides and surfy fun. 

Once you manage the high T and sidestep up a couple, you reach 3rd's.  Riding down the ridge, you can always find a fun wind-lip to play on before dropping into a few wide open turns and then squeezing through a couple of pinches of your choosing that again open up into some high speed, powder/chunk or manageable bumps.  Here's a shot going through one of the pinches...

Pictured below are some of the small powder bumps that form underneath the pinch and are perfect for mini airplane or big GS turns.  

From the bottom of 3rds it's wise to head left into Bombay or Garbage Chutes.  These two places can be sendy, technical or fairly cruzy depending on your adventure level and what the conditions are like.  You can choose between tight trees, substantial cliff drops or some short steeps that open up into wider pine glades.  I opted for a wall slash...

And some fun powdery bumps that most people overlook...

The next victim of my steep ski camp tease is High Russ.  Again, surf the High-T traverse over into Alf's High Rustler.  Getting there requires navigating a highly traveled and bumped up section of terrain after the High-T that has been heavily traversed, slid down and gnarled from defensive and survival skiers trying to, once again, survive.  Applying some bump skiing techniques while using some of those defensive snow piles can get you through that area quickly while avoiding those who are a little slower.

Then you get to descend one of Alta's most classic runs, top-to-bottom.  

Or you can branch off from the main drag and find some really tight, fun and challenging tree sections.  

Now that I've gotten this far, explaining only three runs, you can probably guess why I love Alta.  These three runs I've explained are accessed from Sugarloaf and Collins which I just now realize aren't even my favorite chairs.  I also realize that if I were to continue sharing my favorite places, locals may get their panties in a bunch about what I reveal.  Also, given the quantity and quality of runs and spots, I should be writing a book rather than a blog.  If you are interested in, not only discovering some of these spots, but enhancing your ability to navigate and descend these types of runs, come to my Steep ski camp with Kim Reichelm, Feb. 13-16th.  You will learn techniques you've never imagined, gain confidence you've never had and experience Alta like a local.  If this sounds appealing to you, click here.  I can assure you, regardless of the conditions, you will have fun and you will learn something new every day.

To wrap this up, the day we shot these photos, I skied a line I'd never ridden.  Yep, in the 14 years I've been here, it's gone unridden.  That means there is still more for me to discover at Alta and I'm looking forward to many more years.

Thanks to Sam Watson for the imagery: Check out his website!  Sam will be joining us for a day during the camp to capture the action.  Prints will be available for purchase.