Ski mountaineer Chris Davenport rarely takes the easy way, living for the challenging nature of his unique projects and the blissful rewards they typically deliver. Not one to wait around for things to happen, he packs an ambitious schedule into every season, running it wide open until the snow melts. We caught up with him as this season winds down to ask about his breathtaking boat trip in Antarctica, his upcoming book project, and skiing with his boys…
You’re working on a film from your Antarctica trip, right?
We’re just finishing it up right now; we plan on doing the premiere in September, then touring around and promoting it this fall. It’s been a really fun, really rewarding project; the trip itself was so amazing. We captured so much unique and cool footage that I think ski film viewers who might be a little bit tired of the status quo are going to be refreshed to see something really new and really cool.
Can you give us a quick synopsis of the trip? How did it come about?
I had gone down to Antarctica the year before (2008), and what I saw on that trip blew my mind. I decided to come back to try to document it in a way that would share that feeling with the general public. I put together a good film crew and a couple of skier friends, and we got this fantastic 75-foot sailboat and sailed out of Ushuaia, Argentina on a four-day crossing of the Drake Passage to get down to the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Peninsula itself is sort of a geographical continuation of the Andes Mountains in South America, so they’re really big and rocky and steep, and they come right out of the water. You can sail through these gorgeous, pristine bays, harbors and channels with mountains all around you. We would just get out on a zodiac boat, put into shore and start climbing straight up the stuff. Then you get to come back to your beautiful sailboat every night and barbecue and sit out on the deck and motor on up the coast looking for more.
The trip sort of culminated with finding the most aesthetic and beautiful line we had maybe ever seen. We named it the Sphinx because it reminded us of this peak up in Valdez, Alaska. It took us a couple of attempts to get it done, but we ended up skiing it on a perfect, blue-sky day on great corn snow. It really tied the whole story together. After that, we set sail once again across the Drake Passage and back to Argentina to finish the 26-day trip.
What was the best moment of last season for you?
Probably that descent of the Sphinx in Antarctica, for a couple of reasons. It was November and December, so we were basically starting our season off with this incredible trip. To finish it skiing this remarkable face right down to the water, just very steep and exposed… It was basically everything I love about the sport of ski mountaineering. I came away from that trip charged and motivated for the rest of the season.
Another highlight for me was working in Vancouver for the Olympics. I was the host announcer for the ski racing events at Whistler. That was really cool, just to be a part of it in that capacity; people from all over the world came to that venue and were listening to us call the races, and we got tons of great feedback. I really enjoyed that.
Another one of the highlights was a trip to California to the Sierra Nevada with Christian Pondella, trying to finish off all of the 14ers in California. There are 15 of them there, and we skied eight of them in ten days – 41,000 vertical feet. We pushed really hard; we climbed a lot of vertical on long days and skied some amazing lines, including one possible first descent on Mt. Muir that was particularly rewarding. Now I’m only two peaks away from finishing all the 14ers in the U.S. lower 48. There are 69 of them, and I’ll be the first one to finish all of them, if and when I do, which is now looking like it’s going to have to be next winter.
Did you get into any really hairy or sketchy situations last season?
Nothing to speak of, really. I actually finished the season stronger than I went into it, which was great; I’m in great shape and fired up for the summer so I can bike and climb and stuff. No low-lights at all.
You spend a lot of time away from home; are you looking forward to more family time this summer?
I’ve been gone a lot since October, so now I’m kind of home for about two and half months in late May, June and July. We’ll be doing some camping, hiking, climbing, biking, just a bunch of nice summer activities with everybody. We’ll get some work done around the house, that kind of stuff. Then we all go down to Chile on August 2nd; we’re going to ski for a week, then they leave and I do my annual Ski with the Superstars camp in Portillo.
So what’s on deck for next season?
I’ll be doing the Warren Miller tour, the Antarctica film tour, and this book I’m working on will be out in the fall, too, so we’ll be touring with that, as well. The book is tentatively called 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America. My previous book - Ski the 14ers - was really successful, so I wanted to follow it up with another.
The inspiration for this book was sort of a broader market, taking a look at the most beautiful and aesthetic ski descents in all of North America. I haven’t done them all – it’s not a project like my previous book was, it’s more of a collaboration. I’m editing it, working with some of the most respected and legendary ski mountaineers in North America to get their stories and recommendations.
You seem to dream up some pretty ambitious projects; do you have any new ones in mind?
I do; I’ve got some pretty cool stuff I’m trying to line up for next season. You’ll hear about them soon enough…
You have an amazing number of accomplishments in a lot in different disciplines, and your projects are usually on a pretty grand scale. Is it even possible for you to have fun just skiing a regular resort run anymore?
You know, it totally is. The thing that’s the most fun for me these days is going out to a resort with my three kids and just ripping around. It’s the most fun thing that I do. It makes all these other trips – which, like you say, are grandiose and incredible – it makes them pale in comparison, because I see my boys growing up and learning to love skiing. I can see how much they enjoy it right on their faces, so to be able to ski around with them and inspire them and teach them, it’s so rewarding.
When I’m home, I’m on the mountain every day to go skiing. It hasn’t lost any of its luster or anything. In that respect, I feel really good about the sport and the way I’ve managed my career, because the way I’ve evolved has kept things really fresh and exciting.
To stay up on Chris’ travels and projects, check out steepskiing.com.