With a list of achievements a mile long, Chris Davenport already enjoyed notoriety within the ski community when he set out to climb and ski all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in a single season. The ambitious project widened his exposure, landed him on Outside Magazine’s “Outside 100” list, and made him one of Men’s Journal’s Athletes of the Year.
Despite his strong record of conquering the most daunting challenges, Davenport found himself up against a force he couldn’t control: Mother Nature. Snowfall was inadequate or non-existent on several of the summits, so he finished the season with a mere nine peaks left; he’s already picked up two more summits this season, and hopes to check off the rest by January 21, 365 days after starting. We checked in with him shortly after he came down from Kit Carson Peak to check on his progress.
When and how did the idea for the fourteeners project come to you?
In the fall of ’05, I was out on a mountain bike ride by myself, and I was thinking a lot about the coming season and what my goals were going to be for the year. I just wanted to find something a little different, a little more challenging, and that no one else was doing. The other motivating factor was that I wanted to stay in Colorado more, to be around my family and my kids. I started thinking about the fourteeners as an interesting project to do in a season. I didn’t know if I could pull it off or not, but I knew it would be a great adventure.
How many peaks had you already summitted at that point?
I had climbed 34 of them, but only skied about a dozen.
What have been the main challenges you’ve faced for the project?
The main challenge has been the weather. The peaks are all skiable; it’s just a question of whether they have enough snow on them. The other thing was figuring out the logistics, because the peaks are spread out all over the mountainous regions of the state, so I’m trying to be efficient and not just go out all willy-nilly. I needed good data as to what peaks would be in the right condition when, so I wasn’t wasting time and energy.
How much time passed until you checked off the first peak?
I decided to do the project in September, so I spent the fall planning, training, and researching the mountains to find the ultimate ski lines on each peak. Then it was watching the weather. I was already sort of an amateur meteorologist, but I got even more into it because it’s such an important part of this project. There wasn’t much snow at the beginning of January, so I had to wait until January 22 to start the first peak.
How do you pick your routes, both ascending and descending?
The fourteeners are incredibly popular peaks for climbing and hiking in the summer, so there are well-established trailheads and routes on most of the peaks. In the winter, they’re obviously covered with snow, but you’ll still take those routes. As far as descending goes, it’s a matter of what route holds the least avalanche danger. I try to ski the most difficult line on each peak, something that hasn’t been skied before.
"I try to ski the most difficult line on each peak, something that hasn’t been skied before."
How does the danger level for the fourteeners project rank among the other things you’ve done?
I think this ranks right up there among the most dangerous things I’ve done, because Colorado’s got among the worst avalanche danger in the country, if not the world. I’m putting pressure on myself to ski these peaks in a given time period, so it’s not like I can pick and choose my conditions. I have to accept a little more risk, so I have to be focused and disciplined in my approach to it.
What’s been the hardest summit so far?
The hardest summit was Capitol Peak. It’s kind of ironic; the trailhead’s only five miles from my house. It’s one of the hardest peaks in the state to climb, even in the summer. It’s only been skied once before from the summit, and that was down the ascent route—nobody’s ever looked on any other side of the mountain. My partner Neil and I did the first descent down the East face, basically putting down one of the hardest lines ever skied in North America in doing so.
Tell us about the photo book and film that go along with the project.
We’re doing a coffee-table-style book, which will be the first of its kind about the fourteeners; no one’s documented all these peaks in their winter condition, from a skier’s perspective. The film is already done, but we’re having an issue with our Forest Service Permit for filming in the wilderness areas, so we’re trying to work with them to figure out how we can release the film without having to re-edit it.
How frustrating was it to finish the season with only nine peaks left?
It was really frustrating, but at the same time, I was always very realistic about pulling it off. I knew if it was a really good snow year, I’d have no problem pulling it off, and I thought if it were an average snow year, there’d be about a 50/50 chance of doing it. As it turned out, the southern mountains were at like 30-40% of average, so some of the peaks just never had snow on them. That’s the way it is in the mountains. I’m hoping for a good winter this year. I’m still realistic, and I’ll finish them as soon as I can finish them.
Are you more interested in projects like this than doing the competition circuit?
I feel like I achieved all my goals, won all the things I wanted to win, and satisfied my desire to compete. I wanted to start focusing on things that weren’t judged and weren’t competitive, but based more on more personal goals, where you have to work hard and dig deep within yourself to find the strength to pull it off.
That’s a good question. I’ve been thinking about trying to ski all the California fourteeners. This project has really gotten me focused on ski mountaineering, and motivated me to climb and ski more.
You seem to continually pick varied and challenging projects. What factors do you think about when choosing how to spend your time?
I look for things that are interesting to me, that are fun and challenging, and that aren’t going to feel like work. Things that will challenge my skill set and be enlightening, so I can come away from it feeling really good about myself and my relationship with the mountains. I want to experience every sensation that can be experienced in the sport of skiing.