Six pro skiers reveal the best runs of their life

Glen Plake, Daron Rahlves and Chris Davenport reflect on their favourite ever ski runs

DARON RAHLVES, FORMER SKI RACER AND PRO FREESKIER
Taku,  Alaska

I was filming with Teton Gravity Research in April 2011. We were flying around in a helicopter, looking for massive runs, but found this smaller feature in the middle of three peaks on a ridgeline we call the Three Sisters. The line had crazy wrinkled runnels. When we first saw it I questioned whether I could make it down, physically and mentally.

There was no way to access the coffee-table-sized ledge at the top by any other means than heli. We didn’t land; the pilot just hovered and landed one skid.

Daron faces his fears and drops in | Mark Fisher

Daron faces his fears and drops in | Mark Fisher

The hardest thing was getting up from my hands and knees and clicking into my skis! The backside was a no-fall zone – it was tough to get that confidence to stand up. Facing the feature, the view through my skis, was also a tough challenge. I dropped in as soon as the camera crew told me to go, otherwise I would have been sitting there for ages.

It wasn’t a run you could rip. It was just survival – making it down safely was my one goal. The runnels were so narrow my toe piece to heel piece was on snow, but the tip and tail were free. There was sluff on both sides. I just had to keep the skis going down. I found the exit, jumped into a little slot and fired out. I don’t normally yell at the bottom of a run, but this was one of those moments – it pushed me to the max. Even though it took less than 20 seconds from top to bottom.

WARREN SMITH, PRO Freeskier and coach
Trient Glacier, Switzerland

One of my favourite areas is skiing off the Trient Glacier on the border between Verbier and Chamonix – there are some epic couloirs off the glacier. The conditions in spring 2014 were sketchy; I could see rocks just under the surface, which really got the adrenaline going.

Warren in glacial free-falling | Sebastian Baritussio

Warren in glacial free-falling | Sebastian Baritussio

It’s a good 55-60° pitch, and for a lot of the run, in between turns, it feels like you’re free-falling. Looking ahead all you can see are glacier crevasses – they’re out of view in the photo, but there are rocks on either side and you don’t want to lose control. The biggest challenge is the gradient, and if you lose control you’ll ski outside into a crevasse.

Skiing this kind of thing gives you butterflies in your stomach – you know it’s for real.

GLEN PLAKE Pro FREEskier and living legend
Callangate massif, Peru

It’s difficult to say one run is more memorable than another, but this is one I did with a dear friend, and
I remember when we first saw it we didn’t need to speak to each other, our eyes said it all.

It was in 2011. I was in the Peruvian Andes with French skier Rémy Lécluse. We’d gone to try to ski the north face of Ausangate. It’s a 6384m peak and we’d been turned around just 200m from the summit – conditions became unskiable as the whole thing went to ice on us.

We’d been there for a month, crawling around, getting ready. No-one had been down in that area skiing so every route we were trying to do was new;  it was pretty groundbreaking. It was just me and Rémy and three cowboys helping us with some camping stuff – there was no-one else around.

We came down from Ausangate that morning a little upset as things had looked so good from afar – we’d been glassing it for weeks. But we went back to base camp, regrouped and started up again. We explored around the entire massif of the area, Callangate, set up another camp and woke up the next morning to scope out another valley on which we had very little information. It was literally reconnaissance for future trips at this point. We’d been out on the mountain for most of the day and negotiated some big glaciated terrain – one of the big problems with South America is it’s difficult to even get onto the snow past the glaciers.

A beautiful moment for Glen Plake, South American style

A beautiful moment for Glen Plake, South American style | Rémy Lécluse

We both saw the route at the same time. Without even a word, Rémy looked back at me and our eyes said ‘that’s it, let’s go’. We took mental pictures, went back to camp, got ready and left our base about midnight, climbing until we got to the summit ridge at 9am the following morning.

We then skied this really varied route – absolutely perfect snow on very, very steep terrain. I’ll never forget watching Rémy ski away from me on literally a knife-edge ridge. The whole thing was a completely accidental discovery, which is so hard to do in today’s world, with all the information and pre-conceived plans we have. It was a beautiful moment. The route was really mixed up; we skied this way and that, through a couloir… the snow was absolutely gorgeous.

The cowboys were sitting at the bottom of the glacier with binoculars – they’d never even seen skiing before. We went back and had a big fat feed.

We went to Peru with one objective in our mind and things changed; it was still a 6000m peak though, with 50-55° slopes, everything the other one was.

Two years later I lost Rémy on Mount Everest when a huge avalanche hit us on Manaslu in Nepal. I still have this flash memory of him at the top of that peak in Peru; we took a selfie before selfies were popular. It affects every expedition I go on, every experience I have in the mountains.

Our friendship was perfect, we skied well, our technique was spot on; it was really, really wonderful. On top of that, we had a month in the wilderness, completely on our own. What an opportunity.

Read all about Glen Plake’s most pivotal life moments here.

BRUNO COMPAGNET Co-founder of Black Crows
Lyngen Alps, Norway

I’m 46 years old now and my passion for what I do as a professional skier has stayed the same, but it has definitely evolved to loving the wilderness and adventures in remote places.

The most memorable runs for me are skiing whereno-one has been. It’s not supposed to be super-scary, but
an adventure. It’s about waiting for good conditions – you have to catch it at exactly the right time.

Two year ago I ski toured across the Lyngen Alps in Norway with a group of young Norwegian skiers, covering almost 200km, which took 11 days. We were the first to ski this route. I didn’t know the way. We encountered several storms, some days it was super foggy, and every day we had to manage the avalanche conditions.

Bruno explores the unknown in Norway | Camille Jaccoux

Bruno explores the unknown in Norway | Camille Jaccoux

You carry all your kit – sleeping bag, tent, all your equipment – and do steep skiing and traverses with it all
on your back. At the end of it all we had a hug. I was almost crying because it was so emotional; a lot happened and
we had an amazing trip.

This sort of skiing is something real; the modern world and society is too fast. It’s great to just take off with light gear and go. I love the dimension of meeting people – skiing is a prefix for travelling and meeting people and having a good time. Patagonia is my next destination.

CHRIS DAVENPORT Pro big mountain skier
Lhotse Face, Mount Everest

On 10 May 2011 I stood quietly looking down at 7800m on the Lhotse Face of Mount Everest, on the border of Tibet and Nepal. A week earlier the face had been pure, hard black ice. Yet now there was 30cm of fresh powder somehow sticking to the 45° slope, and I had my skis on my back.

My fellow mountain guide Neal and I had done our homework. We analysed the avalanche hazard over and over, digging in the snow at various elevations and on multiple days, and had come to the conclusion that we were going to ski it.

Chris gets gnarly on the Lhotse Face | Chris Davenport collection

Chris gets gnarly on the Lhotse Face | Chris Davenport collection

We untied from the safety rope, skied out into the centre of one of the world’s largest alpine faces, and proceeded to have some of the most incredible skiing of our lives. I was definitely nervous, but with each turn and all the sensory information that goes with it, my confidence grew and so did the size of the smile on my face.

We skied all the way to 5900m before having to remove our skis and don crampons for the descent through the icefall. Skiing the Lhotse Face was one of the gnarliest, and best, runs of my life.

EVA WALKNER 2016 Freeride World Tour champion
Haines, Alaska

It was winter 2013. I was standing at the top of my line – I could only see the first 10m – the cameraman was flying over my head in a helicopter and my heart was beating like hell!

When I started skiing I was very focused and clear in my mind. It was steeper than I expected, so steep that my arm was touching the slope. Everywhere was sluff. It looked like a massive waterfall of snow. When I did a turn I was in the white room – powder was blowing over my face and I couldn’t see anything for a second.

Eva skis her scariest – and best – line ever | Jeremy Bernard

Eva skis her scariest – and best – line ever | Jeremy Bernard

I had to stay on the ridge to avoid the sluff waterfall – if the sluff catches you it can end really, really badly. But the ridge was small and damn steep. After several giant, fast turns I was down and full of adrenaline, and so happy that
I finished the line in one piece.

I have never felt my mind and every bit of my body as strong as in those two minutes. And I have never skied a more scary line than this. But I was so stoked – and will never forget that moment.

Taken from our 25th Anniversarry issue. Order yours here.

WORDS: Abigail Butcher

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