The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Nov 2011

The Marathon As We Knew It Is Gone

At a certain point in 2008 I lost interest in professional swimming because every major race yielded a new record and the records began to feel cheap. The swimmers, of course, were wearing swimsuits that made them faster, so in some sense the records really were cheap.

Course records have fallen at each of the world's five most important marathons this year, beginning in Boston in April, hitting a high point in Berlin in September, when Patrick Makau broke the world record, and ending Sunday in New York. All of the record breakers, and indeed each of the 20 fastest marathon runners this year, are Kenyan. Two weeks ago at the Frankfurt Marathon a second-tier runner named Wilson Kipsang finished within a hair's breath of Makau's new mark and became the second-fastest marathon runner ever.

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Has Garrett McNamara Surfed the World's Tallest Wave?

Garrett McNamara Surfing 90-Foot Wave

Word is spreading that Garrett McNamara surfed a record 90-foot wave off Portugal. In 2008, Mike Parsons surfed a wave estimated to be 70 feet at Cortes Bank. Ken Bradshaw is believed to have surfed an 80-footer at Outer Log Cabins in 1998. McNamara's camp has estimated a wave height of 90 feet. We'll provide more info on his ride as it comes in. Until then, Drift put up a nice summary of the ride from surfer Al Mennie. Of course, you can also just watch the ride in the video below.

--Joe Spring

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The Skinny on Dean Cummings's New Fat Skis

Dean Cummings Skis
In the world of big mountain skiing, Dean Cummings is a legend. He was the captain of the US Freestyle Ski Team, has hundreds of first descents to his name, has been featured in dozens of ski films and shows, and for years was a regular on the World Extreme Skiing Circuit (he won it in 1995). Now, as the owner, operator, and head guide of H20 Guides in Alaska’s Chugach, he has permits on the largest tract of heli-ski terrain in North America. 

Since the beginning of his career, Cummings has had his hand in product design with some of the largest brands in the ski industry. Now he’s introducing his own skis, begining with three models this year.

In a market where boutique brands abound, we asked Cummings why we need another one. Cummings response: "Our skis allow skiers to ski all terrain and all conditions, including and especially hard snow, because they lay down. We wanted camber but we didn't want floppiness. We still wanted some rigidity and a ski that's lightweight, versatile, and durable. At the end of the day, you shouldn't need three pairs of skis when one should be able to do the job. My skis simplify the decision-making—you don’t need a quiver, you need a pair."

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Breakfast with Dean Cummings: Big Daddy of Extreme Skiing

The other morning I had breakfast with Dean Cummings, a veteran Alaska heli-ski guide and all around big mountain badass, who was coming through Santa Fe to promote his new line of skis, H20 Outdoor Gear. That Dean has lived to see 46 is no small feat. He’s been skiing North America’s biggest, steepest peaks for more than 20 years, and lords over 2 million acres of alpine terrain in the Chugach outside Valdez, where he guides 300 clients a year on first descents so often he’s lost count. He’s made 46 ski films, including “The Steep Life," in which he finally tackles a couple burly first descents he's been eying for two decades. It's set for release next fall. 


Dean grew up in New Mexico and learned to ski at Pajarito, a locals’ hill outside Los Alamos, when he was five. In the early ‘90s, as an ambassador for Taos Ski Valley, he helped start a learn-to-ski program for kids from Taos Pueblo. He went on to become captain of the US Freestyle Ski Team and win the Freestyle World Championships in 1995 in Valdez. A few years later, he returned to the Chugach to start his pioneering heli-ski company, H20 Guides; he also launched the North American Outdoor Institute (NAOI) and began teaching avalanche education and remote ops to kids, outdoor enthusiasts, and fellow guides. 

In the midst of all this, he got married, had a couple kids, Wyatt Kodiak, 8, and Tesslina, 6, and settled full-time in Valdez, where earlier this fall he finished building the town of 3,000 its very own ski hill with a 1,000-foot rope tow right. A season pass costs $125.

When you ski as high and as hard and as long as Dean does, it's not unreasonable to expect something untoward to happen. Fellow extreme skiers Doug Coombs and Shane McConkey died in ski-related falls in the Alps in the past decade; others have suffered career-ending injuries. Which is why I was so psyched to see Dean's smiling face last Friday at the Tea House, where we talked about a few of his favorite topics: staying safe in the mountains, helping guides get the respect they deserve, and raising two li'l rippers of his own. (Next up on Rippers: Dean's tips for teaching kids to ski.)

How did you learn to ski?
There were five of us kids and my dad taught us all to ski the same way: He wouldn’t let us ride the rope tow up and made us herringbone up the hill on our skis instead. I was probably five at the time. My sisters hated it, but it was all about our inside edges. When we got to the top, we just reversed the edges and we were skiing. I did the same thing with my kids. 

What’s it like raising a family in Valdez?
We used to spend half the year in Utah, but a couple of years ago, before Wyatt started first grade, we had to choose. One or the other. We took a family vote, and it was four-zero for Alaska. Wyatt said, "There are too many traffic lights here!” I love the feeling I get in Alaska. My senses are so alive. You open the back door and the shed roof could collapse and kill you. Plus, there’s so much freedom. Within a minute from town, you can be in the wilderness. 

Tell me about the rope tow. A thousand feet of vertical—that's bigger than some East Coast ski resorts.
Yeah, we just finished building it. Before that, we didn’t have a ski hill in town. My wife, Karen, was the one who got it organized. I hauled away debris in my truck, and she did the business proposal. The mayor said it was the most thorough business plan he’d ever seen. There are a lot of skiers in this town, and there’s a little baby boom going on. People are psyched. It’s a reason to stay.

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