Skier Chris Davenport on Managing Risk

A Q&A with an Outside in Aspen participant

Davenport skiing in California     Photo: Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

As one of the world's foremost big mountain skiers, Chris Davenport has the privilege of chasing the snowpack all over the world. He's notched improbable first descents from Antarctica to Alaska and is one of only a handful of people to have skied Everest's Lhotse Face. In 2007, he was the first person to ski all 54 of Colorado's 14ers. We caught up with him in advance of Outside in Aspen, where he'll be guiding a group up Castle Peak.

You spent the month of May with some friends in an RV, laying down lines on mountains in the Pacific Northwest. Fun?
Huge success. We skied 15 major volcanoes in 14 days under perfect weather and with many great friends joining us for various peaks. It was the ultimate spring road trip.

You were in Europe the previous month, Africa and Antarctica before that—how do manage it?
I don’t really take time off during ski season. I have this awesome opportunity to follow snow, and my wife allows me to do it best I can. Last year, 200 days were devoted to travel. I like to keep it in fifth gear from November until the end of May and accomplish everything I want to.

What does your summer season look like?
I have two months off right now! It's really important for me to take a break from snow each summer to recharge my stoke batteries and spend lots of time with my family. I leave at the end of July to ski in Chile for a month and host my ninth annual Superstars Ski camp in Portillo.

But you’ve still managed to find time for Outside in Aspen this weekend.
Welcoming other professional athletes to my hometown is always a pleasure. I'm especially psyched to see my old friend Jake Norton and to congratulate him on another Everest trip.

The Everest season has been almost as scary as this year's ski season. So many great skiers were lost in avalanches.
I’ve lost five close friends this winter. It’s been horrible. The Stevens Pass accident in February—my two friends who died in the Tetons in March—they were all extremely experienced. It’s something I need to process more before I can talk about it.

The conditions this year were particularly bad, but have you had many run-ins with avalanches in the past?
I’ve had a number of close calls. In Haines, Alaska, a few years ago, I was filming with Matchstick Productions on a beautiful blue-sky day. Out of nowhere, I hit a rock buried under the snow. It ripped my ski off and I fell, and triggering a slab avalanche. It felt like accelerating from zero to 100 in a split second, at the same time stepping into a washing machine. Or the worst car accident you’ve ever been in—but for 30 seconds. I was buried, and unburied, and buried again. I was swept 1,000 feet over rocks and cliffs. I was bruised and sore and extremely lucky. But It took me a few weeks after that to really feel like I had my feet under me.

You started in ski racing, which doesn't pose the same risks as big mountain skiing. How'd you make the jump?
Shane McConkey and I grew up ski racing together. He invited me to the U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships in ’94. So I went down to Crested Butte to compete and absolutely loved it. I loved the freedom of it all; I loved the fact that you didn’t have to wear a GS suit, you could just ski in your clothes; and you could ski anywhere you wanted—no set course—and let your individual style speak. I was hooked.

Were you worried about upping the stakes of skiing? There's more risk involved.
There was something exciting about that, too. No matter what technology, gear, or knowledge you have, you still can't control mother nature. Every day we’re out in the backcountry, we’re putting ourselves in harm’s way. But I've worked really hard at managing the risks. You figure out how much you can handle, and what you don’t like, and keep it within those boundaries. I try to keep it safe and plan my season around the weather and the mountain's conditions. I ski within myself; I don’t look at what other people are doing. It turns out, that's worked.

Outside in Aspen, June 8-10, is a weekend filled with outfitter-led adventure, including mountain and road biking, kayaking, rafting, trail running, fly-fishing, hiking, stand-up river paddling, and rock climbing for all skill levels. The weekend also includes parties, a base camp featuring Outside's Gear of the Year, a symposium with professional adventure athletes and Outside personalities.

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