The A-Team

Star Power

Allow us to introduce the 25 most extraordinary people in the world outside, from hard-core adventurers to world-changing environmentalists. You'll recognize a few, like America's most gifted downhill skier, or the blind climber who scaled Everest. They all share one thing: Confronted with the impossible, they succeed, again and again.

Reader Nominations

We asked and you responded. See who Outside readers nominated for the A-Team here.

Solid Gold: Picabo Street, Park City, Utah, September 2001


Meet the New Legends


Tenacious E

Last May, the elite climbing community told Erik Weihenmayer he didn't belong on Everest. In this exclusive preview of the new afterword to Weihenmayer's book, Touch the Top of the World, the blind mountaineer fires back.

Weihenmayer nears 22,000 feet in the Western Cwm on his way to Everest's summit, May 2001.

Chris Sharma, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, September 2001

Erik Weihenmayer

[UNSTOPPABLE CLIMBER]

The Case: If attitude is everything, then Erik Weihenmayer has it all. When a rare hereditary disease took his eyesight at age 13, he vowed to think of blindness as an adventure, not a disability. By age 20, Weihenmayer was skiing Vail's back bowls, making 60-mile tandem bike rides, and running marathons. A few years later his climbing addiction took off in the crags near Phoenix, Arizona. By January 2001, he had scaled Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet), Aconcagua (22,834), McKinley (20,320), and Antarctica's Vinson Massif (16,066). In between, he taught himself to lead 5.10 rock climbs and made his way up the Nose route on Yosemite's El Cap. Then came his headline-making success on Everest. As badly as he wanted to stand on the summit, Weihenmayer, 33, wasn't going to be short-roped to the top. "I wanted to be as much a part of the team as possible," he says, "and to do the things I'm capable of doing." In fact, there's not much the mountaineer can't do for himself. He cooks, carries his own gear, and ties in to ropes. Other than climbing directly behind his partners, who wear bear bells and shout directions, he is completely self-sufficient. After six weeks on Everest, Weihenmayer, ten teammates, and eight Sherpas reached the frigid summit on May 25. Better still, on May 27, they all returned safely to base camp.
Second Opinion: "I've climbed with famous Everest climbers like Ed Viesturs and Pete Athans," says Charley Mace, Weihenmayer's Everest teammate, "and I don't think those guys could do what they do with their eyes closed."

Next Big Thing: Russia's Mount Elbrus (18,510), now on deck for Weihenmayer's Seven Summits quest. "We plan to descend Elbrus on skis," he says, beaming, "so I'll train by doing lots of steep skiing this winter." —Mark Kroese

Chris Sharma

[ROCK STAR]

ON EVERY CRAG in the country, there's a kid who'll tell you that scaling rock is a spiritual pursuit as much as a kinetic one. The thing about Chris Sharma is that you actually want to believe him. He'll lay the karmic mumbo-jumbo on you like any young Siddhartha-in-training—"Climbing is a way of seeking purity and oneness with nature"—but he can back it up with skills that are, well, as graceful as a trickling stream through a mountain meadow.

Sharma, 20, has ruled the scene ever since 1996, when at age 15 he scored second in his first national sport-climbing championship. He has claimed dozens of national and international titles and completed hundreds of bouldering first ascents, including The Mandala in 1999, a virtually hold-free, house-size rock in Bishop, California, that was previously considered unclimbable. But his greatest feat to date came last August on a 70-move, 120-foot overhanging pitch of blue limestone in France called Biographie Extension. Rated 5.15a—until then an unreached benchmark—the route's crux move had stymied Sharma 30 times. "It was a mental block," he says. "I looked at it as a spiritual problem. To see the whole thing, I had to be in the moment." Whatever he did, it worked. On the 31st try, 18 minutes after leaving the ground, Sharma screamed through the crux sequence and topped out, sealing an accomplishment that has put him in a class by himself. He promptly renamed the climb Realization.

Sharma admits that his chosen occupation has always come naturally. At age five he was shinning trees in his backyard. At 11, after a climbing gym opened near his house, he enrolled himself in classes using paper-route money. Just four years later he graduated early from high school and has been supporting himself ever since through climbing. His secret, say his buddies, resides in his legendarily strong hands. But others, like Yosemite free-climbing legend Ron Kauk, say Sharma's edge comes from something more ethereal: "He's not focused on trying to prove something. He knows what the young Yvon Chouinard knew back in the sixties. Climbing is a way of life, a way of being a part of nature."

Predictably, Sharma's combination of abundant physical talent and an attitude that comes off as indifferent is galling not just to his competitors, but to other climbers, who wax envious about his apparent "laziness"—he never trains, he just climbs, they lament. "He's so good that he annoys people," says Canadian climber and adventurer Will Gadd. "But the criticism is a sure sign that he's arrived."

These days, Sharma has his eyes set on a trip to southern India to climb the limestone outside the village of Hampi. "I've been climbing like crazy for six months," he says. "But it's not realistic to always be going full-speed, to be improving and going harder and harder."

He pauses, and then, once again sounding more like a mountain monk than an American superstar, he adds: "Climbing is not going to bring me ultimate happiness." —Brad Wetzler

Christine Boskoff

[8,000-METER SPECIALIST]

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME one of the world's premier high-altitude mountaineers? If Christine Boskoff is any example (and she certainly is), the answer is speed, stamina, brains, experience, and the ability to persevere with a smile. "Christine takes pain very well," says Peter Habeler, the legendary Austrian climber who guided with Boskoff on Everest in 1999. "She can suffer without moaning, which few Westerners can or want to do anymore." Her ability to endure in the Death Zone has led the 34-year-old Wisconsin native to the top of the world's highest mountains. In the past six years she's ticked off six of the 14 peaks above 8,000 meters (Everest, Cho Oyu, Gasherbrum II, Lhotse, Shishapangma, and Broad Peak), in addition to becoming the only female expedition leader among the elite guide services operating on Everest. "She's got great inner confidence and experience," says American climber Charlie Fowler, who scaled Tibet's 26,291-foot Shishapangma with Boskoff last fall. "I haven't seen anybody stronger."

Five years ago Boskoff was stuck in an Atlanta cubicle, engineering flight simulators for Lockheed Martin. Off-hours she built her endurance engine by working the crags near town, whipping off ten-mile runs, and scrambling up frozen waterfalls during the Southeast's brief ice-climbing window. A spring 1993 mountaineering trip to the Bolivian Andes whetted her appetite for more substantial peaks, including the Himalayan massifs. "I'd quit my job every time a big expedition came up—Broad Peak in '95, then Cho Oyu in '96," she says. Eventually, she abandoned her office post altogether for a less tethered career; she moved to Seattle to help take over the Mountain Madness guide service in 1997, a year after the company's founder, Scott Fischer, died on Everest.

This spring, Boskoff will be back on Everest as a guide for Mountain Madness, which may yield her second summit on that peak. She'll then attempt K2's dangerous SSE Spur with Fowler. A view from the 28,250-foot pinnacle would put her halfway to becoming the first woman to climb all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks. Thing is, she's so modest about her ability, male climbers who approach her at climbing crags have no idea who they're flirting with. One day last year at Skaha Bluffs, in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, she was besieged by a crew of twentysomething lads trying out their best lines on the attractive alpinist.

"What do you do for a living?" one asked her as she limbered up a 5.10 line. "Oh," said Boskoff, who had recently topped out on Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, "I run a travel business." —Bruce Barcott

Al Read

[UBER-guide]

The Case: In addition to cofounding (and remaining a partner in) Geographic Expeditions, a San Francisco-based adventure-travel company, this hirsute climber, river rafter, skier, and international outdoor diplomat runs Exum Mountain Guides, one of the most respected guide services in the world. Exum has provided summer jobs in the Tetons for the likes of Everest icon Pete Athans, extreme skier Doug Coombs, mixed-route master Steve House, Alaska veteran Jack Tackle, and the late Alex Lowe, among others. "The guides inspire and astonish me," says Read. "Without them Exum is nothing more than a pile of ropes." Read's no slouch himself. He posted the first ascent of Mount McKinley's East Buttress in 1963, and has led first ascents on Cholatse and Gauri Sankar in Nepal. Since taking over the biz from founder Glen Exum in the 1970s, Read has used his wilderness and business savvy to expand from a dozen guides to this year's crew of 63 without diluting the talent. Thanks to an invite-only policy, it's easier to land a Rhodes Scholarship than to hire on at Exum. "We look for people who've made a contribution to the art—new routes, first ascents, exploratory trips overseas," Read says. And those are just the rookies.

Second Opinion: "Al's one of the unsung legends of American mountaineering," says Pete Athans. "Clients lucky enough to climb with him always walk away with a new passion for the Tetons."

Dark Secret: As a United States Foreign Service officer, Read burned code machines and shredded documents in besieged embassies. "We had blackouts in Calcutta and political murders every night," he recalls. "It was a very interesting time." Indeed.

Next Big Thing: After guiding on South Georgia Island this year, Read, 65, will run less-demanding trips to Cuba and Patagonia before catching a little R&R in Chamonix this winter. —Bruce Barcott

Ulrich training for the 2000 Raid Gauloises in the La Salles Mountains, Utah

Marshall Ulrich

[ENDURANCE KING]

MARSHALL ULRICH DIDN'T take up running until the age of 29, when his first wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and his blood pressure "shot up way too high." In 1989 he rocked the ultrarunning world by completing a record six 100-mile races in one season, finishing in the top ten in five of them. Thereafter, says the 50-year-old from Fort Morgan, Colorado, his mission became clear: "Every year I decided to go out and do something else no one had done—things people would joke about doing."

Though he's lately made a name for himself as an adventure racer—he's one of only four people to participate in all seven Eco-Challenges mounted thus far—Ulrich is best known for his feats at the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile midsummer race from the bottom of Death Valley (North America's lowest point, 282 feet below sea level, and also its hottest) to the top of Mount Whitney (at 14,495 feet, the highest point in the Lower 48). Having already won the race four times, in 1999 Ulrich came up with a twist: complete the same route solo and without support. That meant towing a modified Baby Jogger laden with food, clothing, and 22 gallons of water and ice—totaling more than 220 pounds—through 19,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain, 128-degree temperatures, and persistent nosebleeds. His time: 77 hours and 46 minutes. How to top that? Last summer, in a benefit for a Third World hunger relief program, Ulrich ran from Death Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney and back, and then turned around and did it again—a 584-mile "quad" (the equivalent of 22 consecutive marathons) that took him a mere ten days and 13 hours.

"It's not that Marshall's not human," says Theresa Daus-Weber, a ten-time finisher of Colorado's Leadville Trail 100 run. "It's that nothing gets between his image of himself and the challenge at hand." That may sound a little too cerebral for a man whose day job is "used cow dealer," i.e. he buys dead cattle from feed lots and sells them to pet-food companies. But Ulrich's sporting philosophy seems to echo such ultramarathoners-of-the-mind as Carlos Castaneda and Friedrich Nietzsche. "Ultrarunners want to see what the human spirit is all about, what allows you to do things you couldn't normally do," Ulrich says. "Is there something more to life than everyday existence? The sport really puts you in that space, causes you to hallucinate, exposes your fears. It gets you closer to what your being is."

If Ulrich's endurance is extreme, so too is his preparation. He routinely runs in place inside a sauna to prepare his body for the Badwater's extreme heat; faced with the all-too-common runner's malady of blackened toenails, he had his toenails surgically removed. Next on Ulrich's list is an objective that seems humdrum in light of his running accomplishments: climbing Everest, a goal he's confident he can achieve provided it's for a good cause, since raising money for others is a prime motivator. "If it wasn't for the charity attached to it," Ulrich says, "I wouldn't have finished the quad." For the record, Ulrich has no intention of preventing frostbitten fingers the way he dealt with his toenails. —Rob Buchanan

Alan Webb

[MILER]

For the moribund world of U.S. men's distance running, 18-year-old Alan Webb may be the star-spangled messiah. In the mile at Oregon's Prefontaine Classic last May, against a field of international superstars that included world champion Hicham El Guerrouj, the then-high-school senior from Virginia ran into the record books by finishing fifth, in 3:53.54—almost two seconds faster than Jim Ryun's high-school mark (3:55.30), which had held firm for 30 years. Now a freshman at the University of Michigan, home to one of the best track-and-field programs in the nation, Webb has his sights set on breaking the mile's 3:50 barrier, which will firmly plant him among the world's elite (El Guerrouj's world record is 3:43:13). "He has incredible top-end acceleration," says University of Michigan track-and-field coach Ronald Warhurst, who spent a year wooing Webb to his team. "Some milers can accelerate right from the start; Alan can accelerate off of race pace. Once he gets going, it's like he has another gear." —Paul Roberts

Picabo Street

[DOWNHILL DESTROYER]

The Case: Street's been on a race-circuit tear for more than a decade. She collected a shiny silver disk at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994 in the downhill, and a prettier gold one in Nagano in 1998 in the Super G. In between, she seasoned her résumé with back-to-back 1995 and 1996 World Cup titles, and a 1996 World Championship title. Add to that her playful name and spunky personality, and it's no wonder Street's the grande dame of downhill. The powerhouse physique and bullheaded confidence that put Street on the podium also helped her overcome a raft of potentially career-ending injuries, including a broken femur and three separate ACL tears. "She definitely has willpower," says former teammate Wendy Fisher. "A lot of people thought she'd never make it back." Street, 30, who claims to be in the best shape of her life, may nab her biggest Olympic victory yet this February, on her home slopes of Park City. If so, it will be a perfect ending to the final—and, she insists, finest—season of her racing career: "I feel like a horse that's been turned around and knows it's going back to the barn. All I want to do is run, run, run."
Second Opinion: "Over everybody else, she's got this mental component that sets her aside," says Jim Tracy, the U.S. women's Super G and Downhill coach. "You have to put her in a situation to excel, and she will."

Read All About It: Street's memoir, Picabo: Nothing to Hide, will be published this month (Contemporary Books).

Next Big Thing: Retirement, marriage (to former U.S. Ski Team technician John Mulligan), and starting a family. "Salt Lake City will be my last hurrah," says Street. "As soon as I'm done, I'm done."—Lisa Anne Auerbach

Frode Grønvold

[FREEHEEL PHENOM]

The Case: In the past two seasons on the international telly circuit, Norwegian Frode Grønvold has cracked his collarbone in three places, torn his rotator cuff, sprained his neck repeatedly, and withstood five brain-shaking concussions (quarterback Troy Aikman only had 10 in 12 seasons, the wuss). A serious beating to be sure, but it's the price Grønvold's willing to pay to wrench the Norwegian sport of telemarking from the bearded American hippies who co-opted it in the eighties and place it on the world stage alongside more widely accepted extreme sports. (OK, maybe he's too modest to conceive of such a scheme, but that's exactly what he's doing.) Credit the global shift to Grønvold's trademark get-low-and-get-back style, which lets him blitz the big-mountain steeps of Chamonix, Alaska, and Norway at eyeball-rattling speeds, and his ability to carve creative lines with a decidedly new-school flair. "There are so many freeriders who just choose a fast, aggressive line," says Grønvold, 23. "They don't see the playground in front of them." For Grønvold, of course, anything with powder and pitch is a playground—including terrain parks and half-pipes, where he routinely launches gonzo air and sticks backwards landings. Well, most of the time. "I throw some sick shit," he says. "It usually hurts a bit."

Second Opinion: "Of all the skiers we've filmed," says Josh Murphy, producer of the recently released ski movie Unparalleled II: Free World, "Frode is far and away the fastest and the smoothest."

Why You Shouldn't Pigeonhole Him: Grønvold is multi-glisse—he's gone huge in the pipe while locked into traditional alpine gear.

Next Big Thing: "My dream is to ski in the Himalaya, but I don't think I'm ready for it. I need some more climbing experience, and right now I try to do as little climbing as possible."—Marc Peruzzi

Jamie Burge

[HUCKING'S HIGH PRIESTESS]

Sure, the 24-year-old from Truckee, California, has won two North American Freeskiing Championships and torched the celluloid in snow-porn flicks like Butter and Empress, but being the first female hero of "gap jumps"—photogenic hucks over roads, moving trains, and resort-snowcat tracks—is Burge's trademark. To fully appreciate these superhero credentials, go join the photographers on the shoulder of one of her favorite Sierra highways in midwinter and watch as the five-foot-two powder keg hauls down the slope above the road, launches off a kicker she spent an hour manicuring with an avalanche shovel, calmly rolls into a full back flip over the asphalt, and rotates her skis earthward just in time to smoothly rail the pitch that drops down the other side. "I'm the token chick, which is fine by me," she says. "I've always felt like I could keep up with the guys no problem."—Rob Story

Chris Klug

[BIONIC SNOWBOARDER]

WHEN 29-YEAR-OLD Chris Klug sets his snowboard on edge, 210 pounds of speeding bullet-train power barrels down an icy slope. His body is rock-solid and steady, cantilevered at an impossible angle just above the snow, whipping down serpentine racecourses at speeds of up to 70 mph. That's a rather striking contrast to the guy you'll meet off the snow—a lantern-jawed, low-key, all-American guy-next-door who inhabits his own time zone. "I call it Klug time," says Klug's personal trainer Bill Fabrocini. "It's about half an hour behind the rest of the world."

You might slow down and smell the hot wax, too, if you'd been through what Klug has—specifically living with a rare, life-threatening liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis, which destroys the bile ducts, rendering the organ useless. After an anxious three years on a waiting list for a new liver—running back Walter Payton, who also suffered from PSC, died waiting for the right match—Klug received a transplant in July 2000. As if simple recuperation weren't enough, a mere seven weeks later, with a badass scar that looked like a shark bite arcing across his midsection, Klug was back training on snow.

Timid at first, Klug, who lives in Aspen, Colorado, eventually carved his way into form and had one of his best seasons ever, taking first place in the Chevy Trucks U.S. Grand Prix Tour in December 2000. Even off the snow, Klug's thirst for insane speed hasn't diminished. "When we go mountain biking, we hit the downhill and this guy is nuts," says Fabrocini. "He lives for more speed. Even though his body's at risk, he still goes fast."

This was the Klug everyone remembered. Since first strapping a board to his moon boots with duct tape in 1983, Klug has flown down the groomed tracks faster than humans should be allowed to. At 15 he became the American overall junior champion; at 19 he went pro. Now, after 18 years in the sport, a decade on the World Cup circuit, four World Cup gold medals, and a sixth place in the 1998 Olympics, he's the American single-planker with the best shot at a spot atop the Park City podium come February. If he has his way, he'll not only cap his career by fulfilling a long-held dream, but go into the athletic record books as, in his words, the "first transplant gold medalist."—Lisa Anne Auerbach

Land ho! Severin checks course during his sail from Oman to China.

Tim Severin

[FAR-FLUNG EXPLORER]

"A journey must meet two criteria to be worth all the time, effort, and risk," explains Irish explorer Tim Severin. "One: It must be original. Two: It must stand a reasonable chance of advancing the knowledge of mankind." And if these criteria define the difference between an explorer and a mere adventurer, then Tim Severin is the Magellan of our time. His 12 expeditions include sailing a hand-built medieval vessel from Oman to China in 1980-'81 to examine the tales of Sinbad the Sailor, skippering a tiny leather boat from Ireland to North America in 1976 in an attempt to prove that 6th-century Irish monks had the technology to discover the New World, and, last year, sailing among the fly-speck islands off Central America seeking the location that inspired the Robinson Crusoe fable. So what's next? "I prefer to do it first," says Severin, 61, "then talk about it." —Mark Jenkins

It takes focus: Having set the Channel record, Streeter now coaches other aspiring crossers.

Kelly Slater, Capistrano Beach, California, July 2001

Alison Streeter

[ENDURANCE SWIMMER]

To the elite corps of long-distance open-water swimmers, crossing the English Channel is the world's most prestigious accomplishment. For even the strongest, the mere thought of pulling across this treacherous fetch just once—23 miles of stiff currents, punishing chop, and hypothermic, 63-degree water temperatures—is enough to send a shiver right down to their Speedos. Which is why Streeter's record 40th crossing this past July isn't just notable, it's downright astonishing. How does Streeter, a 37-year-old currency trader in London, claim the lone triple crossing by a woman (in 1990) and count only a single thwarted effort out of her 41 attempts? "I have a really good ability to concentrate," she says. "In the Channel, you can't think too far ahead or you get overwhelmed. I just take each hour as it comes." —Nick Heil

Tao Berman

[EXTREME KAYAKER]

The Case: In August 1999, Tao Berman threw a couple of gallon jugs of water into the bow of his kayak and hurled himself over 98.4-foot Johnston Falls in Canada's Banff National Park to break the world waterfall record. "If I'd landed flat," he now says matter-of-factly, "it'd probably have shattered all the bones in my back." For Berman, the drop was little more than calculated risk—the water jugs ensured a clean, nose-first landing—but the unprecedented media coverage, and his flair for self-promotion, gave him a reputation among his peers as just another hucker looking for attention. So what's a hucker to do? In August 2001, Berman, 22, obliterated two more descent records in under 24 hours. First, screaming over five falls (100 vertical feet) in 19.38 seconds, he beat the previous speed-altitude descent record by just under a second. The breathless run required surfing across a hydraulic and catching a tiny eddy to avoid being tugged to certain death over five more unrunnable falls. The next day he paddled 210 vertical feet of cascading falls to break the vertical-distance descent record—a flight plan that included launching 20 airborne feet onto a 45-degree rock slab. That kind of technical composure should silence his critics. "My hope," says Eric Jackson, reigning freestyle-kayaking world champion, "is that Tao will let his feats speak for themselves."

Second Opinion: "I go out and find waterfalls I think he might like," says Eric Link, Berman's videographer in the Twitch series of extreme-kayaking videos. "If it's runnable, he'll find a line. It's like watching a dog point a bird."

Why He'd Be a Ringer on Fear Factor: Berman never gets scared. Before launch, he imagines every move until he knows he can do it.

Next Big Thing: Going back to the Asia Cup in Thailand and Sumatra this winter to defend his extreme-racing title.—Peter Heller

Marcus "Flash" Austin

[KITEBOARDING EVANGELIST]

The Case: Forget his total dominance of kiteboarding's seven biggest events in 2000; it's Austin's single-minded devotion to the fledgling sport that elevates him above the pack. In France last April, Austin dared to ride in a 78-knot windstorm—more than four times a kiteboarder's ideal breeze. Seconds after launch he got ripped from his board and was "tea-bagged" three times before eventually unleashing and breaking a rib. Why'd he do it? "Some windsurfers were saying kiters were wimps." It's the kind of martyrdom you'd expect, considering his fairy-tale ascent: Boy working as Daytona bartender falls hard for little skimboards and big kites, wows tourists by wind-skimming down the beach miles at a time. Boy sees photo of kiteboarding pioneers in Maui, moves there after selling everything he owns. Boy gets sponsored by Mama's Fishhouse (seriously), assumes superhero nickname, and becomes icon of booming new sport. Although Austin spent 2001 nursing his injury, he remains kiteboarding's most rapturous spokesman. "My soul longs/seeks/wishes/ wants to surf my own imagination, to fly," he writes on his Web site. "Kitesurfing is...a means to break free and indulge in Life's Glory!"

Second Opinion: Says Robby Naish, of Naish Kiteboarding, an Austin sponsor: "His enthusiasm has been good for the sport. You wanna sponsor him; you just kind of don't want to talk to him about kiteboarding."

Flash in the Pan? Hardly. Last summer, Austin made history by kiting across the North Sea—a 75-mile solo trip from Norway to Denmark.

Next Big Thing: Spreading the gospel. "I'd rather shun the limelight and teach the sport to people whose lives might be changed, like mine was." Hallelujah.—Steve Hawk

Pascal Cognard

[MASTER CASTER]

"The virus of fishing was transmitted to him by his father," reads a line of artless English translation on Pascal Cognard's Web site. What else could explain the divine affliction of a man who has won more individual World Fly-Fishing Championships than any other angler? "I am the man who can remember all the different techniques," Cognard claims, appraising the skills that have led France to three world titles. He won his second of three world championships in 1997 in Jackson Hole despite having rarely fished from a drift boat (it's illegal in France). While bumbling competitors tangled their tippets, Cognard was the picture of precision and efficiency, rarely back-casting, and neatly presenting three dry flies at a time. No bead-head nymphs? Merci, non. True purists, the French team considers the shiny contrivances too lurelike.—Florence Williams

Kelly Slater

[SURF GOD]

The Case: First, the numbers: youngest-ever professional world champ (age 20), second-largest pile of career prize money ($751,330, behind Sunny Garcia), most world titles (he quit the world tour after his sixth in 1998 largely due to competitive ennui). But those are just Cliff's Notes. Figuring out why Slater, 29, still rides waves better than any human in history is like trying to admire Einstein's theory of relativity—you need an advanced degree. Few surfers comprehend it. They praise his down-the-line speed, his lightning arcs in ghastly places, his ability to weave his way out of impossible tubes, even his onetime romance with Pamela Anderson. But a lot of top pros go fast, turn tight, make deep tubes, and date hot chicks. What, then? "Kelly's board is a pure extension of his mind," says Chris Malloy, who's surfed with Slater since he was 15. "His body works so perfectly with his brain that there's nothing lost in the translation between what he sees in his head and what actually happens on the wave."

Second Opinion: "He can handle pressure better than anyone I've ever known," says Rob Machado, who's finished second to Slater more times than he cares to count. "If 20 of his biggest peers are on the beach, he'll get the wave of the day...and blow everyone's mind."

Claim to Fame: In a sport that requires pretzeling into unnatural poses, Slater is a yoga teacher's dream: He can lie on his stomach and pull his feet flat to the floor beside his head.

Next Big Thing: Slater may consider another run at the world tour, but only if he can manufacture a new internal goal: "I guess it would be a nice challenge to see if I can come back and win the title after three years off." Whatever it takes. —Steve Hawk

Olivier de Kersauson

[ROUND-THE-WORLD SAILOR]

The Case: In the waterlogged, uncompromising world of offshore sailing, there is one route that, for its purity and sheer ruggedness, stands alone: around the world, nonstop, via the Southern Ocean. Record holders claim the Jules Verne Trophy, so named because the impudent sailors who dreamed it up a decade ago were convinced that a fast multihull sailboat could, like Phileas Fogg, girdle the globe in just 80 days. No one has pushed the concept with as much joie de vivre as the colorful and bombastic Frenchman who calls himself the Ocean Alchemist. De Kersauson, 57, who happens to be married to a descendant of Verne, is the only skipper who has managed two sub-80-day runs, and his record 1997 time of 71 days and 14 hours still stands. A protégé of France's first modern sailing hero, Eric Tabarly, whose single-handed exploits ignited the French passion for offshore racing, de Kersauson has almost certainly logged more miles in multihull sailboats than any other living sailor. And this past July, with characteristic élan, he launched the largest racing trimaran ever built, a 110-foot carbon-fiber beast called Geronimo. "Sometimes," says De Kersauson, "I think if I lived a thousand years and could sail around the world every year, I would."

Second Opinion: "He's one of a kind," says Antoine Sezerac, an editor at Voiles et Voilers, France's most popular sailing magazine. "Most of his friends have died at sea [including Tabarly, in 1998]. Now he is on his own and will chase records until the end of his life."

Qualifications as a Dramamine Pitchman: In pursuit of 20 different speed-sailing records—and sailing immortality—de Kersauson will average nine months at sea annually for the next five years.

Next Big Thing: Slashing his previous Jules Verne record to 60 days by sailing at speeds that could top 40 knots.—Tim Zimmermann

Geneviève Jeanson, Lachine, Quebec, September 2001

Geneviève Jeanson

[ROAD WARRIOR]

Jeanson has been raising bike-world eyebrows ever since she won an unprecedented two titles—both the time trial and the road race—at the 1999 World Junior Championships in Treviso, Italy. In her first pro season the following year, the wiry prodigy from Lachine, Quebec, dominated two major races—Australia's six-day, 294-mile Tour de Snowy and Belgium's storied Fleche Wallonne—plus over a dozen smaller events in the U.S. and Canada, often in times rivaling the leaders of the men's fields. This summer, at the Montreal World Cup, she blew away the biggest names in women's cycling, including World Cup points leader Anna Millward and three-time Tour de France winner Jeannie Longo, by more than seven minutes. "Geneviève is the most exciting prospect in women's cycling, with awesome ability and potential," says Jeff Jones, editor of the popular bike-racing Internet site cyclingnews.com. "She's lightweight and climbs hills extremely well. She also time trials well, making her a formidable stage racer, and she's very aggressive. She'll attack at any opportunity." Did we mention she's only 20?—Rob Buchanan

Roland Green

[HAMMERHEAD]

The Case: Here is just a smattering of Green's accomplishments over the 2001 season: NORBA short-track cross-country champion; NORBA cross-country champion; overall World Cup champion; winner, World Championships. This is no Cinderella story—Green's been racing bikes for 11 years, mountain bikes for six—but despite some strong results, nobody would have picked the 162-pound racer to overpower a sport that's been ruled by 140-pound climbing specialists built like jockeys with bulbous quads. What's more, he's from Canada, and everyone knows that since the days of Ned Overend and John Tomac, North American males haven't won squat in the sport they invented. So does Green represent a Great White Northern hope for riders of average build? Nah. "It's all about the motor," says Green, 27, who recently had his motor checked by a sports physiologist. "My lungs are one and a half times the normal size, and I have a heart that's double the size of someone my height." So, he's a freak. But at least (and note how quickly we adopt Canadian stars as our own) he's our freak.

Second Opinion: Training partner and fellow Canadian racer Ryder Hesjedal: "For a lot of years we just sat around saying, 'The Europeans are great, and wouldn't it be nice to get on the podium?' Last year Roland said he wanted to be the best, and he just went out and did it."

His Secret in the Slick Stuff: To remain as mud-free as possible at particularly quaggy events, Green coats his bike with Pam nonstick spray.

Next Big Thing: The road. After winning the prologue and the time trial at last Spring's Redlands Classic, a prestigious road race in California, Green has his eye on more time trials.—Marc Peruzzi

Chris Carmichael

[ULTIMATE COACH]

The Case: Chris Carmichael's training philosophy—equal parts sports science and touchy-feely sensitivity—has helped swimmer Ed Moses triumph at the 2000 summer Olympics, triathlete Peter Reid dust the field at the 2000 Hawaii Ironman, and that other guy, Lance Armstrong, morph from a raw talent to a three-time Tour de France champion. Whence cometh Carmichael's gold-medal touch? Even as he carefully measures miles pedaled and watts produced, he scrutinizes his athletes' mental health—happiness, stress level, and, above all, enthusiasm—and is quick to scale back training at the first sign of trouble. When Armstrong hit an emotional wall during his 1998 post-cancer comeback and almost quit racing altogether, Carmichael, a former pro himself, determined that the Texan was simply training too hard. By shortening the periods of intensity, he allowed Armstrong to regain his enthusiasm while building up his subthreshold aerobic fitness. The rest is now cycling history. "You have to leverage each success," says Carmichael. "You say, 'Look what you've done. You didn't think you could do it, but you could. Now, let's set the bar a little higher.'"

Second Opinion: "Chris broke his leg once, and for most pros, that would have been traumatic, but he was able to adapt and come back even stronger," says VeloNews editor John Wilcockson. "It made him realize that you can adjust your system or schedule for just about anything."

Best Career Move: At age 19, Carmichael blew off medical school in order to train for the 1984 U.S. Olympic cycling team before turning pro. "My parents were doctors. My brother and sister were studying to be doctors," says Carmichael. "But I wanted to see whether I could make it as a pro in Europe."

Next Big Thing: Taking his company, Carmichael Training Systems, mainstream by offering professional-caliber, Web-based coaching to amateur athletes.—Paul Roberts

Design revolutionary: Blenkarn tests a new ultralight Gore-Tex shell

Valli, right, with Himalaya star Thilen Lhondup

Michael Blenkarn

[GEAR GURU]

IF YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND the delicate combination of insane zeal and quirky genius that drives the design mind of Michael Blenkarn, try asking him a simple question like, Why does my raincoat leak? "Nylon likes water," the technology product designer at Arc'Teryx, the renowned Vancouver-based gear manufacturer, will tell you excitedly, before shifting into hyperbolic overdrive. "Can't get away from the stuff. As soon as you introduce something hydrophilic it's a negative vector, a small subversive element in your regime—like the French Resistance, blowing up bridges, hiding fugitives. I mean it didn't stop the enemy drive, but it was a pain in the ass..."

In the last six years, Blenkarn, 42, has been behind a list of seemingly small innovations that have collectively revolutionized the way outdoor gear fits and performs. He's taken garment seams and done the unthinkable: fastened them with glue instead of stitches to save weight and increase durability. He took the industry-standard seam width and simultaneously narrowed it and covered it with thin waterproof tape to create jackets that fit like custom Armani. And he took the confoundingly leaky zipper, an essential gear detail the industry had all but given up on, and made it watertight. Simply put, his ideas have been so fundamental and widely accepted (and sometimes downright ripped off), that if you purchase a high-end jacket or backpack today, it undoubtedly will have Michael Blenkarn's fingerprints all over it.

A 15-year veteran of product design, Blenkarn spent a decade learning the business as a designer at Mountain Equipment Co-Op (Canada's answer to REI) before joining Arc'Teryx in 1995. His success throughout has been fueled by a passion for the outdoors and a longstanding tenacity that sees Cold and Wet and Extra Weight as personal affronts. He remembers waking up in his first tent, at age nine, dumbfounded: "It was soaking wet. It hadn't even rained. Bit of a shock." He took the tent back to the store and learned about the demon Condensation. He's been trying to improve on every piece of outdoor gear he's owned since. These days, that means spending weeks fly-fishing in the perennially drenched British Columbia backcountry with a dozen outdoor-industry professionals to see whose miracle-coating jacket "wets out" first, or taking multiday, above-timberline mountain-bike trips in the snow, trying to stay comfortable carrying less than 35 pounds.

This winter Arc'Teryx will unveil two more Blenkarn designs that should once again stand the industry on its head. First, there's his three-person, 4.5-pound mountain-biking tent that comes with a stainless-steel wood stove. ("There's a synergy of weight saving here that's not at all obvious," he admits. No kidding, Mike.) Then there's the waterproof jacket he helped develop that weighs 304 grams—about half the weight of any of its functional predecessors. It's a quantum leap on par with shaving the back end off a kayak. "The way it's put together," says Wayne Gregory, founder of Gregory Mountain Products, "you almost can't look at it, it's so beautiful."

But since the elements never let up, neither will Blenkarn—he's still seeking perfection. "The Holy Grail is to marry a hydrophobic fluorocarbon with material that is also hydrophobic, and also pliable and abrasion-resistant..." We'll keep you posted on his progress. —Peter Heller

Andy Goldsworthy

[VISIONARY ARTIST]

Working with leaves, twigs, rock, snow, ice, and sand, Scottish sculptor Andy Goldsworthy has crafted some of the most beautiful works of art in the past quarter-century—and none of them survives. Dubbed a "master land artist," Goldsworthy, 45, builds ephemeral environmental artifacts that usually melt or decay within days of their making. He's welded shards of Scottish ice into a perfect sphere, stitched Japanese maple leaves into a brilliant red chain, created a Sputnik-like star out of icicles, and made enormous snow-brick doughnuts at the North Pole. With every piece (all photographed and documented in fine art books), Goldsworthy proves it's possible for human hands to disturb the natural world and create beauty, not destruction. Last year Goldsworthy mounted his most ambitious project yet, dropping 13 hippo-size snowballs on the streets of London on Midsummer's Eve, collecting the essence of one season and releasing it into another. "There's something very powerful about finding snow in summer," he explained. "It's as if the whole of winter has drained through that white hole."—Bruce Barcott

William McDonough

[EARTH-SAVING ARCHITECT]

The Case: The former dean of the University of Virginia's Architecture School, McDonough once announced he wanted nothing less than to redesign the world. He's off to a pretty good start. By creating structures that make oxygen, store carbon, harness energy as fuel, and provide habitat for hundreds of species, his firm, William McDonough + Partners, is slowly but surely transforming the once lifeless and inefficient buildings that house corporate America by applying a whole new aesthetic in which eco-effectiveness gets the same weight as profitability. Take his award-winning 1997 design for The Gap's corporate offices in San Bruno, California, which includes a "living roof" covered with six inches of dirt planted with native wildflowers and grasses that serves as a natural thermal and acoustic insulator. Or consider his 20-year, $2-billion renovation plan for the 454,000-square-foot Ford Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan: The complex will run on a highly efficient fuel- and solar-cell power system and be landscaped with toxin-absorbing vegetation. In short, McDonough's designs prove that buildings can be good for the environment, and for the bottom line. "Einstein never took on biology," he says. "But if he had, he'd have seen that the most elegant design in the universe is the world itself... To harness this power you have to honor, not thwart, nature's laws. You have to know what you want to grow—asphalt or trees?"

Second Opinion: "It only makes sense that people are inspired by Bill's vision," says Kevin Burke, a partner in McDonough's architecture firm. "But I can assure you that he's just now hitting his stride."

Air McDonoughs?: Beyond architecture, McDonough is designing sneakers for Nike with soles that decompose into soil nutrients.

Next Big Thing: The March publication of his book, Cradle to Cradle (North Point Press), a manifesto on green design.—Brad Wetzler

Michael Fay

[ENVIRO-CRUSADER]

TEN YEARS AGO, J. MICHAEL Fay was known to a coterie of conservation biologists as an opinionated wildman with some decent skills in the woods. Now, after painstakingly cataloging a rainforest the size of Texas during an epic 2,000-mile trek through the densest jungle thickets of West Africa—a 15-month project he named the Megatransect—his worldwide reputation as an advocate for wildlife has grown to nearly Goodall-like proportions. During the trek, which Fay completed on December 18, 2000, he walked daily from dawn to dusk, tackling swamps, raging rivers, and disease in nothing but nylon shorts and rubber sandals, and recorded everything from the composition of gorilla troops to the names of individual plants to the location of elephant dung. He never wavered from his mission: "I want to preserve as much forestland as possible," he says, "before I become a bum on the streets."

Fay's passion for Africa began more than a decade ago, when he and his wife, Andrea Turkalo, an American biologist, moved to the Central African Republic so Fay could research a doctoral dissertation on western lowland gorillas. By 1991, Fay was working full-time as a field biologist for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, through which he helped establish the 250,000-acre Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Reserve in 1990, and in 1993 the million-acre Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, both in Congo. The Megatransect idea came in 1996 during a flyover of the unexplored rainforests of northern Congo and Gabon. Realizing that loggers weren't far off, Fay decided that documenting the area's biodiversity might help save it—and might provide a long-sought opportunity to immerse himself in a simplified lifestyle. "I risked being ostracized," he says. "People thought it was harebrained, self-indulgent, frivolous." His wife called it a media stunt; others labeled him "Mega Mike."

When he finally came out of the woods, Fay's critics realized that his magnificent obsession was valid: The Megatransect, and Fay's fervent persona, moved people to action. The media attention helped raise millions of dollars for forest preservation and gave Fay access to the U.S. State Department and powerful banking officials, who he hopes will put pressure on African governments and logging companies. The Megatransect also drew international awareness to the Congo's 60,000-acre Goualogo Triangle, which government officials incorporated into Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in July. "He's done this thing that people consider unfathomable, beyond human capacity," says Cheri Sugal, director of Conservation International's global fund. "So he has a tremendous role to play in getting people to support these projects."

Now, with the long slog behind him, Fay has set up shop in Washington, D.C., where he's busy plugging his Megatransect into a 3-D modeling database, working with the WCS to raise $3.5 million to protect the Langoué Bai, a million acres of almost pristine Gabonese forest, and trying to adjust to life indoors. "The Megatransect fundamentally changed me," he says. Frustrated by city ordinances that bar him from camping in public parks, Fay has been sleeping on the floor of his office, relying on the generosity of coworkers for food, and riding his bike everywhere. If Langoué wins protection, Fay plans to attempt a second Megatransect, possibly across the Amazon Basin. If he's lucky, he won't have to come indoors for another three years.—Elizabeth Royte

Eric Valli

[MOUNTAIN AUTEUR]

The Case: At his lowest point—a month behind schedule, his $3.5 million shooting budget blown, his crew pinned down by a Himalayan snowstorm at 15,000 feet—French director Eric Valli turned to his wife Debra Kellner, the production's still photographer, and said, "We'll never pull this thing off." Au contraire. What he pulled off was his first feature film, Himalaya, an epic road picture set in the Dolpo, a region of Nepal that's a three-week walk from the nearest road. Since opening last March, the film has garnered two French Cesar Awards and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Just getting the film in the can required the most audacious bit of filmmaking since 1982, when Werner Herzog pulled a ship over a mountain in Fitzcarraldo. During production, director and crew trekked nearly 1,000 miles; one crew member nearly succumbed to high-altitude edema, and the on-screen talent, local Dolpo villagers who'd never acted before, threatened to revolt when filming ran late and kept them from bringing in their crops. Only Valli could have pulled off such a project. The 48-year-old veteran photographer and National Geographic documentary filmmaker has split his time between Paris and Nepal since 1972. Himalaya was inspired by the lives of two of Valli's Tibetan friends, one of whom plays the lead character in the film. "What's on-screen is what we experienced behind the camera," says Valli. "There were no special effects."

Second Opinion: "A film of unusual visual beauty and enormous intrinsic interest." —Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times. "An absorbing film...remarkable!" —Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times.

So Very French: Even in their darkest hours, Valli and his crew always kept a supply of wine and cigarettes on hand. One can't expect to survive on melted snow and yak butter forever, monsieur.

Next Big Thing: A second feature, for a major studio, may be in the offing. "I cannot say anything about it yet," says Valli, "but it will be a very big, very adventurous film."—Bruce Barcott

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