Dispatches, April 1997
Sport: Carving Toward Destiny?
Chris Davenport tries to secure the top spot in extreme-skiing history–on his own terms
By Michael Finkel
E A R T O T H E
G R O U N D
“He had her by the throat. She had a horrible death. It totally bummed me out for the whole day and the rest of my vacation, and they never even offered to refund our money.”
–Dawn Breen, after seeing a male white tiger choke a female white tiger to death at Sigfried and Roy’s Secret Garden in Las Vegas, Nevada. A crowd of tourists watched for 30 minutes before employees attempted to seperate the two felines.
How does Chris Davenport ski? “Well,” he says. “It’s a sort of wide-open, full-on, super-fast-and-aggressive, big-turning, go-for-it, no-hold-back, all-or-nothing kind of style. Know what I mean?”
Uh, sure. Oversell is endemic within the jacked-up world of extreme skiers, but at least Davenport backs it up. Last winter, the 26-year-old Massachusetts native won the World Extreme Skiing Championships in Valdez, Alaska, by taking a never-before-skied line. In December, he and teammate Tyler Williams placed second, a mere minute and a half behind Austrian defending champions
Axel Naglich and Christopher Reindl, in the 24 Hours of Aspen, a 200,000-plus-vertical-foot downhill race widely considered to be the world’s most demanding ski event. This month, after a winter spent near the top of the standings on the inaugural International Free Skiers’ Association tour, he’s seeking to become the first back-to-back winner in the Valdez event’s seven-year
history. “It’s about to happen,” he says, a rather confident guarantee that’s a little startling coming from someone who looks and acts–off the slope at least–like Noah Wylie’s meeker little brother.
Most observers of the extreme scene, however, take Davenport at his boastful word. “The only way someone can beat him,” says Doug Coombs, a Valdez champion in 1991 and 1993, “is by taking a truly risky line–something Davenport’s too smart to do–and managing to hold it together. Otherwise, it’s Chris again.”
What seems to set Davenport apart is his racing background, an unusual credential among top extremists. Davenport’s father, Mike, and sisters Kate and Ashley all competed for the U.S. Ski Team, and Chris is a four-time Junior Olympian who also raced for the University of Colorado. “Ski racing,” he says, “taught me to be a technically perfect skier. If I’m on a you-fall, you-die
slope, I know I’m not going to fall.” Such control, ironically, informs the main rap against Davenport’s skiing; critics claim he’s timid about big air. In response, he points out that he spent last summer paragliding near his home in Aspen, both to undercut his doubters and to accustom himself to the yawning sensation of launching off cliffs. Even so, while big air might please
the crowd, Davenport says it’s not in itself the mark of a great extreme skier. “I’m comfortable skiing 90 miles an hour and I’m comfortable skiing off a 70-foot drop,” he says. “But I’m not into speed for speed’s sake or hucking my body off some cliff–anybody can do that. Mostly, I just want to put together a really pretty run.”