Is there anything sadder than drunk middle-aged white men swapping quotes from an ancient ski movie? There’s pretty much no ski lodge, bar or snow gathering that I haven’t seen, or been, that guy in the last 30 years. If the Blizzard of Ahhhs was ground zero for the extreme sport movement – whose shock waves still reverberate around the world – then Scot Schmidt was the detonator. Just one of the reasons why he is Fat Cantab’s Skier of the Week…
Every life hangs on a moment. Sometimes you know right away it’s a big deal. Sometimes clarity only comes with time. When Warren Miller saw the footage of this huck at the Palisades in Squaw Valley CA in 1983 he wrote Scot Schmidt a letter that changed his life and launched a totally new career path: the professional big mountain freeskier. Hopefully when your moment comes along they will spell your name right…
Photo: Jeff Engerbretson
Influence. Everywhere you look in modern skiing you’ll find Scot Schmidt’s fingerprints. In tangential and profound ways he changed the way people ski - from the 1980s to the present day. Another ski maverick Scott Gaffney has a remarkable ability to be on the scene when ski history is being made; if not in the driver’s seat then riding shotgun, an enviable perspective: “We all wanted to ski like Scot Schmidt, imitating his extreme cross and angulated turns. Several generations later, despite radical progression, everything we see in dynamic big mountain skiing today can probably be traced back to him. He is the root of it all.”
Photo: Chris Noble
Hollywood movie Aspen Extreme (1993) was never going to win an Oscar (its score on Rotten Tomatoes is 22%) but even people who watch arthouse cinema know you can’t make a pizza without a little cheese. Retaining two of the biggest legends in ski history as stunt doubles elevates this straight-to-video effort. That’s Scot Schmidt (left) and Doug Coombs (24/9/1957 – 3/4/2006) photographed during filming.
Why does a 30-year old ski jacket still sell for over $600? Money is an absurd, but convenient, measure of influence in a capitalist society. Collectability is sweetest of all nostalgias – with the comfort of advancing years you can buy what you coveted when young. Steep Tech was the original co-lab between Scot Schmidt and The North Face. He has been sponsored by TNF since 1983 – surely a record in the ski industry…
This clip from “Groove: Requiem in the Key of Ski” (1991) set the template for an Alaska segment: the mountains dominating every frame, a Vietnam vet pilot, skiers and snowboarders on the same team for once, unleashing a selection of high-calibre weaponry, and as a bonus Scot Schmidt wearing the most recognizable item of ski fashion in history.
Greg Stump’s magisterial editing is like another character in the film; his dramatic tempo and rapid cuts never quite overwhelm the action but always create something greater than the sum of the parts. I hope the latest crop of ski porn can match this artistry and survive the oblivion of skiing’s relentless progression. Slap on your headphones and turn up the volume – it’s time to get a little crazy…
Any competent gymnast can learn a trick, it takes a genius to define the possible... another reason why this is J F Cusson Week at FC.
The J F Cusson NCAF Salomon 1080 is, perhaps, the most iconic ski of the 20th Century. And the cheapest of the 21st…The real question is: now I have bought J F Cusson’s skis for $45 will I be able to ski like him?
Around the time this photo was taken (1998-9) skiers were banned from halfpipes and some “experts” thought that the ski simply wasn’t a functional tool for the steep transition in a quarter pipe. JF Cusson destroys these absurdities with a text-book japan grab…
JF Cusson Propaganda segment (2001) - perhaps the tricks, style and amplitude are compressed by today’s standards. But consider this metric: what percentage of the tricks in your edit or X-games run did you invent yourself? JF Cusson: one of the most innovative skiers ever.
1. Your binding setting will be incorrect in exact proportion to the distance to the nearest screwdriver.
2. A group of snowboarders will travel at 75% of the speed of the slowest member.
3. The chance you will be required to fit snow chains increases in proportion to the likelihood you have left them in the basement.
4. The good humour of the lifties is inversely proportional to fresh powder depth. Or the magnitude of your hangover.
5. Your new fat skis will be 20mm wider than the widest available binding brake in the country.
6. A terrified tourist will only attempt the Mt Olympus road in a campervan with no chains if they have just pulled in front of you.
7. The more carbon fibre to found in your skis, boots, bindings and avalanche probe the more likely that you work in the medical or legal professions.
8. Avalanche danger is inversely proportional to the battery life in your transceiver.
9. The slower the driver the less likely they are to pull over on a powder day.
10. The more expensive your snow tyres the more likely that Fedex will ship one to Australia. I wish I was making this shit up.
11. The greater the period since you last waxed your skis the longer the distance you’ll have to traverse on a given day.
12. The more you believe that what’s best for the ski industry is also what’s best for skiing the more likely you are to own a ski business.
13. For any group of more than four snowboarders the chance that a particular one is sitting on their arse adjusting a binding at any one time rises to over 90%.
14. The more you know that you should have been here yesterday the more likely some jackass will say, “you should have been here yesterday.”
The improbable true story of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 1:
Before the X-games, park, pipe or street skiing, before snowboarding, before ‘freeskiing’ or ‘extreme’ there was only Hot Dogging. Kudos consisted of hucking your carcass off a big cliff. The earliest cliff jump records are lost in the mists of time. But we have to start somewhere – this is Tod McCoy in 1971 at Sun Valley Idaho. I’m calling 50 foot… inverted.
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 2:
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 2:
A recurring motif in skiing progression is this: it’s always easier when someone else has done it first. At the start of the 1980s people weren’t sure if the human body was able to handle a 100-foot drop into snow. Water; sure. Concrete; probably not. But snow? Nobody knew for sure. Step up the most iconic figure in the history of freeskiing: Scott Schmidt smashing through the 80-100 foot barrier at The Palisades, Squaw Valley California in 1983/4.
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 3:
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 3:
During the late 80s and early 90s Paul Ruff and John Tremann fought a battle royale for cliff hucking supremacy. While filming for Warren Miller at Kirkwood CA in 1989 Tremann set the first recorded ‘official’ world record of 105 feet. Moments later Ruff dropped the same cliff, sailing past Tremann’s bomb hole for 112 feet. Shit, as they say in the classics, was about to get real. This was the start of one of the most epic rivalries in ski history…
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 4:
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 4:
Paul Ruff kept his record less than two years. When John Tremann dropped 145 feet at Donner Summit in California 1991 it triggered a serious of events that left one of the protagonists dead and the other a born-again Christian. There is a teaser of the jump in this trailer for “Skiing Extreme IV- Extreme Force” (Possibly the most epic title in the history of cinema) at 1:40…
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 5:
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 5.
Paul Ruff wanted to retake the world record, cement his legacy, sell the footage for perhaps $500,000 and retire from the game. On the 29th of March 1993 he stood atop a 160-foot cliff in the Kirkwood backcountry. It wasn’t a straight drop: significant speed was required to clear the rocks at the base of the cliff. Just before take off, for reasons known only to himself, Ruff speed checked. He landed on his back 10 feet short of the snow on a rock shelf at the cliff base and bounced thirty feet into the air. Ruff suffered massive internal injuries including tearing his aorta away from his heart and was dead within the hour. At the time Ruff’s death was invariably reported as a cautionary tale; the jump was too risky, the payday a pipe dream, just the tragic tale of a washed-up poster boy. I prefer to see Ruff as chasing the American Dream: confidently rolling the dice whatever the odds. This, surely, is the most attractive characteristic of the citizens of that great nation.
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Interlude:
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Interlude.
Before we count down the current podium positions let’s consider the record inverted cliff jump: Julian Carr with a lazy 210-foot front flip in Engelberg Switzerland. Carr prefers to front flip from these monster cliffs – the rotation offers more control and less wind interference than trying to maintain a static position. Julian also holds the World Record Cliff in Competition: a 140-foot front flip at the 2006 US Freeskiing Nationals. Crazy? Nah, he has been doing these hucks for too long for it to be anything but cold, calculated athletic achievement…
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 6:
A History of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 6.
When Kiwi ripper Paul Ahern pulled into the start gate of a Big Mountain Freeride comp in the 1990’s the banter stopped; cigarettes dangled from lips, knuckles whitened clutching beer bottles, and all eyes were fixed on Paul. You never knew what to expect: big drops or goat lines at the outer limits of what is skiable. Ahern would ski away from crashes that would put most competitors in the meat wagon. Paul never ragdolled – he was strong enough to fight the laws of physics all the way down. In 1999 he secured 6th place at the World Heli Challenge despite a crash on the extreme day off a 60' cliff.
Paul had regularly dropped cliffs of around 100 feet when he saw the video of John Tremann’s 145-foot world record. Ahern reckoned that with a low-profile ski tip and rock-solid body position he could go bigger – and land cleaner. He started training by dropping the 40’ “Breakfast” rocks at The Remarkables, New Zealand, first run every ski day. As a jump master for A J Hackett Bungy Queenstown he used the unlimited free jumps (with skis on) to practice holding form.
When Paul stepped up to this cliff above Lake Alta at The Remarkables in 1995 conditions were not ideal. At the top he was “scared as hell” but after waiting for about an hour for the clouds to clear he realized it was now or never. The death of Paul Ruff (killed attempting a 160 footer) weighed heavily on him. One of his reasons for dropping this cliff was to prove it was possible and vindicate Ruff whose death was an error of technique rather than concept.
Paul Ahern launched 225 feet into a flatish (38 degree) landing of what could charitably be described as springtime mush. His impact was spectacular; a freight train hit that left him tender for a couple of weeks. According to Paul, “I figured I was going 83 Mph on impact and I made a six-foot crater, which converts to 37.33 G's. Comparably, the average plane crash is only 25 G's.” His first thoughts after landing (besides “Sorry God”) were “I am never going to do this again”. Strength and solid body position allowed him to ski away with just a suspected broken sternum. Paul spent the night in Frankton Hospital under observation but full body X-rays didn’t reveal any fractures. For cliffs of this size Paul advises a body check; “Don’t land on your feet unless you want to push your knee caps through your collarbones and wind up two feet tall…”
Final shout outs from Paul: “Thanks to Martin Jones and K2 NZ for keeping me in ski gear, A J Hackett, and my ski buddy Matt Duncan who recently passed away.”
Thanks to Casey Cane for this awesome throwback – the jump is at 42:18...
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 7:
A History of the World Record Cliff Jump – Part 7.
Fat Cantab favourite and the ultimate balls-out huckster Jamie Pierre holds a special place in ski history. He undoubtedly possessed the styliest mute grab when floating 150+ feet above the snow. Never given the respect his due in his lifetime his escapades were often reported in the North American ski press with hauteur and derision. Photographer Lee Cohen, who worked with him frequently, was on the money: “Jamie didn't get his due credit as a skier. He was more talented than anyone knew."
Here at FC we’ve always loved Jamie’s body of work: a relentless attack on the mountain invariably taking the hardest option. Pierre was the first to land and flip over the Pyramid Gap and the first to Lincoln loop over 160 feet – his resume looks like a bunch of stills from a computer game.
In 2006 he stepped up to this 255-foot monster behind Grand Targhee resort. It’s around 20 feet higher than the Golden Gate Bridge. The only reason people drop that one is in order to die. Google’s Sergey Brin estimated that Pierre was almost at terminal velocity when he hit the ground. Jamie suffered a cut lip when they shovelled him out but was otherwise uninjured. See the video below.
Jamie Pierre died in an avalanche at Snowbird, Utah on 13th of November 2011. He was 38.
A history of the World Record Cliff Jump – The Finisher:
A History of the World Record Cliff Jump – The Finisher.
While filming a warm-up run in the Alps in 2008 Fred Syversen made a 352-foot wrong turn and unintentionally set the World Cliff Jump Record. Or did he? Controversy reigns but consider this: when Fred realized at the last minute that he was about to be sent airmail he made three decisions that saved his life: (1) He pointed it (2) he made a slight right hand turn to take him away from the rocks and (3) in mid-air he turned to his side so that he didn’t land on his ABS gas bottle and break his spine.
Fred was buried 2.5 metres deep and was unconscious when his crew dug him up but soon recovered his sparkle – if only to punch out the chopper pilot for missing the shot. Syverson skied away with only minor damage to his liver.
Former record holder Paul Ahern doesn’t think this jump counts: “He needs to go back up there and do it again. It’s gotta be deliberate.”
What do you think?
This is the Whillans Ramp on Cerro Poincenot in Argentine Patagonia. A thin finger of steep, dazzlingly exposed, wrongly cambered snow reaching out as if from the hand of fate. In 2012 Andreas Fransson nailed this decent. Andreas was skiing’s apex predator; hunting always in the rarefied air where ski mountaineering intersects with big-mountain freeskiing. Andreas skied heavily exposed lines better than anyone in history; one of the reasons he is FC’s Skier of the Week…
“Tempting Fear” is the best introduction to Andreas Fransson’s life and work. With first descents including the South Face of Denali (6197m), blower powder in Norwegian couloirs and lashings of intense philosophy (which – from any other forum or author - would be completely fruity) make this an epic of the short-form ski film maker’s art…
Andreas Fransson had a background in freeski competition and was a demo-team-level ski instructor in Sweden. Here’s how Powder Magazine described him in 2012: “that’s right Action Sports Industry, the leading candidate for gnarliest dude in the world is a Swedish ski instructor with a receding hairline and a penchant for quoting William Blake.” You-fall-you-die skiing turned Fransson into a philosopher. Or maybe it was the other way around. The astonishing fluency with which he wrote in his second language provides the best window into his mind, and world. Chamonix was his proving ground and spiritual home; the world’s most easily accessible death-gnar smorgasbord. Photo – Tero Repo.
Drones have made aerial ski footage ubiquitous to the point of boredom. Maybe I’m just being old school but big mountains always look best when shot from the chopper. Who takes the honours – the helicopter pilot or Andreas Fransson?
You can tell a lot about a man by his toys. In 2013 Andreas Fransson packed his kit and came to NZ for a steep skiing blitzkrieg with his great mate Magnus Kastengren. Kiwi rippers Tyrone Low and Nick Begg joined the pair to ski the East face of Aoraki (Mt Cook).
It’s worth quoting Tryrone at length:
“Nick and I first met Andreas (and Magnus) at Unwin Lodge in October 2013 - we immediately knew who he was but he made no attempt to reference the fact that he was a big deal in the ski mountaineering world when we got talking to him. He struck me as both humble and reserved - I think he took pleasure in simply blending in and being in the moment.
We flew into Plateau hut together and quickly decided we would all work together given we had the same objective. We set off in the early hours and while moving through some difficult terrain lower down on the face it became apparent that these guys weren't cowboys. They approached objective danger with deliberation and took the necessary precautions to reduce risk. Andreas lead most of the 1600 vertical meters to the summit - delicately placing his feet rather than kicking them. He stressed the importance of conserving energy while still moving fast. It was humbling to see him move so quickly.
We enjoyed an incredible sunrise high up on Aoraki's east face - the energy gleaming from the Swedes was contagious. We skied the upper ice cap in horrendous conditions and Andreas made the face itself look like a groomed blue run despite the now sun-affected powder lining the face and the blue ice lurking not too far below the surface. Back at Plateau hut we asked Andreas how he achieved such a seemingly superhuman level of fitness. "I do yoga" he said. "And I ski a lot". Clearly that was an understatement.
Andreas was a deep thinker who truly loved being in the mountains. He enjoyed the aesthetic component of skiing a particular line and had an eye for (cue Swedish accent) a "super nice splitter couloir". He had a passion for forging new territory in the mountains and it was a privilege to watch him do this on a first ascent of the Bowie Couloir off Zurbriggens ridge. A man who is no doubt still sorely missed by his friends and family.”
Magnus Kastengren fell to his death from the top of Mt Cook on the approach to the Caroline Face on November 4th 2013. The best perspective on these events is undoubtedly Andreas’ blog. Scroll down to the section on New Zealand. Tom Grant (who skied the Caroline Face in 2017) said, “I have no doubt they would have succeeded had Magnus not fallen.”
We must all confront death eventually. Extreme skiing, by its nature, tends to hasten that rendezvous. Andreas Fransson and freeski legend J P Auclair were killed by an avalanche on Mount Saint Lorenzo in Chile on 29th September 2014. This video is a fitting tribute by good mate Bjarne Salen. It is a hard heart that isn’t moved to see these men set off into the early morning darkness, when we know they only have a few hours to live. Is that a photo of JP’s baby son Leo stuck to his ski?
Kent Kreitler invented modern skiing. He is the most criminally underrated skier of his, or any other, generation. With new tricks in the park and big turns in Alaska he sketched the blueprint that today’s pro skiers can only embellish. That’s why its Kent Kreitler week here at Fat Cantab. Let’s kick things off with a cork 3 (on DH boards) in 1994 at the Squaw Valley park…
Is this the first documented grab by a skier ever? Kent Kreitler in 1994. A bottle of Penfolds ‘Grandfather’ Tawny Port to anyone who can provide definitive proof of an earlier, or if multiples then earliest, deliberate grab. Of their ski, jackass...
At some point in the mid 90’s landing a cliff with a butt check was outlawed and stompage became mandatory – no matter how big or consequential the drop. Kent Kreitler was untroubled by this transition. Here winning the Powder Video Awards ‘Best Line’ in 2003. I’ve rarely seen huge terrain so categorically dwarf a skier – and yet somehow allow the skier to address the mountain on something like equal terms. This figure of Kent should be a case study for graphic design students on reduction to the absolute essential: it is not possible for him to be smaller and still be recognizably a skier.
Personality drives performance; it is the desire to be remembered that pushes us into the unknown. Prior to this advertisement in 1998 pro skiers rarely emerged from behind their goggles. With snowboarding transcendent it was thought that skiers didn’t deserve the burden of celebrity. Whether you think this ad is a total sell out or the crux moment in the creeping professionalism of freeskiing says more about your personal prejudices than anything interesting regarding the K2 Factory Team. That’s Kent looking sharp in the white singlet and ‘phat’ jeans…
For the last 20 years when pro skiers talked about “taking my park game to the backcountry” it was code for “I’m thinking about retiring from competition”. Kent was there earlier and going bigger.
Could there be a photo that better captured the zeitgeist in 1998? Kent Kreitler busting the most famous trick in ski history, on his own pro model ski, during a down day of the World Heli Challenge, high above…I can’t imagine where that is. Nice shot by old mate Harro.
That’s a wrap for Kent Kreitler Week! Massive shout out to Kent for his work past and present. Let’s finish up with another facet of his deep back catalogue: pioneering big fast turns on Alaskan peaks…
Bravado is the best inoculation against injury.
The cheaper your season pass the less days you will actually go skiing.
The more famous a ski resort is for its powder snow the more difficult it is to find powder there.
The more you practice with your avalanche transceiver the less likely you are to be caught in an avalanche.
The older I get the better I was.
The more expensive your ski outfit the less vertical metres you’ll ski in it.
The best avalanche forecasters die in avalanches.
The more you wax your skis the more you have to… wax your skis.
You only ski at your best when you’ve scared yourself past the point of fear.
Your best ski day ever is always…your last day’s skiing.
There are always lots of good reasons not to go skiing. None of them are any good.
The frothiest skiers in May, hardly ski a September day…
The more ski videos you watch the less days you’ll get on the hill.
At the Nagano Olympics in 1998 Hermann Maier went aeronautical and flew off the downhill course at 120 km/h; after 3.5 seconds of hangtime he smashed through three safety fences. “It wasn’t Lufthansa, but it was OK,” he said. Two days later he took gold in the super G and later also in the Giant Slalom.
Closed book, no device exam of three (3) hours
Design a thought-activated avalanche airbag backpack that fully inflates in <300ms, protects the vital organs, ensures non burial and requires no notification when flying with major airlines. Retail price should be <300 Euros. And weight <2 kgs. (Provide 3D schematics, tooling, Gant chart of product development. 10 points out of 100)
Who is the greatest skier of all time? Justify your choice. (1000 words – 5 points)
Bluff your way into VIP parking at each of Canterbury’s commercial ski resorts. (Practical – 15 points)
Survey the last 6000 years of skiwear focusing on those periods when that which was practical was also fashionable. (1000 words – 5 points)
Design and build an accurate global snowfall forecasting app. (Provide source code – 10 points)
Describe the ways in which a ski club committee always knows best. (10,000 words – or more if required – 1 point)
Sketch the limits and complexities of ski competition; quantitative (measured) vs qualitative (judged) – which is the most legitimate? (2000 words – 5 points)
Summarize the cultural and technological cross pollination between skiing and snowboarding since 1985. Provide a timeline. Which sport got the better deal? (1000 words – 10 points)
Defog a pair of goggles on a chairlift. In a storm. (Practical – 5 points)
Graph the average velocity of gold medal winners of the Olympic Downhill (male and female) over the history of the winter games. Elucidate the various factors – technical, cultural and technological – that increased average speed of competitors focusing on paradigm-shifting athletes. (Graph + 1000 words – 9 points)
Describe in detail how a three-antenna avalanche beacon works. Start at the atomic level and work your way up. (2000 words – 5 points)
Locate all parties of a deep, widely dispersed, multiple-burial avalanche scenario. In a white out. By yourself. In under seven minutes. (Practical avalanche beacon search – 20 points)
Once all this shit is over…come fly the friendly skis!
Fat Cantab Airways launches with the following routes:
Springfield to Castle Hill (non-stop overnight)
Darfield to Glenthorne Station (one stop – Terrace Downs)
Oxford to Cass (express service)
Rangiora to the Bealey Spur Hotel