Davenport eyes next challenge: CO’s 14ers
November 29, 2005
Chris Davenport has climbed and skied Makalu in the Himalayas, the world’s fifth-highest peak, at 27,765 feet. He skied the first descent on Nepal’s 23,390-foot Baruntse.At age 34, the Snowmass resident has graced the big screen in 14 feature films and is a two-time world champion. It seems as though Davenport has climbed every mountain in the world of freeskiing. Not so fast.Ironically, the newest and grandest challenge of his career will take place in his own back yard. Davenport recently announced his intent to become just the second person ever to climb and ski Colorado’s 54 peaks over 14,000 feet. There is a twist: He wants to be the first to do them all in one calendar year. The Ski the 14ers Project is slated to begin in January. “I’ve climbed the Himalayas and skied all over the world, but I’ve never undertaken a singular challenge as big in scope as this,” Davenport said Wednesday. “I’ve been making films and have been in magazines for a decade, but I think this will be something that is more challenging and more rewarding. It will be soulful, introspective and a cool story.”It is a grueling conquest that will demand diligent preparation, determination and a little help from Mother Nature. Lou Dawson of Carbondale – the first and only man on record to ski all 54 peaks – began with a descent of Castle Peak in 1978. Dawson accomplished his goal 13 years later, after his 16-mile, 16-hour ascent and descent of Kit Carson Peak in southern Colorado.Crested Butte skier Sean Crossen was the first to attempt to ski all the fourteeners in one year in 2002, Dawson said. Dry conditions and time limits cut him short. Jason Ivanic skied all the fourteeners, but one – Culebra Peak – in 2003-04.
“Jason really showed us that something like this is possible,” Dawson said. “I’ve been a big fan of Chris over the years. For him to key in on something like this is wonderful for me to see, and it was humbling when he came to me.”While the anticipation and adrenaline builds a month from the projected starting date, Davenport remains realistic. With perfect weather this winter, he said, he has a 99 percent chance to reach his goal. With an average Colorado winter, he believes those chances drop to 50 percent. “This is not a challenge from a technical standpoint, but a logistical one,” Davenport said. “You never really know where the snow is going to be. There are so many variables to this project. I’m going to be an amateur meteorologist.”While this is no itinerary, Davenport plans to begin in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado while he works at a camp at Silverton Mountain. During January and February – when the conditions are often unstable – Davenport hopes to ski five to seven of the fourteeners with gentle slopes. Thirty of the peaks will provide true challenges that will demand spring snowpack in order to complete, Davenport said. The snow will warm during the day, then cement itself to the slope as it freezes during the night. Skiing these slopes during the morning hours should limit the risk of avalanche.Davenport expects his biggest challenges exist in the Sangre de Cristo Range near the New Mexico border, where steep peaks like Little Bear, Blanca and Ellingwood loom. The project’s success could hinge on the snow conditions on the treacherous peaks of Maroon, Pyramid and Capitol peaks that surround Aspen. Only one skiing line – Knife Ridge – has ever been completed on Capitol Peak. Davenport is hoping steeper, more aggressive routes will be possible on each descent he undertakes. “Its really exciting to see a guy like Chris tackle this,” Dawson said. “He’s so incredibly talented, and I know he won’t make any compromises because he has the skills to handle this stuff. Guys like Chris can make a mountain weep.”
Between his descents, Davenport will wait. Friends slated to join him on select voyages – Shane McConkey, Chris Klug, Matt Ross and Fletcher Yaw, among others – will be on standby. Photographer Tomas Zuccareno will have his camera prepped; noted documentary filmmaker Ben Galland will be ready for action. Even Dawson and Davenport’s wife, Jesse, are planning to join in the experience. When the weather provides a a large enough window, Davenport will be ready, relying on his intuition as well as Dawson’s knowledge and experience as guidance. “I’m going to follow in Lou’s footsteps,” said Davenport, who has climbed 34 of the peaks, but to date has skied just 12. “He’s been like a mentor to me. He knows the best access and has been telling me which trail heads to take.”Davenport will have an added advantage when, for one month in the spring, he will travel throughout the state in a rental RV that allows him to set up a base camp on location. From there, Davenport will be able to monitor conditions closely. when timing is right, he will let the instincts developed over a lifetime of climbing and skiing take over.Fans will be able to chart the project’s progress on the web at http://www.skithe14ers.com and will be able to register to receive e-mail updates. The site will launch around Christmas, Davenport said. An idea first hatched on a summer bike ride is now in motion.”I was thinking about the winter and what my goals were,” Davenport said. “I could have floated through the season and do the status quo like ski films and magazine shoots. I wanted to put my time and energy into a goal that stands the test of the time. Who can remember who was in a ski film last year?”
After a winter season in 2004-05 in which he spent two months away from home, Davenport said the opportunity to stay close to home with his two young sons, Stian and Topher, and wife was added motivation.Davenport has been spending days skiing hard on Ajax and helped ski patrollers bootpack Highland Bowl in exchange for some coveted first tracks in Deep Temerity. After three months in the gym this fall building strength, power and explosiveness, as well as increasing his aerobic exercise routine, Davenport is primed for the challenge of his career.He isn’t interested in the publicity or media frenzy his project is sure to generate. His goal is to test his limits, to complete one of Colorado’s last great mountaineering challenges and inspire others to explore the state’s natural wonders. If he is successful, Davenport’s website will remain intact, allowing people easy access to weather reports and mountain tips. A proposed coffee-table book will document the peaks from a skier’s perspective for the first time, Davenport said. He is well aware of the risks and potential failure, but Davenport knows ultimate success does not rest solely on his skis. If 54 peaks have not been crossed off the list come June when the mountains begin to thaw, he says, completing the peaks next November and December would still satisfy the goal. Davenport is anxious to start his six-month odyssey.”I’m nervous just talking about it,” Davenport admitted, “but no more nervous than in the starting gate at a freestyle contest or dropping in on a film line. There are only a few last great challenges out there. It’s always good to be the first.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org