Dawson, Davenport pushed boundaries of winter ski mountaineering
Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum
Editor’s note: The following is part of a series of articles compiled by the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame that will take a closer look at the sport of alpine ski touring. The museum is located atop the Vail Village Parking Structure and features a treasure trove of ski history and heritage.
When Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame member Lou Dawson planted his poles and pushed off the summit of Colorado’s 14,165-foot Kit Carson Peak on May 9, 1991, he began a run that would culminate one of the greatest feats in American ski-mountaineering history. With his successful ascent and ski descent of Kit Carson, he became the first person to climb to and ski from the summit of all 54 of the state’s 14,000-foot peaks.
It was a project that began in 1978 with a descent of 14,265-foot Castle Peak. Along the way, Dawson’s quest was filled with both successes and setbacks, including life-threatening injuries from avalanches as well as first or second descents of extremely technical routes on mountains such as Pyramid Peak, Capitol Peak, Crestone Needle and the Maroon Bells, which appeared to be virtually unskiable at first.
Aside from the fact that Dawson never actually contemplated bagging all 54 peaks in a set amount of time, another reason it took him almost 13 years to complete his feat was the fact that he was forced to make multiple attempts at various peaks due to unsatisfactory snow conditions, vowing to ski from the summit and to ski the longest line of snow available in a normal year.
Not surprisingly, some 16 years later, the Carbondale resident also would play a role in the next great chapter of the Colorado winter fourteener story. Three years after his historic accomplishment, he published the two-volume “Dawson’s Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners,” a comprehensive year-round guide to the state’s 14,000-foot peaks, including snow climbs, technical routes, ski descents and classic hikes.
Enter a young and eager Chris Davenport. Shortly following his arrival in Boulder from New Hampshire to attend the University of Colorado, he was exploring a mountaineering store and came across Dawson’s guide books. At the time, Davenport was an up-and-coming alpine racer with a wild dream that he might actually be able to make a career out of skiing. He immediately fell in love with the book.
It was Shane McConkey that proved to be the next guiding force in steering Davenport’s career. “Dav” had moved to Aspen in 1993 and was working in the Snowmass race department when McConkey called with an invitation to join him at the U.S. Extreme Championships in Crested Butte.
Although he had never heard of the event, Davenport accepted the invitation. Driving home from the competition, he could not wait for the next event. His career turning point came in 1996, winning the World Extreme Championships in Alaska.
Fast-forward to summer 2005. The idea of climbing and skiing all of Colorado’s fourteeners in a single year first came to Davenport during a mountain bike ride. In his mid-30s, he felt that he might be nearing the traditional “end” of his professional skiing career and was looking for the ultimate encore.
Between Jan. 22, 2006, and Jan. 19, 2007, Davenport made his mark on Colorado ski history, . By his estimate, he recorded more than 200,000 vertical feet of climbing and skiing, with no avalanches and no serious injuries. Only one mountain, Long’s Peak, forced him back for a second attempt.
“Mother Nature deserves the most thanks,” Davenport said. “These peaks would never be skiable without the ample snow and good weather that we had. Lou Dawson was a huge inspiration for me on this project.”
“I think what Chris has done is not only an amazing and inspiring athletic accomplishment, but the way he’s going about sharing it and making it accessible to everybody is wonderful,” Dawson told the Denver Post.
Davenport has also and skied the adjacent Lhotse face. He has skied Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, is a two-time World Extreme Skiing champion and a Winter X Games medalist, while also checking off skiing Colorado’s 100 highest peaks from his bucket list. Dawson remains intimately connected to backcountry skiing and mountaineering through his work with Wildsnow.com, the Backcountry Ski Blog.
Ironically, the Aspen area is home to four men and the first woman who have accomplished the feat: Dawson, Davenport, Jordan White, Ted Mahon and Christy Mahon. Christy became the first woman to climb and ski all of Colorado’s fourteeners in 2010.
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