Q: What’s the difference between skiing a fourteener and skiing ‘on’ a fourteener? A: Depends on whether you care
Jason Ivanic pauses when asked about the fallout following his exploits on Colorado’s fourteeners during a 4 1/2 month stretch in the winter and spring of 2004.”I kind of just do my own thing, so I don’t consider myself a part of the community,” Ivanic said Monday from Tulsa, Okla.Against his will, the Colorado School of Mines graduate has been thrust into a debate about mountaineering standards and personal motivation. Many have cried injustice because they feel the 27-year-old hasn’t been given his due for skiing all of the state’s 14,000-foot peaks. They compare his accomplishment to those of ski mountaineering pioneer Lou Dawson, Snowmass extreme skier Chris Davenport and Crested Butte’s Sean Crossen. Davenport set out on Jan. 21 to climb and ski all 54 in a calendar year; Crossen’s assault on the state’s highest peaks began in 2001 – Capitol Peak is the only one that has eluded him. When Ivanic set out to ski the fourteeners, he never imagined his purely personal pursuit would be used to scrutinize the state of ski mountaineering. After all, he was just a kid with a $10,000 credit-card limit, a digital camera and a passion for the mountains.”The spotlight is for entertainers, and there you have so many expectations and supernumerary balls to juggle,” Ivanic said. “I just did it for myself.
“As for being the second person to ski all of Colorado’s fourteeners, and the first to do it all in one year … whatever. It is such an arbitrary goal that I don’t really care if anyone recognizes it.”But others do care. In light of Davenport’s current mission, mountaineering debates are playing out on barstools and over the Internet. Some feel that Davenport’s highly publicized, professional pursuit threatens the sanctity of the backcountry. Others parse language, wondering what it really means to “ski” a fourteener versus ski “on” a fourteener. To Davenport, the distinction is clear.”It means to me that you did the climb and got to the top,” Davenport said. “I think that’s the simple way to see it. I’m not trying to be holier than thou, but I think that’s what makes sense to most people. The summit is the goal. You don’t run a marathon and stop 200 meters short of the finish. Mountaineering should be no different.”I try and do what Lou did.”
Dawson was the first person to summit and ski each of the state’s 14,000-foot peaks, in an odyssey that began on top of Castle Peak in November 1978 and concluded with a descent down Coles Couloir on Kit Carson Peak on May 9, 1991. He has been criticized for his high standards, for acting as some grand arbiter of ski mountaineering. One blogger on Teton Gravity Research’s (TGR) online forum commented, “I don’t believe that being in the [Colorado Ski Hall of Fame] is equivalent to the position of President of the United Fourteeners of Colorado.”The Carbondale resident balks at such statements. He felt an obligation to follow in the footsteps before him. “I’ve got my own value system, and I’ll admit it, climbing a peak and having some goals related to the summit is really important to me,” Dawson said. “I know that’s not everybody’s way of doing it, and I have no problem with that. If you start talking about people’s accomplishments, the easiest way to do that is to be as clear as possible about what is done up there.”There’s no baseball commission or group that decides the rules. And if Chris and Sean were lax with their standards, they could’ve been done months ago.” Dawson said he was guided by common wisdom. The consensus in the mountaineering community is that those who claim to have skied a fourteener skied the best – and often the longest – continuous line available during an average snow year, almost always from the exact summit. Only a handful of peaks are not skiable from the top, notably Wetterhorn in the San Juans, which has a rock pinnacle.Dawson said he endeavored only to remain in line with traditional mountaineering standards, and to be honest about his accomplishment. This was especially important because he was claiming first descents on a handful of peaks, including La Plata, South Maroon, Capitol, Crestone, Little Bear and Snowmass.If a skier must traverse to connect snow patches that would normally be continuous, but weren’t because of early- and late-season conditions or drought, Dawson said that shouldn’t count as a descent. While he admitted there are gray areas, Dawson contends that standards are set by what came before, as is the case in other sports.”I looked at who was up there before I was. Chris Landry skied from the summit [on Pyramid], so there was no way I was going to tell people I skied it if it wasn’t from the summit,” Dawson said. “I’m not going to belittle what guys who came before me did and their tough standards by adjusting my standards to make it easier. “It’s an imprecise sport. My plan was to get out there and have an awesome time, and ski the best I could.”Crossen, like Davenport, has adopted these guidelines. The Crested Butte painter, who set a goal in 2001 to climb and ski all 54 peaks, remains just one agonizing peak shy of finishing the project. Crossen and his “Team Crested Butte” have attempted Capitol six times, but haven’t reached the summit. This season alone, the group made two attempts on Capitol. But on the most recent trip they turned around just 400 feet from the summit, due to soft snow and avalanche risk.Crossen made five attempts on Pyramid before finally tasting the summit in April.”I try and do what Lou did. He is the standard,” Crossen said. “I try to ski from the summit. If I cannot, I go back again. I can say I skied 53 from as high as Lou did. Maybe I’ll do it, maybe I won’t. Regardless, it’s as much about the experience as anything.”
Such was Ivanic’s mindset when he first discovered Crossen’s project while reading trip logs in Couloir magazine. “There was one line in particular, where he said people were going out and doing crazy descents, and we’ve got these incredible peaks in our backyards,” Ivanic recalled. “It inspired me to go for it.”There is a major distinction, however, between Ivanic’s project and those of the other three: He never made any public claims and never intimated that he skied all 54 from the summit. Ivanic simply wanted to go out and ski on every fourteener, so he did. In his own way.When asked about his quest versus Davenport’s, Ivanic said, “I do think I put in my time, but it is hard to compare as there are so many platforms, and we are on such different levels in terms of skills and strength … I think we are just two dudes from different walks of life that were lucky enough – or stupid enough – to spend a winter [and] spring in Colorado’s backcountry, going out each day, day after day, braving whatever weather and snowpack the day had in store for us.”In recent months, friends and relatives have rallied for Ivanic, clamoring for the credit they think he deserves. Two friends even asked if they could write to Dawson, Ivanic said.”I have to tell them to cool down and relax sometimes,” Ivanic said, acknowledging that many of his friends are unaware of the sport’s history and took statements out of context. “That was one of the coolest things about what I did. It showed me how loyal my friends are and how much they care about me and like to share in my accomplishments. They get worked up and tried to set the record straight, but I don’t share the same perspective, so it’s hard for me to agree with them.”Many bloggers have also come out in support of Ivanic, and directed barb-laden tirades at Davenport and Dawson. “I try not to pay attention to it. They’re a bunch of anonymous people on the Internet looking to tear apart anyone for no reason,” Davenport said. “They show no respect for the guy [Dawson] who pioneered skiing. I don’t necessarily think the majority of these armchair mountaineers know what they’re talking about.”Davenport refuses to compromise his standards. He has cataloged his trips, photographed every summit, and kept a detailed event log that is continually updated on his website. But many see Davenport’s mindset and attention to detail as signs of a professional skier seeking accolades and fame.
In response to an April 13 article in The Aspen Times, one anonymous reader chimed in: “I would have ignored any correspondence were it not for the egotistical comments about people skiing [Pyramid] now that pro has skied it (and anyone that followed would not be worthy) … Sean C is going to ski them all this season, but without relentless self promotion, you probably will never hear about it. I hate to knock all of Aspen … Just had to set the record straight (sorry Red Bull).”Dawson doesn’t take such comments too seriously. “People, for some reason, think it’s OK when someone who is sponsored appears in a [TGR] movie, but get uncomfortable when they go out into the mountains. As if there’s something wrong with being a sponsored athlete out in the mountains. Maybe it’s envy, maybe it’s a purist thing, maybe they don’t want the outdoors contaminated by commercialism.”Just because he goes out and publicizes what he did, doesn’t mean what was done is evil, or motivated by greed or selfishness.”Ivanic agrees.”I know some people say it’s all about publicity, but they don’t know him,” said Ivanic, who has exchanged e-mails with Davenport. “You can’t get out there that many days and do it all for glory. You’re going to give up.”
Dawson, a lifelong alpine enthusiast who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley from Texas at 13, first conceived of his fourteener project in the late 1980s. It was born solely out of his love for the outdoors. His passion spawned from reading mountaineering classics in the family library, according to a December 2004 story in The Aspen Times. Not long after, Dawson was ascending challenging rock routes on Independence Pass. In 1987 – nine years and seven peaks since he first scaled and skied a fourteener – Dawson and a friend, who was fresh out of business school, loaded into a Jeep Wagoneer and embarked on a two-week trek to climb and ski as many fourteeners as possible. The trip, Dawson said, was simply about getting out there and going for it.Dawson and his friend sat in a bar shortly after their excursion. “Off the cuff, we said it would be neat to see if I could ski all the fourteeners,” Dawson said. “It was in a joking way almost, but I thought ‘what a concept. Maybe I could work on that.'”Dawson skied 19 peaks that spring, and spawned a labor of love that led to guidebooks and even a spot in the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.”My big motivation was to share this experience with other people,” Dawson said. “It’s fun to prepare goals and bench-raise. The mountains provide an incredibly powerful, self-actualizing experience. It makes you want to share.” The same quest for a personally gratifying experience motivated Crossen, a Pennsylvania-born skier who was introduced to fourteeners during summer hikes with his wife, Heather. Since his knees often hurt while climbing down, Crossen decided to climb in the winter and take his skis along for the descent. Between 40-hour workweeks, he climbed and skied 27 peaks in 2001. The passion blossomed into an obsession.”My motivation is to conquer challenges for myself and get to the top,” he said recently. “Pyramid blew me away. My whole life of skiing set up for that experience. It took so much effort, five tries, thousands of dollars. It took a lot of money, a lot of time, not paying bills and my wife getting pissed.”I’m just a painter that skis. I know I’m not going to be famous.”A personal goal pushed Ivanic, a Wisconsin kid who grew up idolizing skiers when his peers worshipped Milwaukee Brewers greats Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. He remembers watching The Weather Channel, anticipating the days when 1 inch would fall on the state’s “150-foot” ski hills. He made multiple trips out West as a teenager, even attended a steep-skiing camp led by the late and legendary extreme skier Doug Coombs in Jackson Hole, Wyo.He was hooked and soon found his way into the Colorado backcountry. With a few months off between graduation and an engineering job in Tulsa in 2004, Ivanic bought a pair of Atomics and other equipment with his credit card, and leased a Toyota Tacoma from someone in New Jersey.Ivanic was able to ski on all but one of the fourteeners – Culebra Peak – during that hectic push. He bagged Culebra one day before the calendar year expired. He documented his experiences with a digital camera, and pieced together a movie. It’s likely his friends and family will be the only ones to see it, but his peers laud his accomplishment.”Jason was getting on every peak, one after the other, and skiing as much as possible in epic fashion,” Dawson said. “It’s a very different sort of thing than Davenport or Crossen, but we all get the value of it.”I respect him. He did an exceptional job, and it’s something I have in my notes for the history of fourteeners. Shoot, I’d like to do it.”
That history will undoubtedly include Davenport, a world extreme-skiing champion who has skied formidable peaks across the globe. Davenport had grown weary of the “typical regime” of photo shoots and ski films, so during a mountain-bike ride last summer, he began formulating a more personal, closer-to-home mission for the coming winter. The Elk Range peaks in his own backyard provided the inspiration.He’ll have to wait a few months for his final push, but Davenport beams with pride when he talks about his quest. He doesn’t mind if others question his project and his motives.”It doesn’t take away how hard I work, or all the mornings I had to wake up at 2:30 a.m.,” he said. “The skiing and mountaineering community will be the true judge. That’s all that matters.”My career is made, I’m not out to make any more money or please anybody. This is simply another personal challenge in the life of Chris Davenport.” Public reaction to Davenport’s project has been mixed, but he has piqued interest in the sport. Close to 700 have signed up for trip updates on Davenport’s site, http://www.skithefourteeners.com; there have been 1 million individual page hits – 400,000 in April alone.There’s also evidence that the pro’s experiences have inspired others to make tracks of their own, Davenport said. A group of students from CU have followed Davenport’s lead, skiing peaks the day after he posts his reports. The state’s most accomplished mountaineers flocked to Pyramid after reading about Davenport’s rave reviews and favorable conditions. Athletes continue to set new and higher goals, and with every step they stimulate more interest, more opinions, more barstool debates.”Maybe I’ll start doing bigger mountains, even go for the seven summits,” Crossen said. “[My wife] just shakes her head, but I tell her, ‘Don’t mess with the dream.'”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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