A Worthy Challenge
by Greer Hitch
Stick Salomon athlete Chris Davenport on a seriously gnarly face riddled with so much carnage that even his skis balk at the menacing terrain, and he'll ski it with grace and ferocity. In order to fulfill his jones for a deserving challenge, Dav decided to ski all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks in one season. That's over 300,000 vertical feet of harrowingly steep, highly unpredictable mountainous landscape—Davenport's ideal playground. When you hit this nearly unfathomable skill level, your goals become slightly more insane until, to mere mortals, they seem revolutionary—and in Davenport's case they are.
The original idea for Ski The Fourteeners entered Davenport's thoughts while he was on the mountain bike trail. "I was tired of pro skiing, tired of the same thing. I wanted something demanding, and I wanted to do something around home in Colorado. I thought, 'I should ski all the Fourteeners in Colorado. That would be a worthy project'," says Davenport. "The more I thought about it, the more it became the perfect project."
The way he makes it sound, Davenport hasn't done anything that's demanding at all. Besides the fact that he won the 1996 World Extreme Skiing Championships, won the 2001 Red Bull Snow Thrill of Alaska, commentates for ESPN and ABC Sports, and has skied in the Himalayas, the Andes, and the Southern Alps of New Zealand. While Davenport is proud of all these accomplishments, he needed something that rocked him to his skiing core.
Davenport gave himself about 170 days to climb and ski all 54 peaks. That's an average of one peak every three days. Most people put "climbing one Fourteener" on their lifelong to-do list—usually without the added aspiration of a ski descent. The physical strength, technical ability, and mental tenacity needed to complete 54 in a matter of months is incomprehensible to most. It is perhaps even more awe-inspiring for skiers who know how treacherous Davenport's terrain can be.
The last person to take on all of Colorado's 54 Fourteeners was Lou Dawson. He started his quest in 1978 and finished in 1991—an amazing accomplishment to the skiing world. When Davenport announced his plan to try and complete all 54 in one season, he raised a few eyebrows. "People would ask me how many I'd done so far in February," Davenport says. "It was hard to say, ‘well, five,' knowing I had 49 left to go, but then I got some momentum. I think I did 20 peaks in April." Twenty peaks in 30 days—that's like three Ironmans in a week.
A few incredible highlights dot the trail of peaks thus far. Davenport remembers Pyramid Peak with a smile. He'd stared at it out his car window for years and had always wanted to tackle it. When he did, he didn't just climb up and ski down the path of least resistance. He chose the Landry Line—a line so harrowing no one had skied it since 1978. "We had perfect conditions and made it to the summit," Davenport says. "We skied a bold and super clean line down. It was the only complete descent in 30 years."
Moments like this have defined Davenport's experience and created cause for celebration. Other memorable peaks give cause for a different type of celebration. "We were 11 hours into a 15-hour day on Capital Peak, and I was tired," Davenport recalls. "Halfway down there was a section where if I fell, or slipped, I was dead. I was so focused, and flashes of my wife and kids played through my mind. After I completed that last turn, I had this overwhelming relief. It was so intense and really scary. It was one of those ‘oh shit, what did we just do?' scary moments."
These scary and celebratory moments were all captured along the way by his website, a photographer, and a cinematographer. The photos will go in a coffee-table style book that will highlight each Fourteener in the eyes of a skier. Cinematographer and producer Ben Galland wrote, shot, and produced a feature-length documentary of the project. Watch for it.
Davenport has also received unbridled support from his sponsors along the way—including Salomon. So, now it's time to answer that all-important question every gear head is dying to know—what the heck is he riding? For the Fourteeners project, Davenport suited up in the Salomon X Wing Series, more specifically, the XW Sandstorm. "It's versatile, light, and easy turning," he says.
Throughout this project, Davenport finally found a challenge worthy of his attention. It has repaid him in more than just a movie, a book, world-wide recognition, and a website—it's allowed him to reignite his love for the sport in the first place. "In the beginning, I didn't know what it was going to be like," says Davenport. "It's turned into this journey that's so much more rewarding than I thought. The mountains are so incredible. It's really inspired my passion for my career. I am not meant to do anything else."
While the original plan was to ski the 54 peaks from January 1, 2006 to the end of June 2006, Mother Nature showed her wrath and only allowed Davenport to summit and ski 45 of the 54 by June. Can he finish them all by 2007? Only nine more to go. And the snow is already falling.