The last three days in Iceland have been incredible. Nestled into the Skier’s Valley is Artic Heli Skiing’shome base. Peaks rise up to 4,000 vertical feet in a 360-degree view that is breathetaking.
True to its namesake (Niceland), Iceland is home to some of the most kind people I have ever met. And they have a great sense of humor. For example, we were having lunch in Olsfiorder and one of the newscasters was doing the news, on camera, in his underwear. I think he was trying to make the point that it was a nice, warm day in Iceland. Point taken.
A warm day in Iceland isn’t that warm. The average high is 55 degrees in the summer. On the flip side, it’s not as cold as I had expected. The winter temperatures average around 30 degrees.
We’ve had just a taste of the skiing so far, which definitely left us wanting more. Every direction I look there is a beautiful peak, waiting to be skied.
Most of the slopes are 35-55 degrees and average 2,000-3,000 vertical feet. Iceland may be famous for its corn skiing, but I can attest that the powder skiing is as good as it get as well.
I came to Iceland to ski, but skiing is not the only thing there is to do on the island. In the last three days I have been surfing, seen waterfalls, walked through volcanoes, stood in a light house, rode a horse, and experienced one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen in my life. We even got to see the Aurora Borealis (see below).
And that is just touching the surface (the tip of the iceberg) of what there is to do and see in this magnificent place.
[After the jump there are some photo contributions from Sierra Quitiquit as well!]
I arrived in the Skier’s Valley of Akureyri last night. It was dark. As I drove down the Troll Peninsula, I was assured that I was driving into the middle of nowhere. As the city lights faded away we drove deeper into the valley. The roads turned from pavement to snow and in the distance I could see I small beacon of light. Eventually we came to Artic Heli Skiing’s base camp. A beautiful old farm house that was homesteaded by JB’s Grandparents. JB, owner of Artic Heli Skiing, grew up in this house. He was one of the first on the remote island to start skiing.
“Iceland is a skier’s place. It is not like skiing in Canada: short swing turns in a foot a powder. The runs are steep and long. We will ski 20 plus runs a day. Each run is between 1200ft to 2000ft of vertical. Most skier’s want powder, but Iceland is all about the corn skiing. It is the best corn skiing in the world. The sun stays at the same level in the sky all day long. So it’s not like the Alps where you need to ski the corn at the perfect time of day or it turns to mush. You can ski perfect corn all day long in Iceland.”
As I snuggled into my down comforter and closed my eyes for the night, I could here the storm brewing outside. I think tomorrow we will be skiing powder.
As I ski towards what looks like oblivion, I can see the valley thousands of feet below. The mountain slowly falls away and I know I am once again in the Alps. There is nothing like skiing in the Alps. It is hard to describe how insanely big the mountains are. The only way I know how is describe the feeling of skiing in the Alps is to compare it to the stomach in your throat feeling when you crest the top of a roller coaster and plunge down the other side. If I had to choose a word to describe the Alps, it would be exposure.
Just like the thrill of a roller coaster, every run in the Alps leaves you wanting more. As you roll over into what looks like oblivion, all of sudden a beautiful line comes into you view and you are flying down the mountain having the time of your life.
It always takes me a few days to adjust to the exposure of skiing in the Alps. Even the groomers seem to roll over into oblivion. But after a few days, all I want is more and more roller coaster rides. I joined Gabe Rogel, Mike Leake, and Bosse Landberger for a photo trip in Val-d’Isère, France. Gabe and I seem to have some of the worst luck when we travel abroad to take photos, aka we have yet to get good snow. I had hoped our luck would different in the Alps, but it hadn’t snowed for almost a month when I arrived. Gabe being the incredible photographer that he is was still able to capture some amazing images. Besides the fact that we were having a blast looking for good snow and skiing in the Alps.
Our luck was bound to change and it did on this trip. After three days of skiing a mix of conditions, it finally snowed. I don’t know if it was karma or that I have paid my dues, but after the storm lifted, the sky turned blue, and I had one of the best days I have ever had in the Alps!
We worked really hard that day shooting photos.
It would’ve been awesome to shred powder all day, but it was worth taking the time to shoot photos. Gabe was able to get some of the most incredible photos I have ever seen! After a week of shooting photos in all types of conditions, one incredible powder day was worth the trip!
For a more detailed Trip Report, Check out Teton Freeride.
Line choice is one of the most difficult decisions a competitor has to make in a Freeskiing Competition. Line choice can determine a win or a loss. When choosing a line, I always try to a find a line that I can rip. I think about my skiing strengths and style. I try to choose a line that will really make me shine and stand out from the other competitors, something unique. It has worked for me time and time again until Chamonix. Let me explain.
The men were scheduled to ski before the women. I also drew last to ski in the competition. That meant that 50 skiers would ski the venue before me. Which would result in a lot of bombed out landings and tracks on the face. So I looked for a line that would have the best snow and the least amount of traffic. Lastly, I looked for a line that would inspire me to ski my very best.
The day before the competition, two mountain guides skied the venue. They reported that the snow on the skiers left side of the venue was much better than the snow on the skiers right. I concluded that most of the male athletes would ski the skier’s right side or middle of the venue because most of the big features where on that side of the venue. I decided I would ski the better snow and hopefully where there would be less traffic, skier’s left side of the venue. I started to look for a line that would inspire me. I was immediately drawn to the line that I skied in the competition, but was concerned that the exit air would be a little too big for me. I found a few other options and decided I would make my decision on my way up the boot pack to the start. The boot pack was very close to the line I wanted to ski, so I could see how big the cliff really was on the way up.
I hadn’t committed to the line until I saw the air. I was able to get relatively close to it. It looked to be about 20 feet of sheer rock. I was psyched. It was exactly the kind of line that inspired me. The line had everything that I was looking for: uniqueness, challenging, fresh, and fun. I was stoked!!!! I envisioned myself ripping powder turns down the ramp, easing up to get onto the entrance ramp of the cliff, and then sending it off the cliff to a stomp. I was inspired and fired up to ski!
And I’m still fired up that I skied that line! It was a blast! Am I bummed that I didn’t stomp my air, yes. Am I frustrated that I didn’t ski it faster, yes. Am I disappointed that I didn’t podium in the competition, yes. Do I wish I had skied a different line? I don’t know. Click here to watch my line.
The judges are looking for fast, fluid skiing with perfect landings. Christine Hargin’s line was exactly what the judges were looking for. She skied fast and fluid with zero hesitation off of her air’s and had perfect landings. Definitely the winning line. So why didn’t I ski that line? I looked at it. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think it would be enough.
Do I regret the line I skied. No. Do I wish I would’ve have skied it faster, more fluidly, and with a perfect stomp yes. I would love to be able to ski a line like the one I skied with confidence and finesse. So I will keep training and keep trying. And one day, I will succeed!
It crazy how life changes. On Monday, I had no plans of competing on the Freeride World Tour 2013. By tuesday, I had a flight booked to Chamonix. By Wednesday, I was standing at the bottom of the competition face for the second stop of the Freeride World Tour. Apparently, I just can’t get enough of this wonderful sport.
I am so excited to be here. Sometimes you just feel like you are in the right place at the right time. Hopefully, I will feel the same standing in the starting gate tomorrow. The competition will begin at 9am. The men will kick off the competition. I was a little disappointed that the women would not run first, until I heard that the men will load the tram at 5am and will have to start hiking in the dark. The hike is predicted to take 90 minutes. The first woman should leave the starting gate at approximately 12:30pm. I’m feeling better about skiing after the men and waking up at 8am even if there will be a few tracks on the face.
The face looks great and the snow looks even better. Two mountain guides skied the face today. The snow looked blower. I’m psyched! I have not found a line yet, but that isn’t abnormal. I prefer to have options and see how I feel in the morning. We will hike up the looker right couloir which will give me great view of the venue, up close and personal.
There will be a live feed for the competition tomorrow at www.freerideworldtour.com. The men will run at 1am MST and the women should run at 4:30am MST. I was lucky enough to choose bib 11, aka last, for the women! Wish us luck!
Profile: Jess McMillan is a model of strength and perseverance
On May 10, somewhere just shy of the summit of the South Sister, OR, Jess McMillan stopped hiking and wondered whether she was having fun at that moment. It had been one of those days—you know, the kind where you wake up at 3 a.m. after having climbed and skied five volcanoesand some 23,000 odd feet of vertical over the previous six days and you’ve been hiking for 11 hours in snow-magnified spring heat, and you’re almost out of water. She was exhausted. Not to mention a raven had unzipped her pack and helped itself to her entire lunch a few hours earlier. “At least he didn’t like gels or Shot Bloks,” she recalls.
Photos by Ian Fohrman in Jackson Hole, WY
Luckily, McMillan’s strength reserves run deep. The blonde 33-year-old big mountain skier, born and raised in Jackson Hole, grew up ski racing and hiking Teton Pass. After earning degrees in forestry and business while on the ski team at University of Montana, she succumbed to “the typical ski racer burnout,” and moved to Ashland, OR, to focus on kayaking for two years. She couldn’t stay away from Jackson long, though, and soon found herself on the hill coaching. One day she realized she wanted to be skiing, not standing there watching others do it. After a fourth place finish in her first freeskiing contest at Snowbird, she took second place in the IFSA World Tour the following year, and won the whole tour in 2007.
Her current successes—filming for Warren Miller and Storm Show the past two years while remaining a dominant force on both freeskiing tours and balancing various ski mountaineering projects—are no doubt due in part to her notoriously difficult training regimen and a serious work ethic.
Jess is an incredibly hard worker and dedicated to her sport,” says Crystal Wright, one of McMillan’s ski partners in Jackson and 2012 Freeskiing World Tour Champion. “I love skiing with her because I am continually pushed and always working toward being a better skier. Also, she is one of the toughest ladies I know mentally and will push through anything.”
McMillan became a certified Pilates instructor a few years ago and teaches classes in the summer months before heading down to Las Leñas, where she has skied each of the last eight years in a row. She then focuses hard on ski season training in the fall, which means four days a week at the elite Mountain Athlete program in Jackson doing everything from lifting, sprints, jumps, rope climbing to crossfit, plus three to four days of Pilates and either a run, hike, or bike ride four days a week.
“Over the years everyone has called skiers athletes,” says McMillan. “But big mountain skiers don’t typically train like world cup ski racers, and at the time I wasn’t training that way either. I decided that if I was going to call myself an athlete and allow others to call me an athlete, I wanted to be an athlete. The training has made me feel more like an athlete mentally and physically.”
It’s also made her incredibly resilient. A high-speed tomahawk early in the 2011 season left her with seriously injured C-1 and C-5 vertebrae in her neck, to the point where some specialists considered her lucky to be alive. Her doctor predicted an eight month recovery, but she rehabbed hard and by April was feeling strong and getting restless. It had just dumped four feet in Jackson and she had been eyeing Fat Bastard—a notorious whopper and TGR movie mainstay—for some time. She sent it and had a small tumble but considered herself healed and went on to place first at the Chilean Freeskiing Championships a few months later.
This determination, plus her positive attitude made her a natural choice when Chris Davenport was looking for partners for his Volcano Tour this past spring. “Jess has as good an attitude as one can have out in the mountains,” says Chris, “She is really strong and confident, a tough woman, and willing to push herself. But her optimism and stoke is really what was so important for this project.”
McMillan and Davenport were the only two to do the whole tour—15 volcanoes in 14 days for a total of nearly 80,000 vertical feet and 141 miles of skiing on every volcano from Mt. Shasta in California to Mt. Baker in Washington. They lived in and drove a huge motorhome, were sponsored by Whole Foods and consumed many Hulk Smoothies (ingredients in this concoction include Maca powder, bananas, and kale) and were joined by various friends for different peaks with up to eight people staying in the RV at one time.
During such a grueling trip, the fact that McMillan experienced only that one exhausted, questioning moment on South Sister is especially impressive. As she rested and contemplated, Davenport poked his head over the ridge from the peak just above, and yelled, “Are you coming?” Jess sighed. “Yes, I’m coming!” Chris hollered, “Well then keep walking!” “I’m walking, damnit,” she muttered, and continued upwards.
Soon she was ripping her signature powerful turns back to the land yacht, forgetting she ever even questioned herself. “You get to the top, and you ski down, and it’s amazing corn and you’re like, yeah, I was having fun the whole time.”