Cody Bucholz sends it back into winter during a sleeper pow day at Irwin, CO on 3/25. Eleven called in 10-12" of fresh for our snowcat tour during the Backcountry | Transworld | Outside Snowboard Test.
When I looked down and saw that damn cholla cactus hugging my leg I realized: “Preston, you’re not in Kansas anymore.” Kansas for me is Gunnison, Colo., and I was in warm and sunny Tucson, Ariz., shooting the “24 Hours in the Old Pueblo” Mountain Bike Race. The mountains shriveled and disappear behind me on the drive. It was like my world inverted itself and I found myself gazing more down towards the ground, instead of up at the mountains. Canyons cracked the land while trees changed to cacti on my trek to the race. My stoke level built for the adventure ahead.
This 24-hour race takes place on a 16-mile loop, virtually in the middle of nowhere. Nearly 500 teams were camped deep in the desert, thawing out their frozen bones in the brisk month of February. This is one of the oldest 24-hour races in the world, and 2015 marks its 17th year of epic riding in the Tucson desert.
Although a tad cooler than the year before, temps held in the mid 70’s and t-shirts, sandals and pasty legs were everywhere. Not being a big mountain biker myself, I still felt welcome with the community while visiting the various booths in the hub of the venue, while taking advantage of the free swag and stickers of course. Out on the trail the scenery captivated me as I carelessly hiked for a few miles at a time watching teams send a different rider for every lap.
At night I watched peacefully from a mesa as headlamps danced their way down the trail, while in the distance Tucson burned like the city of Mordor in scene from Lord of the Rings. Back at the venue the scene was alive with shouts of encouragement, along with occasional dude handing out shots of liquid courage as riders pushed down the final stretch.
WORDS + PHOTOS BY PRESTON HOFFMAN
Monterosso al Mare is one of the five villages of Cinque Terre on the northwest coast of Italy. In the summer months, this beach is overrun by tourists. It is renowned for its lemons, white wines, grapes and olives. That, and the 15k+ trail that winds along the steep, often slippery coastline to connect the five villages. It makes for a great trail run or a long day hike. Be sure to stop for some of Italy's better seafood and gelato along the way.
PHOTO + WORDS BY ADAM BRODERICK
This is not the first coverage of Peter Kray’s “The God of Skiing” nor will it be the last. It’s being touted as the first great novel about skiing. It is that and then some. Hell I’m a snowboarder and I even like it.
In his book, Kray captures the essence of those blissful moments in between turns, face shots and fleeting glimpses of perfect nature—and delivers it to the reader as only he can. He's got a fluency in the language of shred that few will ever attain, and intimate knowledge of the sport's history and lifestyle that makes this book read like non-fiction, even though it's not. The characters come off so tangible and real you'd swear you saw them in the bar or the lift line just the other day.
The Gods of Skiing are everywhere, icons in our micro-culture whose heroics are the folklore upon which many shape their lives, some for a short time and others for a lifetime. Their stories rarely become legends, but some are etched into bar tops and the minds of ski bums forever. This is one of those stories. —Interview by Mike Horn
Q: You talked about writing this book for some time, about how there were no great novels about “people like us.” What inspired you to finally put pen to paper and craft “The God of Skiing?”
PK: In a sport with so many great characters, great stories, and talented writers, it baffles me why there aren’t more fantastic stories about skiing and snowboarding. I can think of a few dozen chairlift or barstool conversations I would love to see translated to written form—especially by the fantastic storytellers who shared them. It’s as if our sport is still living in a time when the spoken word is king. I wanted to share my own story in print in a way that meant the most to me. And hopefully in a way that inspires others to share the stories they are carrying.
Q: When you meet the hero of the book, Tack Strau, for the first time, he asks: “You walkin’ ‘cause you want to, or ‘cause you have to?” Those are the first words Tack ever says to you, even though it feels like he’s been with you since the story’s beginning. How does this exchange establish the relationship for the rest of the book?
PK: That scene is based on a personal experience—one that ended with a police car bringing me home and a lot of roommates running out the back door of the Jackson Hole house we were sharing. I think Tack Strau’s first quote (at least to the narrator) emphasizes how quickly he sees the possible variables of any situation. As a skier at his level, you have to size things up very quickly, then make a split second decision. As the story goes, it becomes clear how this ski legend makes some very cut and dry decisions.
Q: Do you see some of yourself in Tack? Who else inspired his character?
PK: For sure I see myself in Tack, especially when I’m dreaming. But really, I can see a lot of this character in everyone who lives for skiing. Every ski area has its own local legends, and they are the best skiers or snowboarders on that mountain. They have their own special lines, their own style, and their own following. But if you don’t ride there, then you’ve never heard of them. Tack Strau is the embodiment of all of those local legends.
Q: You have a fluency in ski history and stokelore that adds significant depth to the book. How long has skiing been a part of your life, and how did you amass such a large body of knowledge on the subject?
PK: I started skiing when I was two, thanks to my dad, who was a volunteer ski patrolman at Vail with a bunch of his friends. In the winter, I can’t remember ever being asked what I wanted to do on the weekends. Your butt was in the car, heading West on I-70 every Friday evening. It’s been my life ever since, from teaching skiing in Jackson Hole for four seasons, to finally getting regular work as a writer to cover three Olympics and take assignments from South America to France, Austria, Italy and Greenland. Skiers fascinate me. I find them incredibly cerebral and passionate at the same time. They love speed and adventure, but are also very aware of the environment in which they are traveling.
Q: Toby the dog and Tack the skier seem to have very similar personalities. One sniff of the wind and either might disappear in an instant. Likewise, for Tack, speed and grace were instinctual and he had a certain clarity, an acute focus on what was right in front of him. It’s a rare quality. What is it like to reach that level of clarity?
PK: Dogs and skiers, right? It’s hard to tell them apart sometimes. And a powder day is just as distracting to a skier as a dog might find the smell of a barbecue on the wind. The other common denominator is just how great it feels to both of them to be moving. They aren’t the kind of beings to sit still for very long. When they are truly alive is when they are in action. Which is why I think we all love outdoor sports, because of that feeling of exploring and reacting at the exact same time. It just feels good to run!
Q: In one of my favorite passages in the book, in Chapter 6, you write about the fleeting nature of material things, like a big house in a kitschy neighborhood with all the fixings:
“You could always lose those things. Sometimes I think those things are just for losing. Like life, how no one figures out how to keep it in the end. But if you ski then you have that forever. Nobody can buy that. Nobody can pay someone to do that for them. And I always wanted to know how good I was when I was the best I could have ever been. I’ll always have that to hold, even when I’m gone.”
Do you ever think about what your life would be like without skiing…where you’d be today? How does sliding on snow make you whole?
PK: I do think about that sometimes. My parents were both from Syracuse, NY. Some of which is in the book—how they longed for bigger mountains. And if they had raised me there, all that family and love and community would still be present, but the sense of adventure might be lacking. The fact they left all that behind to raise my brother and me in Colorado, because they were risk-takers and wanted to ski, to me has meant everything. That chapter is about the difference between a life really lived, and the life you’re just flaunting. It’s about committing yourself to a deeper feeling.
Q: In one of the epilogue's final paragraphs, you write:
“For a sport so present in the now, it’s the memories that make it important. Going fast through nature. Those long moments lost to a turn, and the feeling of flying when you are thinking of everything and nothing at the exact same time.”
Is this the common space we share? Is that the essence of “this thing of ours?” (To put it in Mafia terms).
PK: This whole sport is based on sensation. And the longer you maintain that sensation, the more it feels like meditation—physically great yet super focused at the exact same time. None of us can quite describe how it feels to go fast like that, except how even as you’re reading the terrain and enjoying the speed, you’re also thinking about a million other things. You get a day on the snow with friends and you just disappear into that. It feels better than anything.
Q: The book ends with an element of sadness and cold finality. It seems as if two opposing cultures have clashed, and the darker force has won. Why did you end the book on a somewhat dark note? Or, is it not meant to be dark at all?
PK: There is always a clash of culture—especially in sport and art. It’s a clash between the people who have set the rules, and want to follow the rules, and the people who could give a shit, or at least expect there are new rules to come. As the book says, there are always people who “want to control the fun.” I try to ignore them. I like to think that chapter talks about how little power they really hold, and how easily they are forgotten. At least in this book, those people only exist in reference to their relationship to Tack Strau. It’s his raw freedom and their attempt to control it that gives their lives meaning. But as for finality, I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say they don’t ever really prove that they found him.
Q: Will there ever be another Tack Strau?
PK: There is. I met him early this season. He’s a local bartender with a racing background who recently won a pair of custom skis, tore them down a sketchy, avalanche-prone line in Silverton, and got his picture on the cover of a magazine. I can’t wait to see him again.
Buy The Book | Cover Image of Fritz Stammberger by Chris Cassatt.
PHOTO BY JUSTIN CASH
Many thanks to the Western State Colorado University students who crafted these Haikus during a recent environmental writing class. Some are inspired by nature and adventure, and others are simply inspired. It's always gratifying to return to the campus where the stoke began and see all the talent that's on deck. —MH
Life of a Nomad
Long ago we roamed
Over mountains and valleys
Because we were free
Frost blanketing trees
Fog creating a quiet world
Nature, always amazing
Into the abyss
A place to fear the unknown
Mountains lie unknown
Deep breaths in and out
Finding solace in the small
Things fall into place
All things are fleeting
Days come and go, seasons pass
Moments do not last
Animals are my friends
Is what six year old me said
You don't eat your friends
Meaningful words lie
Your actions speak to my soul
Show me your ways, Troll
Where Shelby wants to go play
My red pen is dead
I go to college
It is fuckin Expensive
But damn is it fun
Basecamp sunset in the La Sal Mountains, Utah. On the drive up Geyser Pass Rd. the snow was bumper deep. As the storm blew out, spring settled in. But first we spent a night in sub-zero temps, a little underprepared for winter's last gasp.
PHOTO BY MIKE HORN
Photo by Preston Hoffman
I live and play in Gunnison, Colorado, one of the coldest cities in the United States. With winter lows that sink below -20 on the regular and barely creep into single digits somedays, it’s the perfect venue to test out Columbia’s TurboDown tech inside and out.
On my first frigid testing mission at Gunnison's Hartman Rocks Recreation Area, the TurboDown's light weight stood out dramatically—it makes my other jackets seem heavy as steel curtains in comparison. But it retained body heat incredibly efficiently and deflected a biting wind with ease, eliminating the need for additional layers. The insulation features a combination of 850-fill down and 40 grams of Columbia’s proprietary Omni-Heat Insulation. The interior shell appears to be covered in high-tech material sourced from NASA, but to the innovative folks at Columbia it’s called “Omni Heat.” This thermal reflective material enables the jacket to provide more insulation and warmth than you’d expect from such a featherweight packable piece, but it’s breathable too so you don’t overheat. The ergonomic hood seals the deal and makes this jacket cozy enough to sleep in.
Being a photographer, I spend a lot of time waiting around for that one banger shot, and keeping warm during those times is one of my biggest challenges. From exploring the high desert in the early morning hours in sub-zero temps to capturing long exposures late at night, this jacket kept me dialed and warm throughout. The outer shell is water resistant (not waterproof) as I learned after spending several ours outside in a snowstorm. The shell is on the thin side to reduce weight and enhance breathability, so beware of rogue tree branches and other sharp objects to avoid tears.
The white colorway is a little too steezy and easy to stain for me, so I prefer either the graphite or black version. An additional inside pocket for goggles and snacks would be nice but isn’t a deal breaker. Other than that I was hard-pressed to find any negatives for this versatile piece. The pound-for-pound performance and versatility of Columbia's TurboDown jacket are its strongest qualities, and I’ll be packing it on all my winter missions. $325 | columbia.com
Words + Photos by Preston Hoffman
Simon Peterson slays some spring pow in the La Sals. April, 2009. We camped above Moab for three nights and more than a foot of snow fell in the mountains. The avalanche danger was "High" so we kept it mellow and milked some "hippy pow."
Photo by Mike Horn
One of many epic views from the Porcupine Rim Trail in Moab, Utah. This one was worth stopping for.
PHOTO BY MIKE HORN
This shot was taken just north of San Francisco while surfing with friends in December 2014.
Photo: Randy Elles | Location: Bolinas, CA
PHOTO JUSTIN CASH
Caption + Photo Justin Cash
Speed, beauty and determination are some of the first words that come to mind when describing 18-year-old BMX racer Mikayln Shaw. Add a heavy dose of true-grit toughness and top-tier talent and you’ve got one of the top competitors in the 17-20 Elite Women's Division. I had the pleasure of catching up with Mikalyn—who is a member of USA BMX and rides for Doublecross Bikes—this fall as she approached the closing races of her last amateur season. Read on as the Bailey, Colorado native reflects on fast tracks and riding with a broken wrist, and dreams big about her future in BMX as she turns pro.
Interview + Photos by Preston Hoffman
StokeLab: What got you started racing in the first place?
Mikalyn: My older brothers were actually into biking. We went to a track one year for one of their birthdays, and I tried riding one of their bikes. It was a lot of fun, and I had just quit dancing, so…that’s when BMX just kind of took over (laughs). I needed something with a little more adrenaline.
What’s going through your head when you're at the starting gate? I try to keep a clear mind and not think about the race, and just go out and do my thing.
What makes for a great track? Any track that’s super fast. In Kentucky there’s a place called Derby City—it’s downhill so it’s really fast which makes it a blast. Nashville has a really fun track that’s downhill, too. If the track is fast, it gives me more confidence to do well, knowing that I can give it all I have. Some tracks just flow better all-around, and are a little smoother, but either way you just have to make the most of it.
How do you adjust to different tracks when you travel so much? I visualize when I need to jump this, or manual that, and which is going to be the fastest line. At Nationals you only get maybe 4-5 laps for practice, so you really have to know the track.
You broke your wrist at the Las Vegas Nationals. How did the injury impact your season? Well, I was in a cast for like six weeks overall. But the race after that I raced in my cast anyway (laughs). It kinda sucked, but at least I was racing. I told myself, ‘I have to race, it’s in Colorado.’ I couldn’t exactly ride how I wanted to—but it was still fun. To me, it [the injury] just motivates me more and makes me want to come back even stronger. There are definitely some downfalls and hard days of course, but I just focus on not letting that bring me down.
What’s coming up next? Well I’m turning pro next year, so that’ll be a huge change. You don’t get to race as many Nationals because there are only Pro Series races, and females only race in the Elite Pro Series, where as the guys race in two different classes like A Pro and AA Pro.
Who do you look up to for motivation? My favorite rider is probably Caroline Buchanan, she rides for DK.
Is there one goal that you would ultimately like to achieve in BMX? I would like to shoot for the 2020 Olympics, which would be pretty awesome. It’s something that I have always dreamed of, so it helps me keep motivated.
Colorado for life, or are you open to living somewhere else? I would like to live [in a place] where it’s a bit warmer, so I could ride all year long, but Colorado is pretty solid (laughs)….
Our friends over at Romp in Crested Butte just debuted their limited-edition snowboard project by partnering with longtime Crested Butte local and storied shred Seth Weiner. Seth was the co-founder of Crested Butte's iconic snowboard shop "The Colorado Boarder."
A little background on Seth: He rode his first Snurfer in 1975 in his Ohio backyard. By 1977, he was snowboarding the Colorado backcountry. In 1987 Seth co-founded the Colorado Boarder in Mt Crested Butte, Colo., and a legendary shop was born. Seth says he and the Colorado Boarder crew "sold, rented, broke, and fixed snowboards for the next 14 years." During this time he also competed in the Rocky Mountain Snowboard series and judged many snowboard events. Seth still rides in Crested Butte and judges a successful season by how many over-the-head powder days he gets in the backcountry.
According to Romp co-founder Caleb Weinberg, Seth designed this board to be an all-mountain crusher for riding fast in varied terrain, whether it's a blower pow day or chalky hard day on the steeps. Romp builds all their skis—and now select snowboards—in Crested Butte.
Romp plans to build 10 boards for this run, and they will work with a different designer for each special release. Once they're gone, they're gone.
Available exclusively in a 160cm. Learn more at RompSkis.com or chat up Seth the next time you see him at the trailhead. —MH