Skier Dave Treadway Has Died in the B.C. Backcountry

17 Apr

On Monday afternoon, professional skier Dave Treadway passed away following an accident in the backcountry between Whistler and Pemberton, British Columbia. The 34-year-old was skiing with a group near Rhododendron Mountain when he fell more than 100 feet into a crevasse.

Pemberton Search and Rescue responded to the call, with backup from nearby Whistler Search and Rescue. While officials haven’t officially released the name of the victim, Treadway’s death has been confirmedand mourned—across social media by the ski community.

Temperatures were nearing 60 degrees in the alpine on Monday, according to David Mackenzie, the head of Pemberton Search and Rescue. Treadway was skiing down when he fell into the crevasse, which Mackenzie indicated may have been obscured by a snow bridge, likely weakened by the bright sun and warm temperatures.

Treadway’s ski partners immediately called emergency responders and began attempting a crevasse rescue. Pemberton SAR had just finished up at an earlier call and was able to mobilize a team and a helicopter quickly. After a 12-minute flight, a safety assessment, and the construction of a rigging system, the team of 14 responders was able to bring Treadway up from the crevasse. All told, Mackenzie estimates rescue efforts took about an hour. The official cause of death has yet to be released.

Treadway and his wife, Tessa, have spent the last few years living on the road with their two young children. Formerly based in Pemberton, Treadway remained a central figure in the community. He served on Pemberton Search and Rescue for years, and his brother, Daryl Treadway, is still an active member. 

“All I know is the world just lost an incredible human being and a wonderful family is suffering unthinkable grief,” wrote Mike Douglas, a professional freeskier based in British Columbia. “You will be deeply missed, Dave.”

Mikaela Shiffrin Breaks Yet Another Record

16 Feb

American Mikaela Shiffrin took home gold Saturday in the women’s slalom at the FIS Alpine World Championships in Are, Switzerland, becoming the first skier in history to win four straight world titles in the same discipline.

She finished almost a second ahead of Anna Swenn Larsson from Sweden, who took silver. Petra Vlhova from Slovakia came in third.

Shiffrin had been sharing the record of three-straight wins with Swedish skier Ingenmar Stenmark and Americans Ted Ligety and Bode Miller. The only athlete to hold four gold medals (non-consecutive) in a single event is Christl Cranz, a German skier who competed in the 1930s.

The World Championships, held biannually, are just one part of the broader international alpine skiing circuit—which the 23-year-old phenom from Vail, Colorado, has dominated for the last several years, quietly closing in on many of the most notable records. Currently, Shiffrin has 56 overall World Cup victories, which is a far cry from Ingenmar Stenmark’s record 86, and Lindsey Vonn’s 82. But Vonn’s career spanned two decades while Shiffrin has been competing for just nine years.

Shiffrin kicked off the 2019 World Championships with a first place in the super-G event on Tuesday, the first day of competition, followed by a third place in giant slalom on Thursday.

After racing with a cold, Shiffrin said, “Halfway down this run I ran out of oxygen,” reported the AP, “I was just trying to fight to stay on the course.”

Cody Townsend Is Skiing North America’s 50 Best Lines

24 Jan

Last week, big mountain skier Cody Townsend announced that he’s going to attempt to ski every line documented in Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America, a canonical ski mountaineering book written by Chris Davenport, Art Burrows, and Penn Newhard. The book, published in 2010, includes routes as far-flung as the 3,640-foot Polar Star Couloir on Baffin Island’s Mount Beluga and Denali’s Messner Couloir. No one has yet skied all 50 lines. 

Townsend has been chewing on the idea for a while. “I’ve been skiing one style—ski porn, ski movie style—for the last 15 years, and I felt like I had maxed out in that world. I did everything I wanted to do,” he says. “I started going on human-powered expeditions and found this whole new challenge that I’ve been completely enraptured by.” Townsend spent a year researching the lines and mapping out his travels, trying to determine whether the feat was possible. His biggest concern was risk tolerance. After decades of backcountry skiing, Townsend has grown familiar with his limit. “For what I know, what I ski, and my experience in the mountains, each line seemed like I could climb and descend it safely and come home at the end of the day,” he says.

When Davenport, Burrows, and Newhard wrote the book—which was inspired by the 1979 tome 50 Classic Climbs of North America—they consulted a wide circle of mountaineers and skiers, including well-known figures like Hilaree O’Neill and Jimmy Chin. They didn’t set out to collect the hardest lines, nor did they build a guidebook. “It was a community project that speaks to the close-knit community that backcountry skiers are on a national basis,” says Newhard. The result, which includes essays by and about many of the mountaineers they consulted, is a snapshot of North American ski mountaineering at its best. “It’s really a coffee table book designed to pique people’s curiosity and interest. We wanted it to be motivational and aspirational,” he says.

Townsend hopes to complete his mission over the course of three years, but the greatest challenge won’t be 8,000-foot bootpacks or steep, technical descents (though there will be plenty of those). There are three lines Townsend believes will be the most difficult: 14,470-foot University Peak and the Mira Face of 18,008-foot Mount St. Elias, both in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias range, and the north face of 12,972-foot Mount Robson, in Alberta. On all three, his success will depend on finding stable snow and clear skies. “The conditions have to line up perfectly. Specifically on those cruxes, I need to have a lot of luck, with the weather in my favor,” he says. “Three years is pretty audacious, but I also think it’s possible.”

Audacious is precisely how Davenport described the undertaking, but if anyone can make it happen, he believes it’s Townsend. “It will take a skier like Cody, who has paid his dues and skied difficult lines all over the world,” says Davenport, who has skied 24 of the lines. “The most exciting thing, though, is Cody’s disposition. He has a way of looking at the mountains as a playground, and I think he’s going into this with the right attitude. He’s going to take the time to really give these mountains the respect they deserve.”

Townsend’s journey has already started—last week he left his home base in Lake Tahoe, California, for Utah, and is hoping to check off 11,132-foot Mount Superior, 12,482-foot Mount Tukuhnikivatz, and the Hypodermic Needle couloir on 11,150-foot North Thunder Mountain while conditions remain stable. At the end of the season, he’ll head north, to make his first attempt on University Peak. Filmer and ski mountaineer Bjarne Salen will accompany him throughout the entire project, and a rotating crew of friends and skiers—including his wife, professional skier Elyse Saugstad, and Davenport and Chin—will join for individual expeditions.

“The book is really a celebration of beauty and what nature offers us as skiers. The aesthetic component was the primary driver in putting together the book,” says Davenport. Towsend’s motives are similar.

“I’ve been lucky enough to travel the entire world and I’ve realized that North American skiing is what I love the most. The snow, the mountains, the wildness of it all. So this book in particular speaks to me,” he says. The journey should be, at its core, about enjoyment and fun, he says. But he understands that this mission will involve plenty of suffering and fear, too. “This will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

A New Vision for BLM: Oil

17 Mar

The Bureau of Land Management raised eyebrows this week with a new “vision card”—an ID-sized badge meant to be worn by employees that states is the department’s mission and goals. And by the looks of the card, the BLM is primarily in the business of exploiting, rather than protecting, natural resources.

On the front of the card, just below the BLM insignia, is an image of an oil derrick. The badges were commissioned at the beginning of the Trump administration by then-acting director Mike Nedd, according to  The Washington Post.

public lands
The cards issued to employees of the Bureau of Land Management (Courtesy of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)

Since Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke took his post, the BLM has consistently phased out imagery and language that highlighted conservation and recreation in favor of resource extraction and agriculture. It began in April 2017, when a banner image of mountains on the BLM’s homepage was quietly replaced with an image of coal. It continued in the hallways of BLM’s Washington D.C. headquarters, the Post reported, where posters of national monuments were removed. Neither move is particularly surprising, given the Trump administration’s emphasis on energy extraction from public lands.

On one side of the card, the BLM says its mission is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” On the other side, it lists its guiding principles, in part, as pursuing “excellence in business practices” and to improve “accountability to our stakeholders, and deliver better service to our customers.”

It’s not clear what they mean by customers, but recent history suggests it may mean extractive industries. Last year, the Trump administration ignored conservation groups, recreational users, and local tribes when it decided to shrink Bears Ears National Monument, largely at the urging of oil and mining interests. Last month, the DOI removed Obama-era regulation that restricted methane emissions from federal land-based oil and gas development (a judge has since ordered an injunction, meaning the regulations must be enforced pending litigation). And earlier this month, Zinke said the Department of the Interior and the energy industry “should be in the business of being a partner.”

All of this is underscored by the DOI’s new plan to fund much of the Park Service by ramping up extraction on public lands, and auction leases to energy companies for cut-rate prices.

Of course, the 250 million acres of land maintained by the BLM represent different things to different groups. For a Utah rancher, it might be her livelihood. For conservationists, archeologists, and many scientists, it’s a priceless resource. For recreationists, BLM land offers the least-regulated wild space in the country, space where Americans can shoot, build fires, camp, climb, hike, and hunt with less extensive permitting and supervision. For an energy company, it’s profit—a vision the Trump-era BLM seems to share.