If you were looking for a free hotdog and beer last week, you could have done far worse than swing by the Great Outdoors parking lot off Century Drive, where professional skier Chris Davenport had splayed his 44-foot-long RV across six parking spots and fired up the grill. Inside the jet-black beast—a Ford emblazoned with Audi stickers—Bend’s mustachioed mountain guide David Marchi and Jonas Tarlen, who runs Three Sisters Backcountry, Inc., sat on couches and talked about big days in the mountains.
“It’s supposed to be really nice out there tomorrow,” Davenport offered, having consulted a customized weather sheet a Boulder-based snow guru has been sending him daily. “His reports are amazingly accurate.”
Despite the favorable news, it’s no secret that this come-and-go winter was full of misery for skiers and snowboarders. Dealing with the one-two punch of a mild winter and a recession, the National Ski Areas Association last week released a preliminary report that showed just 51 million skier visits at the nation’s ski areas this year, a 16 percent drop from 2010-2011. That’s the poorest turnout since 1991 and ugliest slump since the early 1980s.
But as the pros know, even a “bad” winter here is usually a good one by any other metric. At last count, more than 513 inches of snow this season had fallen on Bachelor, where the lifts run till the end of May. That’s ten feet more than Alta, Utah, which closed in April. Bachelor still has more than 100 inches at the base and 148 inches mid-mountain. Overall, the Pacific Northwest suffered a mere 0.8 percent drop on average in skier visits, the report showed. You don’t need an app to figure it out: Skiing here kicks ass—especially right now.
“People like us, who get climbing and skiing, understand that this time of year is when shit gets done—not in the winter,” Davenport said, tucking into a veggie dog with mustard. “Corn snow, really good corn like you get here, I mean, that for me is as fun or even better than powder.”
About a year ago Davenport hatched a plan to climb and ski every major volcano in the Pacific Northwest in about three weeks, starting with 10,457-foot Lassen in the south and ending with 10,778-foot Mount Baker in the north. The Ring of Fire Volcano Tour would include 17 peaks—ten in Oregon alone—and god knows how many vertical feet. “I’m not a statistics guy,” he shrugged. Spyder, a major sponsor, kicked in the RV, while Whole Foods loaded it up with crates of food and recipes for things like spinach smoothies with kale and orange juice. “It’s actually quite tasty,” said Jess McMillan, a women’s freeskiing world champion who’d joined Davenport for a few days.
Three-time World Championship skier Daron Rahlves, the country’s winningest downhill and super-G skier ever, joined the tour for some peak bagging too. By Wednesday the three of them had banged out five volcanoes in four days, including two in one day: 9,482-foot Mount Thielsen and 9,065-foot Mount Bachelor, which is 114 miles north as the RV rides. “Watching Daron lay it over going Mach Looney down Thielsen was insane,” Davenport said. “He was just railing it.” Rahlves couldn’t stay, though, and soon headed home.
If you still can’t quite place Chris “Dav” Davenport, you haven’t seen the 30-plus ski movies he’s been in or cracked an outdoor magazine since around 1996, when he won the World Extreme Skiing Championships. Spry with kind eyes and golden tan, the Aspen native was featured in the 2007 documentary Steep, an exposé on the history of extreme skiing that premiered at a Tribeca art house only a few weeks after he’d climbed and skied all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot-high mountains in less than a year. He has his own clothing line, numerous Powder magazine poll awards and an X-Games medal. Through it all the 41-year-old father of three has remained such a gracious non-bro that he’ll fill your plastic cup with GoodLife at his expense.
By around 4 p.m. the grill was cold and the beer nearly gone. Davenport chatted with a dad who stopped by with his two kids looking for Red Bull stickers and a tour of the rig while everyone began to pack up and leave.
In the end, Davenport’s Big Bend Adventure went according to plan, and on Thursday he, McMillan and Tarlen got up early to traverse the Three Sisters, a 17-mile enchainment with a taxing 11,000 vertical feet of climbing. They were back in town late that afternoon, spent, stinky and parched. “Long and hard and just awesome,” Davenport said about the day. “It’s prime ski mountaineering time and no one’s out there. We’re killing it.”
He then pointed the rig north toward Mount Washington. Only nine more peaks to go.
Editor’s note: Tim Neville is a freelance journalist based in Bend. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Outside Magazine and Men’s Journal among other publications. He is also a very tall man. Approach with caution.