Tackling Whistler’s Air Jordan
It all began with an invite to film an inbounds Whistler Blackcomb segment with Sherpas Cinema. I arrived to town fresh off a less-than-spectacular snow base in Utah; in Whistler, they had an awesome early season and were still sitting on a great base. It hadn’t snowed in a few weeks, and most of the locals were awaiting a new influx of nukage. I, however, was licking my chops.
We initiated some filming right away. I knew we were going to break some new ground in true Sherpas fashion, lining up shots choreographed to have quite a few people skiing at once.
While we cruised around, my eye would always go toward the Air Jordan zone. I would fantasize about singling the entire zone. I kept the thoughts to myself, though, because to ever take that fantasy seriously there would need to be 100 inches of snow and closure of the landing zone while it nuked. Not going to happen. Plus, I didn’t think there was a suitable takeoff up there. Regardless, it was fun to fantasize.
One day, my fellow skier Stan Rey was up there on Jordan and, after he came down, he told me there was a rad diving board platform thing up there. He said it very passingly and was laughing, but little did he know I was listening very intently and immediately looked at the zone and recognized what he described as the diving board. Noted. Very noted, my friend.
At this point, it was a Thursday, the weather was calling for some serious snow to fall for a couple of days, and then it was going to maybe clear. I took off to Vancouver while it nuked. After a killer time decompressing there, I hopped on the shuttle back up to Whistler. The snow reports said 100 inches storm total, with 50 more inches in last the 36 hours. Wow. The weather report also said there would be clearing on Sunday morning and sun. Were the stars really aligning for me to take a look at this Air Jordan air?
I rolled into town Saturday night, called Christian, one of the people I had become friends with during the shoot, and asked him if he was down to wake up early with me and go have a look at Jordan. “I’m thinking about singling it,” I said, “You got my back, be my wingman?” He was immediately game.
I knew I had to access the zone before anyone else, assess the diving board, and see if it could in fact get me over the whole zone. Christian and I woke up early and met the Sherpas crew. It was a glorious sunny morning. The entire upper mountain had been closed for two days, and it was unbelievably beautiful. I told Dave Mossop of Sherpas I was heading to inspect the Jordan zone for potential single and would radio him when I had a yay or nay. Game on.
The mountain looked unreal as we headed up. No tracks, beautiful sunshine, and thousands of hungry skiers ready to take no prisoners. We unloaded and rallied to the Jordan zone. I looked down and saw the diving board that shoots you off into the oblivion, of what I instantly knew was the famed double stager called Air Jordan. So far, so good.
I skied carefully down to the take off of the diving board and had a look over the edge. Oh boy. When I first looked over the air, it was far from sheer. It appeared that to get over the rocks and cliffs below I’d have to travel very far to get out to the landing zone. Instantly my gut reaction was gripped with fear and a fleeting mentality. Nope, no way was this cliff doable. It was terrifying.
“Wait, wait, wait a minute,” my inner voice said to me. “You don’t know it’s not doable.” I realized I had to make absolute certain, with my intellect not my fear, that the cliff wasn’t possible. After I got comfortable and found my footing underneath me, I took it all in. With the in-run length for approximate amount of speed I could have the landing way out there with the cliffs underneath me. It all lined up … maybe. Was it impossible?
I studied it for 10 minutes intensely. The take off would take some time to stamp out and manicure, but it was doable.
I went down to the landing zone. Probed. Landing was great. I could penetrate the snow with my entire pole, then my whole arm to my shoulder. Perfect. The only way I’ll jump off 100-plus footers is to have snow like this. I was stoked but also still not sure about the air. I like to hit sheer cliffs. This cliff was not sheer; any mistake on my speed calculation would be certain death. And I not only couldn’t under-calculate the speed necessary, I couldn’t over-calculate, for there were trees past my preferred landing spot.
I headed down to the chairlift and knew I’d make a decision once I got back up to the take off. I let the calm and meditation start to seep into my being, for I was going to need it. I could not simply make a mental choice to hit the air. I was going to need to make a full-body meditational, a universal, present awakening of intent up there.
I cruised back to the top of Jordan and, in classic Christian form, he tipped his cap to me; no words were spoken, none were needed. I skied back down to the take off and had another look down to my landing zone. Holy smokes, this was a spicy endeavor. I still couldn’t gauge my yes or no, so I simply decided to begin making my take off and while I did this I knew my body would start to make sense of the energy around me and in the feat.
As I sidestepped up and slid down time and time again to form my take off, it literally became a booter off the diving board. The in-run was about 50 feet long with a steep down-ramp set back about 30 feet before the actual take off. I knew I would not only need a well manicured 50 feet of in-run but also another 50 feet to pole push to get me into my steep in-run to have any chance of needed speed. Any miscalculation would have me coming up short.
By now, Stan pulled up and asked if he could hit Jordan as the double while I hit it as a single. I said of course. He got into position. All the other skiers had nailed their lines and now it was my turn, the attention of the Sherpas’ magic peak shoot was on me.
I still didn’t know. Breathe. Meditate. Think. Don’t think. Be free. Absorb. Be the in-run. Be the air. Be the landing. Breathe.
I made a picture perfect in-run. It was solid. I couldn’t run the risk of having any of the in-run become soft as I railed into it. I needed to have it fast and ready for me to pop like a champion off the end.
I still didn’t know.
I stood at the top of the in-run, all 50 feet of it. Even with a really steep ramp and a massive booter, it wasn’t fast enough yet. I stamped out the snow leading up to the down-ramp. It was a blind rollover situation, so I marked the snow where I need to be aimed as I came over to have me come squarely down the ramp with maximum speed, a point of no return situation on my hands.
I still didn’t know.
I backed up all the way to my starting point, a good 150 feet away from the booter off the end of the diving board. I mimicked my pole push into my ramp. I had a fair amount of speed that would lead me into the point of no return, a steep ramp directly into the booter. OK, I’m getting a grasp of this.
I did that a few times then skied down to my take off again. I began to have body affirmations all was good. I liked that. But it was not 100 percent yet.
I side stepped back up, on the steepest part of the in-run. I really became the in-run. I felt an authentic connection between every cell in my body and every particle of snow. It was total unique affirmation. It wasn’t a choice, it was the mediation I was awaiting.
I started to side step up to announce I was ready. But I had a powerful voice come from somewhere inside me, telling me I needed to step back down and back up my meditational affirmation. Indeed, it was my body checking in with me.
I stepped back down and closed my eyes. I had a complete visualization of the physical aspects of the feat from start to finish. I liked it. Then my whole body took over my thinking self. I was now, again, part of my surroundings. I was seeing and being from the cliff’s perspective, the snow’s, my skis’, the air’s, my ego’s, my detachment from self, from the atomic level. It was really a magical transmission.
I opened my eyes, now 100-percent certain in my pursuit.
I hiked up to the top of in-run and took in all the people that were now up there with me. We had a lot of extras for the shot that would ski in the background while I aired. Stan was in position.
I announced that under no circumstance were the extras to make a right-hand turn once they began to descend in their respective paths. If they made a right, my skis could chop their head off as I landed on them and killed us both. I had no problem asserting myself and clearly repeated my warning until I had every single person nodding his or her head in understanding.
I stepped back to my starting point. The transformation to pure confidence took the intensity out of the situation for I saw it for what it really was, a sharing of my energy field with the energy field of the in-run, take off, air, cliff, and landing. I was in harmony and had achieved equilibrium with the frequency of the feat between all these components.
Breathe. I radioed I was ready. Sherpas radioed back they were one-minute out.
I was in air on their five count. Stan dropped into line at the eight count, and the extras began to ski at the commencement of the 10 count.
Breathe. Focus. Maintain the equilibrium.
Momme began the count, “Ten, nine, eight….” I started to push with my poles. “Seven.” I picked up speed toward my blind rollover to my down-ramp. “Six.” I crested my blind rollover and was hauling it, perfectly, down my steep ramp. I experienced a bit of chatter. I was moving. I smiled. I was going fast, as fast as I needed to, nothing more nothing less. “Five.” I popped off the booter and was now airborne. I loved it. Usually I have some time to take it all in, but this time I was moving too fast. The last thing I saw was I was beyond the bottom of the cliff as I front flipped over. What a feeling to swan dive off a cliff going that fast. I was now in the safety zone.
I switched gears mentally to have total relaxation upon impact with the snow. I breathed out and went limp entirely. This was all instinctual. I had thoughts react and catch up to what my body already knew and was executing meditation-wise. I was not me, I was everything around me. But I still had vision and internal dialogue of self. I was the observer, even though I was the subject.
I made impact and felt the interaction of the energy of body and snow. It melded together seamlessly; I didn’t feel a thing. Amazing. I was a spectator in awe. I had no explanation. I had no way to attach meaning to it from anything I’ve read or studied. It was pure. Transcending boundaries of human supposed limits with no abrasiveness. There was no way to define the difference in energy in myself and energy in the snow. It was one.
In a continuous motion, I was back on my feet skiing away out of my dust of smoke. Magic. Breath. Laughing. High fiving. Yelling with happiness. Yelling from charged particles in my body.
I loved my time in Whistler. What an amazing opportunity.
A big thanks to the Sherpas crew and the folks at Whistler Mountain. And thank you to all my old and new friends up there.