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TETON TALES

Forty revolutions. Most folks play their favorite 18 holes, set sails for a sandy beach, or entertain themselves with cocktails and a gathering of friends. For Dave, well, he operates differently than most. At forty-years-old, Dave is entering the prime of his mountainous adventures. His balance is outstanding. Dave has a loving, understanding wife, three great children, a giant puppy, owns his own business, and has a plethora of hobbies that he intertwines into his busy schedule. None of these hobbies are more invigorating to him than splitboarding.

Dave grew up snowboarding in an era where skiers were all but kind to anything against their (conceited) craft. That alone does something to a persons soul. Being part of a counterculture and witnessing your sport explode into a mainstream activity is something quite special. As with all evolution, boarders sought to climb higher and deeper into their surrounding peaks. Hiking with a snowboard was quickly realized to be inefficient and thus the first snowboard was cut in half.

Introducing splitboarding. The answer is always splitboarding. The answer to what question? All. Splitboarding is a way to free the heart from the stress of our outside world. It is a lifestyle whereupon one learns to endure. The act of walking uphill makes one slow down and really appreciate the landscape, the chirping birds, the old man’s beard hanging from the old growth pines, the feeling of compete fluidity as the body works together to attain a summit, and of course the relationship with those around you. And this is where the story begins.

I had just hobbled out of the mountains from a day of ski touring with some Austrian nationals. They had been an aggressive group, seeking an unrealistic expectation towards the stability of the snowpack. But alas, I managed a few smiles before we headed back to the lodge for some après aperitifs. I gazed towards the forlorn fjords to the east, hoping for a sign from the Troll [peninsula]. At that very moment, I noticed a truck heading towards Pvera, our remote lodge located just outside the small fishing hamlet of Olafsjordur, Iceland.

Gazing at the schedule I realized that three Americans were en route for a stint at the lodge and my heart nearly skipped a beat. Johann informed me that a couple of the gents would be on splitboards and I’d be switched over from my task of guiding the audacious Austrians. They approached with intermittent facial expressions of dropping jaws and smiles, like youngsters unwrapping Christmas presents. As they opened their car door I greeted them with a biased sentiment, as they would be the first splitboarders of the season and their stoke could barely be contained within their car. I knew, right then, that we were going to have a good old time.

The boys might as well have entered a mystical land as their eyes laid entranced on their personal hot tub with fresh geothermal water on the ready, their mountainscape views, the Viking-logoed helicopter staged for departure, the endless beer supply, and the meals that would make you salivate from a distance. I oriented them to their new abode and made sure to prepare them for the days to come. “Get some rest,” I said, with a smirk across my face.

The next days were laden with bliss. We awoke to clear skies and a fresh coating of Icelandic woolen snow, the consistency of a springy mattress under your feet. We climbed exposed ridgelines, hiked surreally steep faces, and took in the moments deep in the heart of the Trolskagi Mountains. One of the defining moments of this trip was when we weighed in for our helicopter-assisted portion of our ski tour. Weight and balance is a pivotal part of balancing the fragile little aircraft. The boys stepped on the German, industrially-calibrated scale one by one. I took their weights in kilos to give to our pilot, Nico. Mike was last and stepped on the scale as if checking in for fight night. He jokingly stripped some clothes in an effort to cheat the scale, but alas the scale never lies. Mike’s reading was not in numbers; rather it was one single word that defined the duration of his trip, “Hlass” or Icelandic for “Load.” Everyone fell on the ground in laughter. Mike’s good-natured personality absorbed the smiles and ran with the label. What a gift!

We emerged from that trip with a blossoming friendship. Dave departed for the States with a renewed urgency for mountain adventures. He saw the endless possibilities that lay ahead and was already dreaming of the shredding moments to come. Dreaming of technical rocky ascents, rappelling overhanging cliffs in search of untouched powder nestled into the womb of the mountains, engaging the front points of a crampon on a small ledge above the airy and exposed canyon below and the anticipation of further developing his skills.

So forty was something special for Dave. At this point the progression was perennial. It always had been. But now Dave had a certain hunger for this mix of splitboarding and alpinism. So we departed once again, this time for the trailheads of Grand Teton National Park in an effort to seek out the crown jewels that only a select few experience in a lifetime of riding. We rode hard everyday. Dave grew stronger by the hour as his body started to absorb more oxygen in the aridity of the high altitude. We worked a progression toward ever-changing goals. The weather couldn’t have been better as the sun shone brightly upon us and the powder lay cold and dry upon the steep mountainsides.

The moment that resonates most was when we showed up to the trailhead early in the morning under partly cloudy skies. Our headlamps shone upon the sparkling, faceted snow as if fairies had sprinkled their magic upon the great Teton flora. We worked uphill through the baptized red walls of Garnet Canyon. Speed was now in our favor. Things took a very precarious turn as we entered the amphitheater of the major Teton peaks. The winds started to howl, the ice-laden snow crystals bounced off of our faces as if needles were pricking our wind chapped cheeks, the eerie light offered no visibility and it seemed we had been violently shaken in our own little snow globe.

We talked over some options and in immensely (hindsight is always 20/20) optimistic fashion, opted to setup a bivouc shelter to ride out the storm. In the proceeding hour, we dug, scraped, clawed, and buried ourselves under a tarp barely suitable for two. Misery was ours. We embraced the elements as the articulation of our hands slowed, and the cold snow pressed against our pants. Our streak of sunny skies and powder was officially over. After a while, Dave and I lost hope of the weather forecast coming to fruition and realized that the mountains had a selfish plan of their own. We hurried to clean up our makeshift camp and escape during a lull in the swelling weather.

Arriving back at the trailhead, we looked up at the ominous peaks with laughter, knowing full well that the mountains weren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and that we had balanced risk and reward precisely, opting for the reward of safety. Had we gone any higher we would have exposed ourselves to unforeseen avalanche dangers. Had we stopped any sooner, we would have always wondered what was lying around the corner. It was one of those moments of verification, the moments that help build intuition and help us define and draw the proverbial line that we dare not cross.

After a few more days of powder riding, thrill seeking, and wild moments in the ultra-classic Apocalypse Couloir, Dave was restless to return to his loving family. But he was also born anew with prospective ideas, deeper understanding of himself and the landscape he so cherishes, and another flame lit in the progression ahead. Here’s to many more years of candles, cake, and cliffs, Dave (or maybe we can just keep the board on the ground from now on)!

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