Season in Review

The most important things that happened this winter.

Words: John Clary Davies and Heather Hansman

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. No, really, it was. Despite the losses we sustained, and the snow we didn’t ski, this winter was still full of highlights, and really high ones at that. Here’s what we’re going to remember from this winter.

Powder turns 40

In 1972, the following poem ran in the first issue of POWDER magazine:

There are mountains that i have come from
and mountains i will go to.
the mountains have shown me a love,
a happiness, that must be shared.

In December 2011, POWDER editors, writers, photographers, readers and the skiers that graced the pages gathered in Sun Valley, where Dave and Jake Moe started the magazine 40 years earlier as a rebuke to the prevailing ski titles at the time. “To us powder means freedom…” the editors wrote in that first issue. To celebrate the anniversary, everybody in Sun Valley that weekend got free. -J.C.D.

Deaths rock the skiing world

This winter was overshadowed by death. We lost a lot of skiers—good ones, people who were pivotal to the sport and to our communities, and, for a lot of us, integral to why we started skiing in the first place. It hurts any time there’s a death in the skiing world, and it hurts even more when it feels close to home and when the hits keep coming.

This season, more than any in recent memory, made us question if skiing is worth the risk, and why we still love it. But it is, and we do, and we’re going to keep believing in Sarah, and getting rad for Rudolph and skiing hard for them, and for Jamie Pierre, Steve Romeo, Jim Jack, Johnny Brennan, Chris Onufer, and the other skiers we lost to the mountains this winter. -H.H.

Snowfall disappoints, unless you’re from Alaska

By Christmas, it had snowed a total of 26 inches at Squaw Valley. The area wouldn’t break 100 inches until mid-February. The previous winter, Squaw broke the century mark on Nov. 23. It was that kind of season from Tahoe to Utah, where Alta saw its lowest snowfall in its online records, to Killington, which recorded its weakest snowfall, too.

But it wasn’t all bad. It snowed 865 inches in Alyeska this season. Teton Gravity Research decided to base their entire film there, while countless jib crews took their winches north. Meanwhile, in the Northwest, both Whistler and Mount Baker set snowfall records for the month of March, during which Baker received 260 inches. -J.C.D.

Ski movies get creative

Photo: Sweetgrass Productions

This year’s batch of big-name ski movies was largely predicable: Sage and Dana went big in Alaska, Ingrid skied pow, and Ahmet got twisty on some rails. Cool? Yes. Innovative? Not really. But small production houses, like Sherpas Cinema and Sweetgrass Productions, turned out creative, plot-focused, incredibly well-shot films that we’ll be watching for a long time. And we’re not the only ones who feel that way (cough, Powder Awards Movie of the Year, cough). Even non-skiers took notice, as JP Auclair’s street segment from All.I.Can. went extra viral and Switchback Entertainment’s The Freedom Chair won major accolades at Banff and X-Dance. -H.H.

Josh Dueck lands first sit ski backflip

Photo: X Games 2011

In 2004, Josh Dueck, at the time a freestyle skiing coach, became a full paraplegic after overshooting a jump while attempting a backflip. Eight years later, with a serious middle-finger to paralysis, Dueck landed a backflip in his sit ski for a Salomon Freeski TV episode. The clip has nearly 750,000 views and landed Dueck on the Ellen show. Earlier this season, Switchback Entertainment chronicled Dueck’s story in a short film called The Freedom Chair. The film won the 2012 Powder Video Award for Best Documentary. “You know don’t what kind of curveballs life is going to throw you,” says Dueck during his acceptance speech. “But you just do what you do and you make the most of it and you enjoy the good times.”-J.C.D.

Airbags blow up


After Elyse Saugstad credited her ABS airbag with saving her life in an avalanche at Stevens Pass in February, brands like BCA sold out of their airbag packs, EVO and other stores couldn’t keep them in stock, and casual sidecountry skiers started wearing them. Next year, The North Face and Dakine will be making airbag-compatible packs for the first time. Despite their statistically high level of success—the Swiss avalanche institute found skiers with ABS packs to have a 97 percent survival rate—airbags aren’t a perfect safety net. Days before the Stevens slide, Telluride skier Nathaniel Soules died in an avalanche in Bear Creek when his airbag shredded after he deployed. -H.H.

It’s the winter of Wally

Tom Wallisch. Photo: Reddick/Taylor/Smith

On his final run at Winter X in Aspen, Tom Wallisch was behind Nick Goepper in the standings. Wallisch opened his run with an uncanny ollie five feet up to a rail casing, then stomped a backside 450 out. The judges gave his run a 96.00, good enough for first place and the highest slope score ever. Even the commercial breaks were full of Wally, as his North Face and Verizon spots ran regularly during the event. The 25-year-old University of Utah student went on to win the Killington and Breckenridge Winter Dew Tour stops, and took second at Winter X in Tignes. He even beat out Shaun White, Kelly Slater, Kelly Clark, Travis Rice and Travis Pastrana, among others, (as a 10-seed, no less) to win the 16-person ESPN Action Sports star bracket, voted on by the public. -J.C.D.

The Olympic’s influence creeps into freeskiing

When slopestyle and halfpipe skiing became official Olympic events last spring, the sports started changing. Judging and courses start to become more standardized. In November, the USSA named the slope and pipe teams, which include Tom Wallisch, Bobby Brown, Jen Hudak, and Torin Yater-Wallace, who all started reporting to the USSA Center of Excellence in Park City for coaching, diet tips, and blood tests. Athletes like Hudak, who had been fighting hard for Olympic inclusion, say they’ve been waiting their whole lives to represent their country, but others worry that things will become more cookie cutter, corporate, and overly serious, given what’s at stake. -H.H.

Kaya Turski lands first switch 10

When Kaya Turski stomped a switch 10 on the final jump of the women’s slope course in Aspen, her father jumped in the air and yelled, “History!” And he was right. It was the first time a female had landed the trick at Winter X, and by doing so, Turski, the last competitor in the field, jumped from third place to first, and claimed her third consecutive slopestyle gold medal. Turski went on to win Winter Euro X, the Dew Cup, and the US Grand Prix slopestyle comps this season. -J.C.D

The Mainstream media hypes the danger of skiing

You GUYS, it turns out that you can get hurt, or even killed, skiing, and Brian Williams is on it. Our sport got some unfortunate media exposure when a MSNBC special, called “The Death Zone,” focused on Squaw skiers who have recently died from skiing. Sherry McConkey and Robb Gaffney make cameos, and have thoughtful insight, but overall, skiing is portrayed as dangerous and reckless. Then, HBO Real Sports takes a look at backcountry skiing and says that, “you’d have to be insane” to ski in the backcountry. They interview Tanner Hall who says that we need to keep progressing skiing in the backcountry. And that he wants to ski on Mars. You win, liberal media, you win.-H.H.

Add a comment

  • Jeremy Bogen

    What about some love for Europe’s epic winter?

  • Tom Harpur

    Well said Jeremy, skied some of the most ridiculous pow I’ve ever skied in Val D’isere this Winter. Cheers powder for forgetting Europe exists.

  • Tracie Smith

    Thanks for remembering the great people that we lost this year. This was the first ski season I’ve ever just wanted the snow to go away so it would finally be over. It was a tough one for sure. I was lucky enough to call Chris Rudolph & Jim Jack two of my closest friends. Losing them is still unimaginable for many of us. It helps to know that their lives impacted so many people all over the world. Those guys embodied skiing and life in the mountains, they truly were visionaries and we were all lucky to have been a part of their world.

  • hhansman

    Thanks, Tracie. I think you’re right, it’s pretty mindblowing to realize how many people they impacted.

  • http://powder Amos

    I keep having a dream where Jim Jack walks right through my front door with that famous and loving grin that never faded. Although he says nothing in my dream, I know he is picking me up to go shred powder somewhere in his beloved Northwest. Let us continue his amazing and adventurous spirit with our kindness to each other and our love for the mountains. I know that RIP is what you type next, but I know he wouldnt want to rest much and we know already that he was peaceful.. Thank you Jim Jack, it was truly a pleasure.

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