Last year was my very first trip to this neck of the woods in Northern B.C. Back then, TGR and a crew of Oakley athletes went to Bell 2, serviced by Last Frontier Heli another Canadian based heli ski operation. We heard about Ripley Creek through those guys on that trip, so we decided to leave behind the 5-star set up at Bell 2 this year in the hopes of exploring a new zone.
Photo: Seth Morrison
Stewart sits just on the edge of the southern-most part of the Alaskan panhandle, nestled right up to Hyder on the Coast Mountains. The road into town comes to a dead end in Hyder a few miles past Stewart, which is primarily a mining town by trade. With the economic state and lack of mining, Stewart is pretty much a ghost town in the winter. A few hard-core sled necks are pretty much the only people going into these mountains.
Photo: Seth Morrison
The crew consists of Kye Petersen, Callum Pettit, Sammy Carson and myself. We are filming for the TGR’s next film (name is yet to be determined). Being with such a youthful group of skiers was nice to see — energy and fearlessness. This definitely came into play for Callum: He jumped off a piece of glacier ice and skipped off another piece and crashed on some not-so-soft snow and ended up dislocating his shoulder. He was sore after getting it put back in, but it meant that he was out for the rest of the trip.
Photo: Seth Morrison
The mountains here are pretty intense, poking right up out of glacier ice fields. At times the peaks look small because of the massive expanse of snow-covered glaciers in between them. This season, they were 15 feet of snow shy of the normal coverage, which meant that many crevices were exposed and a lot of lines were unsafe due to gaping holes in run-outs. Everyday was a new adventure for us, searching the terrain by air and sometimes flying to places that offered little and then back to ones we had thought too much to handle at the time.
Photo: Seth Morrison
Light is a big curveball this time of year. February into March is pretty early for these kinds of mountains since they are big and the sun still sits low in the sky. We had early mornings and late afternoons as our best filming times for the better quality powder, so NE and NW aspects were on our list. Sometimes you’d overlook lines on these aspects because you’d see them in the shade and not even notice them. When you see them lit up, you can’t believe your eyes. Our guides played a big roll with the knowledge of terrain and aspects.
Photo: Seth Morrison
Some days were sunny, others were cloudy — typical Coastal Mountain ski adventure. Luckily the terrain here offers many pillow-y tree runs below the Alpine for cloudy or snowy days. This worked out for use because the best snow was here and wasn’t seeing the light of day on this trip, even when it was sunny.
Photo: Seth Morrison
All in all it was a pretty sick trip, a good bunch to be with and another step towards the main goal of the season in Alaska. We were even able to keep up with the Olympics. There was a lot of curling on, so we inquired and found that we could curl. It was U.S. vs. Canada — we had even numbers in our groups from representing countries (the U.S. won of course).
Photo: Seth Morrison
One last thing: If you are ever driving to Alaska, you will drive right past the turn to Stewart and Hyder. Make this turn, ’cause you’re probably not in a huge hurry anyway, and go get “Hyderized” in Hyder. From what I hear from other pros, there is a moonshine shot there that is not to be missed.
TGR did a great thing hooking up some of their athletes with video iPhones so they can do real time updates of what they do all winter. It’s not an epic edit, chopped up and released months after it actually happened but raw, live (almost) accounts of the places Seth is, people he’s with and gnar he’s skiing. Check out “Live from the Field” on TetonGravity.com
(Ed’s note: Consider the source—whether it’s drinking water, Af-Pak insurgents or marketeers, guerilla and otherwise, singing the praises of accoutrement in the vast ski-gear-o-sphere. So full disclosure here: Seth Morrison is sponsored by Full Tilt Boots. Seth has also been riding early incarnations of the same boots since before he was, you know, sponsored at all. So not only is Seth biased, Seth is uniquely qualified to discuss how his feet became intertwined in ski boot history…)
Mark Epstein CollectionFirst cover of Freeze mag, ’97, with Seth and the Flexons.
As a kid, I grew up watching World Cup racers dominating in these boots. Strangely, the same boots were the choice of freestyler-bumpers, aerialists and ballet-ists too. Dudes like Bill Johnson and Nelson Carmichael ripped these boots. Why? The even flex and overall softness made this three-piece design the go-to.
I think I even heard of downhill racers using these boots for speed events and then going back to other brands for giant slaloms and slaloms. (Somehow, these boots also became popular with the hard-boot snowboard community.)
Kim Reichhelm got me my first free pair, in 1994, after I’d already been skiing in ’em for three years. Still, I suppose it is with random acts of kindess that most people get themselves indoctrinated into cults. And so it was for me with the Raichle Flexon ski boot, which today fly under the banner of Full Tilt Boots.
Seth Morrison CollectionSeth Morrison went to his personal unpublished archives for this 1991 photograph—Seth was then but an early Flexon adopter in a speed suit (for a FIS downhill race on Aspen Mountain).
“At one point I had 12 pairs of boots, 20 sets of tongues, boxes of cables, 50 buckles, power straps, boot boards, 5 liner sets and 20 replacement heals.”
The Flexon design was created in the late 70’s by Eric Giese, a former NASA space suit engineer who had come up with the rib technology you see on the arms and legs of space suits. Giese eventually presented his design—with the ribbed floating tongue and ankle hinge—to Raichle. To seal the deal he jumped up on a conference room table in Switzerland with his protype boot on one foot and the then-current Raichle model on the other foot. Bending into the mis-matched boots on the table, he demonstrated the non-shell-bulge flex of his boot versus theirs, bulging out. That was enough to produce the “Flexon.” The year was 1980.
Over the years the boot has changed hands repeatedly, gone away entirely, and undergone some modifications for the better. With Raichle, we saw a variety of colors—mostly all black with green, red, pink, orange and yellow tongues inlays.
Full Tilt archivesGlen Plake, circa ’80-something?
A Euro Tongue, as I called it (and not to be confused with the Euro barge), was mostly what the racers used. And it was one of the stiffer tongues out there; all one piece with a big smooth screw head at the bottom of the tongue that was part of the connection to the boot itself.
Later, the boots went to the Thermo Flex liner. This was a big move in the right direction. Like the Intuition Liners today, these were light, warm and fully moldable to the entire area your leg and foot—they put you in intimate contact with the entirety of boot’s inner sanctum.
Rumor has it, in the late ’80s, the then-owner of the then-company was in a car crash and died with his secretary (mistress); his wife apparently decided that she was going to ruin the company since it was his love. By 1996, she succeeded; the company was nearing bankruptcy.
At this point Kneissl took advantage and bought them. But they had some trouble with tongues breaking, and that put the hurt on the re-launch. They did put in an active foot board—a soft foam foot board to help absorb impacts—and this was another good move. But they were weighed down by the fragile tongues and challenges of selling a boot with un-formed liners, which made it tough for people to try them on and know how they were going to fit for real. And so they returned to a regular liner. But, coupled with marketing challenges, it was too late. Kneissl then went under new management and that was that for the boots. They were officially history.
Full Tilt archivesSome sort of airline ad, circa 1980s.
K2 bought the molds shortly after that, in the fall of 2004, but did nothing with them. Then K2 acquired Line Skis (Summer 2006) and almost instantly Line decided to do Full Tilt (Fall 2006). Years earlier Line had tried re-launch one of the wider Raichle models, but it didn’t do very well. So they had the right idea back then, but now they had the cult classic.
Meanwhile, people like me hung onto old boots and boot parts in order to continue skiing them. At one point I had 12 pairs of boots, 20 sets of tongues, boxes of cables, 50 buckles, power straps, boot boards, 5 liner sets and 20 replacement heals. Some were new boots, some were almost worn out, and some were only slightly used.
Sometimes I was able to get new and used ones off eBay or at ski swaps and shops I’d routinely scour for parts: Summit (County) Recycle Ski and Sport and places in Vail, Breckenridge and Keystone. You never knew where they would show up.
Full Tilt archivesBack when spread eagles had some actual wing span.
There was a period of four years before Full Tilt started that I was on the hunt all the time. Once I found some at a shop in Whistler. But they said I’d have to pay full pop since it was their best seller—even though they hadn’t been made in a few years. (I passed on that.)
During a bout of temporary insanity I once even thought that being sponsored by another company was going to PAY off. I tried the Dalbello version and other styles and other brands; opportunites were there. This eventually led to a realization: If I ever ran out of old boots and parts I might as well retire from skiing. Of course this was after almost breaking my shins from a big cliff drop—I’d sold off my old Raichles from my ski racing days (broke college kid).
Flip McCririckSeth Morrison and the Full Tilt Seth Morrison Model: Great for stepping out of a heli.
A few of my friends had used them because Glen Plake did or they’d broken a leg, “boot-top style,” and they didn’t want to go back to the boots they were using (Rossignol). (They went to Raichle because they came up higher on the shin—so the fracture line was in the boot, not above it.) But originally for me, I was using them for their fit and performance. Boot bang became a thing of the past with these boots.
Thus far I’ve worked with all the companies, but pretty much I’ve been in the boot full time since 1991. I’ll never try anything else. Now Full Tilt has been going for four years and they’re picking up where the others left off. Tight new graphics have been the most noticeable addition, but Full Tilt also added moldable liners built by Intuition, cable guides for the tongues, and a variety of tongue flexes that offer more options than ever.
So naturally I’m pretty stoked to have a Pro Model with them now too. And maybe it has all paid off. I stayed in what works for me, through the thick and thin and the ski swaps and closets full of boots and parts. And now I only have eight pairs in the closet—just in case.
A bit about the shot from Seth ” The shot came from a trip we did with Oakley while filming TGR’s “Re:Session”. We were at Bell 2 with Last Frontier, this is in Northern BC. This shot came about as we were working the lower section of a run after hitting a wind lip on the upper section. One turner with a nice part of a glacier that’s out of focus in the background. It was a fun trip and a great place, hope we get to go back. It’s great to check out new terrain.”
Being #1 6 of the 9 Powder Magazine Reader’s Poll’s (he was #2 three times) shows Seth’s consistent ability to be the best skier in the world (on the best boots of course). Check out the words and phone conversation from K2 Skis pro Pep Fujas.
PEP FUJAS ON SETH MORRISON
He really lets his actions speak more than his words. He’s not going out and claiming he’s going to do something. He just goes and does it without really knowing what he’s going to do. When we were in Norway a few years back, he would pick out the biggest diving board on each face, and it was really easy for him to pick the lines because he knew we weren’t going to pick them. He was going to send it off the biggest diving board possible and most likely throw a back or front flip.
I really enjoy his aggressive turns that are really fluid. He really gets into those turns. The most I take from him is the way he lays into his skis. He has full control of every part of his ski and friggin’ rips into them.
Was it just another season? Lots happened once again, and maybe not the positive kinds of things at times. Once the first ski mag comes out, August perhaps (or the most recent June issue of The Ski Journal), we get the bug—but it’s still so far away ’til our Northern Hemisphere starts off. The Southern Hemisphere is just gearing up as we speak, but their season is much different and shorter it seems.
Skiing for fun at the resorts in Colorado or cat skiing in Retallack, British Columbia, is one thing—no worries. But being a professional you expect a lot out of the conditions at places utilizing helicopters. Why? Because you’re spending beaucoup d’argent for prime conditions; hopefully prime. Those of you who’ve gone heli-skiing and have not had good weather or snow know how frustrating it can be.
Filming with TGR we returned to North Cascade Heli Skiing, experienced new terrain at Bell 2 Lodge, and returned to Haines, AK for some pinnacle-of-the-sport riding. The snow conditions built up from place to place.
• North Cascades showed less than half the base as last year; our trip fell into a drought period.
• Bell 2 had base of over eight feet in the valley floor, but less-than-powdery conditions in the field.
• Haines, AK: this was the 6th season there—different every time I’ve been. This season brought much drier snow than past seasons, so lines were a bit bony. Spine faces looked less spiney, but the guts of the runs were filled-in nicely from all the snow sloughing off the high points and faces. Adapting to this different style took time. (And weird considering it snowed 25 feet in the six weeks I was there, and got noticeably better toward the end, more like how it needed to start.)
Seth MorrisonHaines, AK: Yet another day of fighting the clouds. Note “Hotel Room” in the foreground. Mid-March 2009.
So with a brief description of conditions, time to adapt. Each run and each day is different. Having a plan of attack before heading out to where you’re going to ski becomes crucial. Nothing is set in stone—plans change constantly. And having the earlier trips not pan out like we hoped for, snow-wise, puts your mental state into a different mode. You get more stoked for the next trip in hopes that conditions will be better for what you’re trying to accomplish.
So clipping a rock, or taking an air and crashing from hardpack, or clipping a rock off a small cliff and having a bit of a tomahawk—this is the kind of stuff that plays with your head. Plus, being in the same place for six weeks with nothing else to do but ski—and be skiing—makes for an interesting way to spend some down time.
Alaska this year was to be broken up into three trips, and heading over to the Anchorage area was going to be a nice change from the Haines show. And while it would’ve been really nice to see some new and old country to stay fresh, with nearby Mt. Redoubt erupting and then idling we chose the safe bet of sticking in Haines.
Then add in the death of a friend and ski hero to fans all around the world while you’re trying to push it and stay focused for the super bowl of your ski season—this makes you think about the consequences of what you’re doing and overall happiness.
At one point in AK, we hadn’t had many ski days in a row; clouds toying with us everyday. So you’ve had five days off, then you’re right back at a run that the clouds chased you off of last time you were there—not once, but twice in the same attempt. But now you’re ready to drop into this spiney, featured face. And some of the spine aspects are suspect to sliding. And the snow below your tips doesn’t look like powder for some ways down the line.
You think, ‘What am I doing up here?’ Helicopter’s flying around for aerial shots and even a small plane flies through our valley, too, in order to drop off Jeremy Jones and his crew at their basecamp deep in the park. The call comes through on your radio mic.
“Seth, are you ready?”
“Yes, I’m ready.”
“Barbie cameras ready?”
“One hundred percent.”
“OK, heli cameras are ready!”
Pause. This affords a small amount of time for anyone to call in that they need more time.
Pause… ’til five seconds for anyone to call in to stop for any reason.
“Five, four, three, two, one, GO!”
If you can’t hear you’re looking for a foot-kick from the heli cinematographer to go. And at this point you forget all the bullsh–; you’re in the run.
First turn blinded, next turn blinded, small air land, head hard-right and hope to miss the slough you sent that way from your first turn so you’re pinning it hard. Flying across deep, narrow spines—blinded each time you hit one—then onto the big spine to ski the rest of the way to the bottom, small drop at the end, then a small ‘schrund.
Before you get there though, the left side of the spine cracks and slides away. You’re out of the danger as long as you stay right. Then you hear “STAY RIGHT!” over the mic. Look right and see a fast-moving slough start to rush in—now you have moving snow on both sides of you. Did I mention blinding turns still?
Land off small air and straight-line to the others who’ve done their lines already. Some filmers offer words of encouragement as you cruise to the boys, but you can’t hear them since the wind is blowing in your ears from going so fast. Then it’s back up for another—if you have a line picked out already. Sucks to be the last guy down.